Sunday, April 4, 2010

Runnin' on Empty

When I turned 16, all of the elder, sagacious members of my family passed on the same nugget of wisdom to me: don't run out of gas. This advice was presented as more of a threat than a recommendation. As a result, I never let my gas gauge fall below the halfway mark. But as I've grown older, I have felt myself become more lax, pushing the gauge further and further beyond the halfway mark and closer and closer to the red zone, or as I like to refer to it, the danger zone.

This past summer I worked in Indianapolis and carpooled with a friend periodically throughout the week. Often, the gas alarm would sound and I would inform him that it was imperative that we pull over, lest we end up stranded in Martinsville and face a sort of "Deliverance" fate. But my friend remained cool as a cucumber, encouraging me to keep driving, that we had another good 30 miles before we really needed to get gas. The first couple times this occurred I buckled from the crippling anxiety and guilt I felt as I pushed the car to the limit. But then, I surrendered. I started listening to Jim, and had some faith in my car. More and more, I became comfortable cruisin' in the danger zone.

This week, I allowed myself to drive in the danger zone for about 2 days. On the third day, my grandpa must have been looking down from heaven, displeased with what he saw on my dashboard gauges. I started my car, with the intention of driving to the gas station less than 100 yards from my house. She started up nicely, and I tapped the gas pedal to get 'er movin'. I made it to the stop sign at the end of my road, waited for traffic to pass, and then took a louie out onto the street. The second I turned the wheel my transformed into a carnival game. Bells started chiming, lights started flashing, the whole car froze up. At that point, I put my rudimentary physics knowledge to work and calculated that I could coast right on up to the pump on the momentum I gained from the last burst of gas. We made it right to the entrance. I could see victory. I could smell it in the form of petrol fumes. As I took the last turn into the gas station landing, an nonfactored exponent popped in to the equation. The entryway had a slight incline to it, quashing my hopes of a foreseeably full gas tank.

There I sat, resting on the BP inclination, hazard lights flashing. I got out of the car, passing a cab driver lounging on the hood of his car. "You just leaving your car there?"
"Yeeep. I just ran out of gas." A stare-off proceeded, as I waited for him to offer his assistance and he waited for me to walk back and finish pulling my car in to the gas station. I broke first, and walked into the attached convenient store, straight to the aisle hosting the embarassing, abasing 2 gallon gas tanks. I picked up an 8 dollar tub, carried it to the counter, and started playing out the next 10-15 minutes of my life. I would buy this tank, walk out 10 feet to the gas pump, fill it up, take 30 paces north over to my car, fill up the car with 2 gallons of gas, get back in my car, start it up, drive it 20 feet up to the pump and finish filling the tank. As I considered this sequence of events, I began to think that the better, more practical option for me was to abandon my car completely and buy a new one. It was out of gas anyway. What good was it to me now, outside of serving as a platter to serve up a hearty dish of humiliation? Just as I began to make a run for it, a man walked in, saw me with a gas tank and through his astute perception, noticed I was quite the aloof and unlucky young woman. The kind of young woman whose car would fail her so close to achieving victory. To be polite, he asked me, "Is that car out there yours?" With my head down, I admitted my failure and he offered to help me get back in the game.