On Easter afternoon, we loaded up our gear and headed from Los Angeles to Phoenix, where Matt’s parents live. And no, we weren’t on camels. Although we might have been better off if we were.
Here’s my brilliant travel tip of the week: When you’ve been driving through desert for about four hours in a rented Jeep SUV that shifts like a golf cart and smells like oil and you’ve finally crossed the state line and pass a bunch of big signs saying “Gas!” and you look at the dashboard and there’s just over a quarter of a tank left, don’t think idly to yourself that you had better stop the next exit and fuel up and then zip by singing along to whatever your Pandora station happens to be playing, Dionne Warwick for example.
We drove and drove and drove, and the needle continued of course to go down at an alarming rate. Then we passed a sign saying that the next town, Tonopah, was 25 miles away. There was no mention of whether or not there might be a gas station there. I looked around – nothing but saguaros and yellow wildflowers as far as the eye could see.
Casually, I reached over and turned the air conditioning off, hoping that Matt wouldn’t notice and maybe the gage would hold steady. He made no comment, and for a few miles I thought maybe I was OK.
Then the low-gas light flashed on with a loud ding. “What’s that? Oh boy!” Matt exclaimed, playing Bing Crosby to my Bob Hope. “Oh boy! You better slow down.”
So I did, pulling in behind an RV going about 60 miles an hour (the speed limit was 75). And for the next 25 minutes I prayed “don’trunoutofgas, don’trunoutofgas, don’trunoutofgas” while car after car after semi came roaring up behind us, whipping over into the left lane at what seemed always like the last possible safe moment. Matt, meanwhile, was desperately trying to figure out how to get the MapQuest app on my iPhone to tell him where the nearest gas might be. To his credit, he spoke not one word of blame, but I could tell from the set of his jaw that it was taking all of his muscular control not to do so.
Periodically from the backseat one of the boys would ask “Are we going to run out of gas?” Neither of them seemed genuinely concerned that it would happen – I think they were more worried about the tension that suddenly dominated the front of the car. I could barely watch the road, my eyes were so fixed on that needle, willing it with all my power not to sink any lower.
For those of you planning this same journey, I will tell you this: Tonopah does have several gas stations, one of which we coasted into on fumes. And my marriage is still intact. And the boys are unscarred. In fact, sensing my weakness and distraction in the mini-market of the gas station, they each conned a huge soda and then proceeded to get completely drunk on high-fructose corn syrup for the rest of the ride.
I’m not one for making categorical vows, but with the Interwebs as my witness, I promise you that from now on that anything near a quarter of a tank = empty.