The Road Back to Houston

I hung up the phone with my mother (I was using a headset) and stretched. Glanced at the gas gauge. And then I did a double-take: the low fuel light was on. On my 2005 Pontiac Vibe’s gas gauge the low fuel light goes on with an arrow indicating the percentage of gas left. This time it was at the very bottom. And I could feel the lightness of the car; it was handling strangely, and accelerating hesitantly. Shit. I was stuck in traffic between Austin and Houston, on I-10 E. That stretch of the road where there’s just nothing but ranches.

I picked up my iPhone, and asked Siri for directions to the closest gas station. Siri said behind me 5 miles. The second closest one was more than 20 minutes away. So, reluctantly, I eased out of traffic and onto the Frontage road and crossed over I-10 to head back West. As I lurched down the highway, I fixated on that light and mumbled a few prayers. Just brush and cows, and me, and the landscape that I’d been admiring almost moments before. 4 miles. 3.8. I imagined walking those miles, there and back, with no shade in the 95 degree Texas summer heat.

As I gratefully approached that exit, I did a double-take at the GPS. Glanced up, and down. I pulled around to one side of the highway and then the other, but saw nothing apart from a chipped and rusted abandon building. Panic rising in my throat, I continued to drive, before pulling into the lot of a farming supplies shop right behind two impatient pickup trucks. I shut the car down and sat for a moment, smiling.

Sigh.

A little conversation with myself (out loud) later, and I called up Google this time to check for a nearby gas station (seriously, Siri, this is the second time you’ve screwed me on the gas thing…) 25 minutes away. No… I hadn’t thought I’d make it 5 miles. I hadn’t thought I’d make it into this farm shop’s driveway. And I-10 was barely moving. After an “are you fucking kidding me?” directed skyward, I shrugged and banged a U-turn out of that gravel driveway and headed back to I-10. My new plan was to get as far as I could before I had to pull to the shoulder and call someone.

Stopped behind a Kia on that blasted I-10 E, I narrowed my eyes. Then I swerved and took my little car over the grassy divider back onto the Frontage road. If I was going to run out of gas, I wasn’t going to do it passively.

“Siri?” I asked “If you’re about to run out of gas, is it better to drive fast or slow?”

Siri answered: “I wish you wouldn’t.”

Thanks. Fast it was. I turned on some music and began to sing along. No point in dwelling on it. 24 miles. I played through my current favorite song twice (it captures some of… what catches up with me when I’m still these days). 20 miles. I pulled around a turn and up a hill, and I could feel that the car didn’t want to move. Would barely accelerate. I prayed some more.

I could see the exit. And as I pulled into that Exxon station, the car ran out of fuel, and coasted gently to a stop right in front of the pump. I climbed out, and the man in the pink cowboy hat with the muttonchop sideburns stared as I laughed until tears came to my eyes.

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I was still smiling even while using that bathroom, in a part of Texas where the graffiti said that Obama is the anti-christ, and a woman with a pronounced Texas twang told her kids “don’t you touch nothin’. this place is nasty” in the other stall. As often as I want to get out of my car and scream until I fall to my knees these days, I am lucky. I am so often so very lucky.Image

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