Friday, December 29, 2006

Team One To The Rescue

This hasn't happened in years. Back when the Rat Cruiser prowled the streets, it was as common as worms on the sidewalk after a summer rain. The year was 1987. The place, my parents' driveway. I had three 1971 Chevy Monte Carlos stacked bumper to bumper in the drive, filling the distance between house and garage. My baby, the Rat Cruiser, was undergoing an extreme makeover, borrowing parts from the other two like Frankenstein's donors. Its previous owner was restoring a 1966 Impala, and this was his winter beater. The right side was mashed and crinkled from spinning into snowbanks, tires were bald and uneven, brakes and exhaust were shot. I bought it for $250 and lovingly attempted to restore it to its former muscular glory. The 350 4-barrel was strong, it had a smooth ride, and I could picture it with chrome wheels and midnight metallic blue gleaming in the velvet moonlight. It had one persistent problem I could never solve. The gas tank would only accept two gallons. Period. Try as I might, I could not fill the car up to save my life. This required carefully planned excursions, with lots of stops along the way for another sip of gas. Naturally, as a teenage boy with other things on his mind, I ran out of gas frequently. Twenty-seven times, to be precise. In one summer. This did not impress the ladies, but it didn't make much difference in my life, because neither did I. The few dates I did manage to trick into riding with me soon learned the value of comfortable shoes. Just this week it all came flooding back to me. I hung up the phone, thinking, "Phewf. I made it across the border." I was on a company road trip from Michigan to Ohio. I was holding out for the lower prices (lower taxes) of Ohio gas. Since I pay my own way and get reimbursed later at a flat mileage fee, it's a real incentive to pay attention to costs. I passed the border and first exit triumphantly. The little yellow warning light had come on miles ago, but I was heading south. That's downhill on any map, so I was sure I could make it to Maumee and the favorite oasis I visit every time I pass through. My trusty Jeep sputtered. It hesitated. Just past the on ramp from the first exit, it gave up the ghost. Being trained in the fine art of nursing dying cars, I shifted into neutral and smoothly moved to the shoulder. Traffic began passing me as I continued a long, generous coast. When the speedometer hit 25, I bumped the ignition, expecting to get a few fumes' worth of energy. Nothing. The Jeep rolled to a stop on the soft, rainsoaked shoulder exactly between exits and directly under a viaduct. Well, this was a fine kettle of fish. I had a crew of knuckle dragging gorillas waiting for me on a construction site, and I had already left two hours too late. Well, no sense fussing over it. The sun was shining, and it couldn't have been below 45 degrees. I traded my brown office shoes for my gleaming white sneakers (a Christmas gift with less than a half mile on them) and set out to find gas. I was in the center of civilization, so there must be a station close by. I scrambled up the embankment to the road above, only to find a fence between the highway and the overpass. I tried the other side. An opening presented itself, a washout below the fence. It would have been comfortable for a badger or aardvark, but I found it to be a bit snug. My knees and toes showed signs of crawling in a foxhole, but I was on a mission. I scanned east and west, and headed toward what looked like a settlement. I walked past apartment buildings, houses, a bum talking to traffic, and teenage vacationers, only to find that the town center had drug and liquor dealers but no gasoline. I turned south and trekked through muddy vale and ditch. Nothing. I crossed the freeway again, walking toward a promising row of flagpoles. Another townhouse development. Finally, I decided I best return to my car and call AAA. The overpass I was standing on had a different fence system. There were no convenient washouts. The grade dropped steeply from the bridge abutments. My only option was to climb over the chain link fence, hoping against a broken ankle or alert policeman. I slid down the concrete wall to the fence, picked a soft grassy area to land on, and hefted my fat ass over the top. I had a brief flashback of 4th grade, when the prinicpal had to extract me from my very fence-entangled pants after recess. In full view of my classmates. I quickly put it out of mind and wriggled over; only one shin got bloodied in the crossing. I reached my lifeless Jeep minutes later, and dialed the number on the card. I entered my 16-digit membership number. Three times. I spoke with an operator who learned classical English from a teacher who has never been here. As I was giving my precise location again, a white truck with flashing yellow lights passed, pulled over, and backed to my position. "Hold on," I said to the stammering foreigner. A bald man with a fluorescent yellow suit slid from the driver's seat. "What's the problem?" he asked. I explained that I ran myself out of gas trying to make it to the next exit. "I can help," he said, untying one of a row of red gas cans. As he poured two gallons into my parched car, he reassured me that this happens all the time and the State of Ohio has a fleet of trucks on the road for just such an emergency. He refused payment, nodded, and drove off like the lone ranger. Only he didn't say "Hi ho, Silver," or anything like that. Thank you, State of Ohio.

1 comment:

Rick said...

Dude, I'm thinkin' your gas tank had a few kilos of some illicit substance taking up the extra space. Do you remember where you left the car?