Last Monday, I step into the car to go to work. It’s chilly and dark. It’s drizzling. And I’m almost out of gas. It’s Monday morning all right.
I’m cruising along the highway with the news on when I feel a little hiccup. My stomach clenches; I know instantly what it is. My hand flashes out to kill the radio – I need total focus. Seconds later, the starved engine quits and my Scion slowly decelerates. My only thought is to get out of traffic as much as possible.
There’s a shoulder but it’s edged by a guardrail. It will have to do – the other side of the road is no better, and I don’t have the momentum to get there anyway. I slow to a stop and put on my flashers. There is about a foot between my car and the highway’s white line. The car rocks side-to-side every time a vehicle shoots past.
I have two immediate thoughts:
- Things could be worse – it could have happened in the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, which I had just come through.
- I can’t stay in the car. I’ve heard of too many cars on highway shoulders being rear-ended.
I’m not far past an exit, so I’ll head that way. The drizzle has stopped, thank God. I have to wait for a break in traffic to exit my car. I glance in my side mirror and see nothing but a string of white and amber headlights as far as I can see. This is a primary Maine-to-Florida interstate, so traffic gaps are rare, especially at the beginning of rush hour like this.
I see a small break, and I explode out of the car. I almost get the door closed again before the next line of cars and SUVs is on top of me.
Again, I’m thankful for something that hasn’t happened: A flat tire. I’d suffer a severe case of the yips if I had to change a tire in this environment.
I lock the car, but I’m not sure why. I activate my Runtastic app to chart my distance. I start a slow jog against traffic. I can’t see the exit, but I’m sure it isn’t far. I try to push it out of my head, but I know that if someone is surprised to see me in the semi-dark and slams on their brakes on the wet road, that I’m as vulnerable as a bowling pin to a sliding ball. And a lot less durable.
I get to the clover leaf. My attempt to cut across it is foiled by a wide ravine filled with runoff rainwater. I backtrack to rejoin the road and eventually reach the end of the exit ramp. The promised land – not one, or two, but three gas stations! Hallelujah!
I make a beeline for the station with the largest mini-mart, a Royal Farms. Just inside the RoFo is a sale tower of 2-liter Sprites and Cokes. I pick up a Coke, pay the $1.05, exit the store, then promptly dump its contents into the gutter. I think of Nora, who loves Coke and would be a little distressed to see it wasted like this. (I like Coke too and I contemplate how I’m pretty sure that little shared affinities like this are part of what make us a good couple.)
I fill the plastic bottle to the top – just over half a gallon of gas. I check my app – it was 1.1 miles to get here, so all I have to do is jog that far again, with 2 liters of gas this time.
Back on the cloverleaf, I see a distressing sight on the interstate: Emergency vehicles – a police car and a tow truck – racing by. Already? They can’t impound my car after I have come so close! I increase my speed, even though I am already panting too heavy.
On the highway shoulder now, I see that the cop and the tow driver have stopped short of my car. When I approach, I find them attending to an accident that’s been relegated to the same shoulder. There is barely room to squeeze by. I get through, but am halted by a “Hey!”
I turn around to face the policeman. I wonder what he must have thought at that moment. I’m out of breath, sweating profusely, eyes bulging, carrying a homemade explosive in my hand. I calm my nerves and explain the situation, oozing my utmost sincerity. It works!
On to the Scion, where I drain the gas into the tank. Back behind the wheel, I’ve never been more excited to hear the engine catch and roar to life. I accelerate on the shoulder, then ease back into my normal commute.
Running way late, and part-way to work already, I do a rough calculation – I’ll just be able to make it to work without another stop. Then I’ll run out during lunch for the fill up.
Well, now I know exactly how far my car can drive on 2 liters of gas – 18.9 miles. Or .5 miles short of work. I can’t believe it! Off the highway now, I pull into the road’s center turning lane and apply my flashers again.
Nothing to do but retrieve the same Coke bottle from the back and jog a quarter mile to a Shell this time. It’s hard to explain, but the second time feels almost routine, like I have a certain comfort level in the process. Maybe the lack of vehicular meteors flashing past played a role in that improved outlook.
I’ve told you about my Dad’s obsession with cheap gas, but I didn’t mention his dual obsession with draining every drop from a fuel tank before refilling. Had I inherited that same eagerness to take risks and push the envelope? And how does that translate into other areas of my life, like my personal finances?
The Bible has a number of references as to how the sins of the father are visited upon the son. I sometimes can’t help but notice when I repeat a behavior that my Mom or Dad was known for, both good and bad. You spend a couple decades of your formative years with them, so that’s not surprising.
It’s not a sin to run out of gas, but maybe arrogance is a contributing factor. And perhaps this experience would give me a better awareness of other times when I mindlessly emulate things I learned in childhood, from my parents and others.
I know one thing: I’m going to do what’s necessary to not run out of gas again. Not even once, much less twice.