My car has always been good to me in the sense that it
has failed me only in convenient locations – thickly settled areas in friendly
neighborhoods and always within walking distance of a pay phone. |
don’t have a cell phone, nor do I want one. Though on occasions like this, I had to
laugh at my stubbornness. It was a fine evening to run out of gas. It was late
October. There was a full blood moon, and it was a balmy sixty degrees. I was heading
south on route 128 on my way home from an appointment in Gloucester with my
psychopharmacologist. I thought I could make it to the gas station. I truly did. But
when the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree, I knew there was trouble.
I steered toward the breakdown lane and went to pull the hazard
light button on the steering column. It had disappeared. Confused, I turned on the
dome light and found a hole where the button once resided. I peered in and saw a little
silver button inside. I found a pen, pressed the button and the hazard lights began
I paused for a moment to consider my situation. I kept a
gas can in my trunk and remembered just passing a sign that said exit 16 was a mile away.
I would simply walk to the exit and find a gas station.
And so I
began my journey. I walked briskly, occasionally looking over my shoulder to see my
flashing car growing smaller in the distance until she disappeared. It suddenly occurred
to me how much I take my headlights for granted, for there are no streetlights on
highways. Clad in a long black coat, I was grateful for the full moon and the headlights
of passing cars. I then remembered the beige jacket in the back seat of my car, which
was now about ¾ of a mile away. I really should have changed before beginning my walk,
but how could I be angry with myself? I was flustered and doing the best I could.
Suddenly I was struck with a brilliant idea. I would light a
cigarette! The pretty orange glow would make me more visible to passing cars. Impressed
with my resourcefulness, I shifted the gas can to my left hand and fished for my
cigarettes and lighter with my right. I was being saved by my bad habit.
It was quiet but for the sound of an occasional passing car, my breath
and footsteps, until I heard a loud rustling in the brush to my right. Maybe it was a
coyote, a bobcat or even a mountain lion preparing to pounce. I walked faster.
I finally made it to the ramp, crossed over and walked on the
grass to the end. This led me to a deserted road, void of streetlights or any sign of
civilization. I looked to my right and then to my left. The left felt a bit safer, so I
made my way down the street with no sidewalk. While walking under the shiny dark
overpass, I decided that I was officially scared.
I continued on in
the darkness until a car pulled over across the street. It was a cruiser. My hand flew
to my chest, and I breathed a great sigh of relief.
A middle-aged cop
rolled down the window.
“Is that your car back there?”
“Yes, on 128. I think I ran out of gas,” I explained before realizing that it was
“Okay,” he replied. He was looking at me
“Do you know where I might find a gas station?”
“Sure, if you want to get in, I’ll take you,” he said kindly.
you so much,” I said crossing over towards him.
“I’m going to have to ask
you to put out that cigarette first ma’am. It’s really not a good mix with the gas can,”
he patiently explained.
“Of course,” I said, laughing nervously.
He told me that someone had called from his cell
phone after seeing me walking down the highway.
“People around here are
good,” he said.
The gas station was far, at least four miles, and I never
would have found it without the help of this kind officer.
the gas can and returned to my car. He insisted on putting the gas in the tank for me.
I held his flashlight, so he could see. My car started and I thanked him profusely. When
I tried to turn off the hazard lights, I couldn’t get hold of the button, so I just drove
home with the damn things flashing.
When I finally got home, I went
upstairs, poured a zesty beverage and gathered the equipment that I hoped would fix my
problem. Armed with a coat hanger, a paper clip, pliers, a pair of tweezers and a fondue
fork, I returned to my poor car. My efforts were heroic but fruitless, and I knew my
battery was in grave danger.
It was then that I remembered the fuse
box! This was my second clever idea in one night, and I was mighty impressed with
myself. I retrieved the owner’s manual from the glove compartment and searched for the
fuse map. I found the offending fuse and carefully removed it with my handy tweezers.
Though this disabled my directionals, it effectively solved the problem for the time
being. I returned upstairs.
This meant I would have to take my car to
cousin Austin to get fixed tomorrow, since trying to drive without directionals is almost
as silly as trying to drive without gas.
The next morning I drove
to Austin’s shop. He wasn’t in yet, so I left him a long note, very similar to this
story. Austin is a brilliant mechanic and by evening my car was fixed, the hazard light
button replaced with a dainty silver screw.
In recounting this tale
to friends, they all seemed impressed that I keep a gas can in my trunk. And I thought
everyone did. It is my firm belief that every decent trunk should have a sea bucket, a
candle in a coffee can (if you live in a cold climate), jumper cables and a gas can.
It’s good to be prepared for those occasional mishaps or unfortunate errors in judgment.
After all, if you’re going to be stupid, it’s important to be smart about it. Besides, I
so love adventure. A cell phone would have ruined all the fun.
Manchester by the Sea
Dear Officer Egan:
I wanted to thank you again for
helping me out this past October. I realize that running out of gas, especially on the
highway, is not conducive to safe travel. I want you to know that I recognize and
appreciate that it was very dangerous for you to help me, especially since my gas tank is
on the driver’s side. Please know that I will be much more careful in the future.
This story is my way of saying thank you, once again, and giving
a nod to you and your brothers in blue for all your brave work.