On fumes

It often feels like am ruled by inertia: if I’m lying down on the couch, it takes a superhuman amount of effort to change that. I’ll stay buried under the blanket until an actual emergency looms.

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But once I get rolling, God help you if you try to stop me. Interruptions—stopping here or there for this or that—feel like unbearable dams in the river of everything that is happening and must happen now now now.

Okay, I admit it: I’m looking for excuses for how I let the car run out of gas.

We’ve been driving around a lot to see the scenery. The gauge got below half, below a third. “I should get gas soon,” I thought, then forgot. Eventually it was below a quarter. “Remind me to get gas,” I told him, rather unfairly. I forgot. So did he.

And neither of us realized that after we went over that hill, there would just be…no gas…at all…for miles and miles, as the gas light came on and the gauge ticked down from four bars, to three, to two.

Nine miles later, a town sparkled at the base of a hill we’d just crested, lying against the bed of the ocean. “There will be gas there,” I said.

“Hope so,” he said.

I snorted, said something rather rude about how a town is hardly a town without a single gas station.

There was no gas station.

Down to one bar.

Thirteen miles to the next town, said the road sign.

Sweat broke out on his forehead.

I tossed my shoulders back and said we could make it all the way to our destination if we wanted, no problem. “You always have fifty miles after the light goes on, everyone knows that.”

“I thought it was twenty.”

Sweat broke out on my forehead.

What may have been thirteen miles later felt like about fifty. Every little tremble and rumble and wheeze of the car felt like the last breath of an empty tank. Our phones lied about having service: we couldn’t get any information to load. All there was to do was press on forward, through breathtaking countryside where we might very well be camping out tonight with no service and an inert vehicle, hoping that eventually there would be a town and that it would be the proper kind of town with at least one gas station.

We got to that thirteen-miles-away town approximately twenty-one miles later (I have verified against Google Maps). No gas. I felt like I was going to puke. We’d been at one bar for so long.

You go to worst-case-scenario planning so fast when you’re in a bad-case scenario. And yet it was and will forever remain imaginary, because we’ll never now know whether anyone would have stopped and helped us by letting us use their magically operable phone, or by driving ahead to the next town and bringing back a fuel can of gas to get us going. It would be night not too long from now. Would we have to walk miles along the winding, dark, shoulderless road?

I wondered whether this feeling was like the one that precedes a panic attack, which is not helpful when you’re driving. He started breathing differently. I apologized, which he accepted graciously, but like they say, the best apology is changed behavior, and I could hardly start filling up promptly at this point where there were no actual gas stations, I mean, honestly.

Through it all I had this sense that we’d make it, which was not supported by evidence, but which stuck with me. Something will happen. It just has to. There will be a town, eventually, with a gas station. It doesn’t make sense that there won’t be.

And, readers, there was. Two or five or some odd miles after the town we’d been aiming for, there was a gas station. It was crowded, because I imagine everyone else, like us, was fully in scarcity mode by the time they saw it. We filled up. We began breathing better, and we had a nice long verbal processing session about the whole thing.

I wondered aloud, probably too soon, whether this would be the kind of story we could laugh about soon, the time we wound around the wild coastline on fumes, the time we almost accidentally camped overnight in the national park. I vowed to become the kind of person who fills up between a quarter and a half tank. Call it a third-quarter resolution.

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One thought on “On fumes

  1. Enjoyed the story! Very much! Reminds me of the time only two years ago when I too decided that gas could wait—the fancy high-priced gas stations cost too much and we’d find a cheap one nearly. In the mountains. In the middle of nowhere. But I had a Prius so I was sure we would not run out of gas. My man was not happy at my decision to save maybe 50 cents. Our saving grace was that we were going downhill. On highway 20 for miles and miles without using the accelerator …and managed to slide into a gas station with less than half a tank left.

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