Driving on “E”
If you’ve ever allowed yourself to run out of gas while driving… you understand what I mean when I say that it’s hard to imagine another situation in which you feel like a bigger idiot.
If, by chance, you’ve allowed it to happen to you twice? Well, that there’s the situation in which, yes, you’ve discovered, it is indeed possible to feel like an even bigger idiot than back when you let it happen the first time.
But if you happen to be in the special rank that I am in—the Repeat Offenders Club, who can claim that they’ve run out of gas THREE OR MORE TIMES—well, I believe there is a special classification for folks like us.
I’m sure those of you who are wired to never even let that light come on have no idea how we could allow such a preventable tragedy to befall us not once, not twice, but THREE OR MORE TIMES… and to you, I think I speak for all of us in the Repeat Offenders Club when I say…
Yeah, we don’t know, either.
Because trust me, there is absolutely no event on earth that makes you feel quite as stupid as when, after miles of praying for just one more mile after that little light has blinked on, suddenly the sputtering begins, the wheel locks up, and you barely manage to coax your dying vehicle to the side of the road.
The first time, you were probably young and dumb, so that almost doesn’t count. I was in college at the time, and I honestly can’t even remember who I called. A roommate? Triple A? I remember feeling pretty stupid, but I decided the “E” didn’t stand for Extra Five Miles and filed this information away in my brain, vowing to never let it happen again.
But I guess I wasn’t quite as embarrassed as I should have been, because not even a year later, I let it happen again. Now this time, I was humiliated, because even at nineteen, I thought to myself, what kind of idiot lets this happen to her twice? Did you not learn the lesson the first time? I’d sort of like to blame it on college living, the day to day scrape-by that happens between scrounging up enough money for McDonalds in between studying for exams, and paying at the pump in quarters because you didn’t put in many hours at the part-time job that week, due to the stressful course load.
But of course, I can’t apply that excuse to the third time.
This was, to my benefit, at least a couple years later. I was dropping Rashieme off at work when it happened. He was not amused.
He was even less amused when, not even two weeks later, it happened again. I don’t think I can claim Pregnancy Brain—I’m pretty sure Kaliah was already in the picture—but at least maybe I could blame it on New Mommy Brain.
Rashieme didn’t care. As you can imagine, he was quite irritated at being late not once, but TWICE, at my inability to force myself to stop at a gas station and fill up the tank at the first moment the warning light comes on.
So after that time, (the fourth, I cringe to say), I made it a couple years without incident.
I know, I know.
There really isn’t an excuse. I guess it’s just part of who I am. Maybe there are other Repeat Offenders out there who can vouch for me. We’re artsy types! We’re creative! We’re brilliant intellectuals who spend so much time thinking and writing and observing the beauty of the world around us that practical tasks like filling up our gas thanks just somehow get lost in the shuffle!
Or maybe, just maybe, I really am that much of an idiot.
The next time it happened was the absolute worst. I’d made it probably at least three or four years since the last episode. Kaliah was in pre-school or kindergarten, I don’t remember which. I think kindergarten, so that would have made her five. She was in the car with me, chattering on a million miles an hour as she was wont to do, when all of the sudden, that old, familiar, sickening feeling as I recognized the dreaded slow-down, the limp wheel…
I managed to get the car to the shoulder. I called everyone I knew in my contacts list from my cell phone. When no one answered, I glanced in the rearview to the backseat, where Kaliah was just then apparently realizing that we had stopped for some unbeknownst reason on a winding country road in between her school and the highway, where, thankfully, there was a gas station, maybe a half a mile away.
So as we walked, she continued babbling excitedly about all the things that kindergarteners talk about, me half listening as I brainstormed ways I could convince her to keep this experience to herself as opposed to sharing it with her father, who, I was sure, wasn’t exactly over the last two times I had run out of gas. I wasn’t sure if he knew that there were two times before that, but even if he didn’t, three times to run out of gas was still going to be three times too many in his book. The last two times I’d made him late to work. And this time, I’d forced a five-year-old on a mile long expedition.
The first tenth of the mile was okay. “It’s a beautiful day, Mom!” gushed Kaliah. (She was always an extraordinarily cheerful child by nature. She used to wake me up at ages two and three by bouncing into my bedroom and saying, “Get up, Mom! It’s another sunny day!”). “Look at the trees! Look at the clouds! Mom, where are we going? Mom, do you see that bunny?”
I didn’t want my child to outright lie to her dad. I wasn’t crazy about encouraging lying by omission, either… but Rashieme just might kill me in order to prevent me from running out of gas a sixth time. As I tried to put together a plan to get Kaliah to keep this adventure between the two of us, something happened that would completely ruin my attempt to get her to keep quiet:
“Mom! MOM! Oh, my gosh, Mom, A DEAD FOX!!!”
Apparently, seeing a dead fox was the highlight of Kaliah’s young life. She couldn’t stop talking about it. How did I think it died? How long did I think it had been there? Did I think it went to heaven? What was it trying to do when it died?
Suddenly, there was no possible way to get Kaliah to keep this incident a secret. A dead fox was clearly newsworthy information that was just too good to keep to oneself. And any adult who was halfway listening was going to wonder what we were doing and where we were doing it when we discovered the dead fox.
She stayed on the topic of the dead fox for a good ten minutes before she finally got back around to what we were doing and why we were doing it. I calmly explained that Mommy had failed to put enough gas in the car, and the car would not go without it, so we had to go buy some more from the gas station and walk it back to the car.
I watched my little girl’s brown eyes widen in disbelief: “So, we’re not even half way done walking?” she demanded, peering toward the gas station in the distant future.
I tried my best to convince her we were on an adventure, and I promised her a treat at the gas station if she was a good girl. Even my feet were beginning to hurt (I was a runner, but not attired for the occasion), so I knew my daughter’s little legs were wearing out. I tried my best to keep a positive attitude, carrying her a few minutes when she periodically grew tired of walking.
But on the way back, it had started to rain (lightly, thank God), and then, on top of that, at one point, when I couldn’t carry Kaliah, because one of my hands was consumed with the gas container, she tripped and fell, scraping her knee.
“This is the worst day ever!” she wailed.
And I thought to myself, it really was.
But alas, eventually we made it back to the car. All’s well that ends well. I distracted Kaliah with some ice cream, and apologized to her, and made a feeble attempt to ask her to maybe not tell Daddy all about our little adventure. Eventually, she said something to him, because, really, who can expect a five-year-old to keep a secret? She was confiding in her teacher and classmates the very next day, because, of course, she couldn’t keep that dead fox to herself.
“And,” I imagined her announcing to her captivated teacher and classmates, “Mommy says I can’t tell Daddy, because she ran out of gas again, and Daddy will be mad if he knows Mommy let the car run out of gas AGAIN!”
By the time she got around to telling her dad about it, it wasn’t all that relative anymore anyway. Sure, it had been an unpleasant experience, but beyond a scraped knee and some sore feet, neither of us had been harmed. So though I’m sure Rashieme was annoyed, he never blew up over it.
And I’m happy to report that in the years since, I’ve only run out of gas ONE additional time.