A few weeks ago, I had to drive home for a family dinner. My brother accompanied me. We hit the road late (I blame my brother), and it was only when in the driver’s seat that I realized my gas tank was a quarter full. Now I’m one of those people who seldom lets their gas dip below half, so I’m not sure how I reached this point. Nevertheless, I decided we could make our two-hour journey without filling up. Plus, while home, my parents planned to switch out my current car with a newer one, so it would be a waste of money to fill up the tank. I would save the most by riding close to empty.
The first 90 minutes of the ride passed without incident. We passed many gas stations without notice.
Then I noticed the gas light. The gas light has only come on two other times in my years of driving. Now the dial hovered millimeters above the E.
Originally, I figured we could make it to the family dinner, and my dad would see my near empty tank and fill it up the next morning. That hope vanished: we had to get gas before dinner, or I wouldn’t even be able to make it to my parents’ home after the dinner (my aunt was hosting the dinner).
Simultaneous to this revelation, my brother wondered aloud if the family dinner would have anything for him to eat. As he’s vegan and my aunt planned on cooking out, I doubted he would find enough parsley to fill his stomach. She wasn’t grilling vegetable kebabs, and my aunt’s cold salads demand cheese and/or mayonnaise, no-noes of the vegan diet.
We decided Taco Bell was my brother’s best bet: bean burritos without cheese are satisfactorily vegan for him.
“Will you put Taco Bell in the GPS?” I asked. And then, “Can you see if there’s a gas station nearby? I think we can make it. Yeah, we can make it.”
My brother and I returned to discussing when our cousin was due, how old our other cousin’s child was (and what is her name?), and whether another cousin would be having kids soon. The light blinked off.
A few miles later, the light came back on. The dial had sunk a millimeter lower.
“Should we get off?” I fretted. “Where can we get gas? How close are we to the Taco Bell?”
“Six miles,” my brother said. “We take the next exit.”
“Okay.” I felt reassured. “We’ll just stop at a gas station on the way. There will be one at this exit, I’m sure.”
Exiting the interstate, I asked for the next direction. “Turn right at the first stoplight,” my brother instructed.
“I don’t see any gas stations,” I observed. “This right?”
“Yes, turn here.”
“I bet there will be one on this…” The word “road” died in my mouth as we rolled up a ramp and onto another highway. “We’re on a highway. There’s no gas stations.” Panic rippled beneath my sunglasses. “How close are we?”
Hold it together, Cazey. Hold it together.
Ahead was a bridge. Would we run out of gas on the top of the bridge?
“Four miles,” my brother said. “You turn left in three miles.”
The dial touched the top of the E.
“Put in a gas station. We have to find a gas station.” We ascended the bridge. Hold it together. “We have to go there first.”
I remembered the Seinfeld episode where Kramer drove on an empty tank – and the car kept going for miles. Would that happen to us? Was E the real empty or just a warning sign? Would I be calling Triple A in ten minutes for roadside assistance?
“Where is the gas station?” I said. The light had blinked off again.
“Turn left in two miles,” my brother replied. “It looks like it’s right by the Taco Bell. It’s a Kroger gas station.”
“Whew, I get to use my points. Do you think we can make it two miles?”
We came to the turn. I worried as I slowed the car for the turn that the car would die. I spotted a 7-Eleven gas station. “I thought you said it was a Kroger,” I said.
“It’s not that one,” my brother replied. “It’s the Kroger gas station.”
“How far away is it?” I said. I saw the Taco Bell. Should we go there first? “How far away is it?!”
I didn’t see a Kroger. I spotted a Walmart beyond the Taco Bell. Did the Walmart have a gas station?
“I don’t know, it says it’s up on the left…” My brother’s confidence dipped lower than my gas.
“I don’t see Kroger,” I proclaimed. I considered turning for the Taco Bell since we were passing it, and it was the same entrance for Walmart, and surely Walmart had gas, and then I definitely turned. I swung the wheel. As I did so, the gas light blinked back on. “We have to get gas,” I yelled and immediately U-turned out of the Taco Bell parking lot. “Where is it?”
“The GPS says it’s up on the left, but it’s redirecting because you turned, and—oh my God—”
“What?!” I shouted.
“It says it’s four minutes away.”
“Four minutes? We’re on E! We can’t make it four minutes. We’re going back to the 7-Eleven.”
I prepared to U-turn at the next intersection only to see a no U-turn sign. Noooooo.
I turned left and cursed the car ahead of me going 25 mph. I whipped around at the next break in the median. I won’t testify whether I may have cut anyone off. On top of all this, we were 30 minutes late to the family dinner. And we still needed bean burritos.
I rolled into the 7-Eleven parking lot. For a moment, I thought every gas filling station was filled, but then I saw the perfect spot where my tank aligned with the nozzle. My brother waited in the car as I hopped out and began filling the tank.
Now I did not plan to fill the entire tank since that would be financially dumb if I was about to trade the car in. I waited for the tank to pass $10 and then I pulled the nozzle back—without turning off the nozzle. Gasoline gushed down the car and onto my feet. I screeched and turned the nozzle off. Gasoline pooled on the concrete and dripped down my leg.
And the smell. I worried any friction might ignite my body and the air.
“Do you smell that?” I asked as I crawled back into the car. “I need to wash off my legs.”
“What did you do?” my brother recoiled.
“I’m going into the bathroom.”
The smell remained noxious in the 7-Eleven restroom. I wondered if I could get high off the kerosene fumes. Hopefully there wouldn’t be a bonfire at our family cookout, or I might die.
Returning to the car, I felt my flip-flops begin to slip and slide. I looked down at them. The sole had come partially unglued from the top. A reminder not to douse anything in gasoline. I kicked them off and got into the car barefoot.
“Should you keep those in the car?” my brother asked.
“I have no other shoes. Let’s go get Taco Bell.”