Who the fuck goes out for dinner on Christmas Eve?
It is your first year away at school and you’re working as a waiter at a high-end Italian restaurant. It’s packed with customers right up until you close at 7:00 P.M. You knew that this would be the case and have plans to leave straight from work to make the three-hour trip home to see your family. They must really miss you, or maybe feel sorry for you, because they have rearranged the regular Christmas Eve schedule to have dinner ready at 10:00.
You call your mom as you walk out the door of the restaurant to let her know you are on your way. You’re really looking forward to spending the holiday at home.
The first 90 minutes of the drive are easy. As a matter of fact, you’re making record time and starting to think that you may even be home before 10:00.
Then you hit the Tule fog.
Tule fog is a thick ground fog that settles in certain areas of California’s Great Central Valley. It’s a phenomenon that happens throughout the winter following the first significant rainfall. Within it, visibility is zero percent. As a matter of fact, accidents caused by Tule fog are the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the state. So, you’re fucked.
You’re in the middle of nowhere on a rural stretch of State Route 152 between the towns of Los Banos and Chowchilla. Even on a clear day, there is nothing to see but fields of cotton, vineyards of grapes, and orchards of peaches, pistachios, and almonds. There are no shops, stores, gas stations, or anything else for about 60 miles. So, you’re really fucked.
When you hit Tule fog, it’s like running into a wall of thick, black soup. It doesn’t start slowly and get gradually worse. It just begins and there is nothing to do but apply the brakes, make a U-turn, and hope that you don’t get broadsided by an oncoming vehicle.
You manage to turn around without incident and head in the opposite direction. You have two choices. Knowing that the nasty fog will sometimes dissipate without rhyme or reason, you can either pull over and wait it out, or head back to your apartment and try to make the drive in the morning. You decide to find a place to safely wait it out and start slowly driving back towards Los Banos.
Less than two miles into your escape, you see a commercial building with a small dirt parking lot that you never noticed before. You decide to park there and hope for the best. You call your mom to tell her what is happening and encourage her to not wait. She sounds disappointed. You feel depressed.
Turns out that the little commercial building is a bar: The Twilight Lounge. What better way to wait out the Tule fog than to go inside, get warm, and have some hot coffee? Right? So you venture in and find that it’s full of migrant field workers, all from Mexico. You don’t speak Spanish and very few of them speak English. But soon, you are joining them at the pool table and in and in games of dice. You all laugh and even dance. Your idea of a hot cup of coffee changes as you start doing shots of top-shelf El Conquistador Anejo Tequila and learn a variety of traditional Mexican toasts.
Even if the fog clears, you won’t be leaving anytime soon. Somehow, you understand that everyone at the Twilight Lounge shares the same dilemma. You are all spending Christmas Eve away from your families and you are all a little sad. And in this, you all find joy.
Originally published by Terror House Magazine, July 17, 2019
Colin Deal spends his free time exploring the bar culture of cities throughout North America and believes the unique culture of any region in the world can be discovered over a few drinks with the locals. His drunken musings can be found on Twitter here.