Taking It Too Far

There’s a remarkable irony about driving a Prius. At least, there is for us. We get such incredible gas mileage – especially when my husband drives – that we tend to think we can go farther than we actually can.

This has resulted in several close calls, including one that I blogged about <a href=”https://mybrightspots.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/almost-perilous-road-trip/&#8221; >here</a>.

However, we’ve always made it to a gas station. The Prius behaves oddly as you near the end of the tank. When the gas gauge goes down to one block, the car beeps. Fairly soon after that, it beeps again and turns itself off.

The first time this happened, my husband was alone in the car. He (fortunately) discovered that if he pulled over, put the car in park, and then pushed the power button again, the car would start and continue down the road. In his case, far enough along to get him to a gas station.

We had the opportunity to test this out again when we were returning from dropping the kids off at summer camp last summer. Again, the car restarted and we made it to a gas station. I commented on that trip about how deeply embarrassing it would have been to walk up to one of the farm houses near the highway and ask the farmer living there if he could drive us in his pick-up truck to a gas station to get gas for our hybrid.

But while there are remote, unpopulated sections of highway in Texas, I would argue that Kansas is perhaps more desolate. As we drove along I-70, he commented that we needed to get gas soon. “I think we can make it to Salina,” he said.

Sometime later, he asked me to look on his phone for the nearest gas station. The phone was unwilling to provide access to the internet, however, so we began watching for signs. We were still fifteen miles from Salina and the Google Map already loaded on his phone did not look promising.

The car gave its first beep. And then its second. Without panicking, my husband pulled over and restarted the car. We continued down the highway at a lower speed and with the air conditioner off.

The car beeped angrily. We continued along the road. It beeped again, sounding testy, and shut off again. Again, he restarted it and continued on. The carp beeped its complaint.

To our good fortune, we saw a sign indicating a gas station at the next exit. We crested the hill as the car beeped and shut off. We drifted down the exit ramp and breathed a sigh of relief as the gas station came into view. I marveled at my husband’s incredible good luck. Things always work out for him.

As we drew closer, he pointed out what I had missed. The gas station was out of business. We wouldn’t be filling up there and now we had wasted some distance and fumes on an unnecessary exit. At this point, I said, “I can’t stand it anymore. I have got to pee!”

He tried to coax his phone to look up gas stations while I walked behind the shell of one to find a private place to empty my bladder. I found success, but he did not and we were soon puttering along the shoulder, my husband turning the car on, the car beeping, then complying, then turning off.

Eventually he had to admit that we weren’t going to make it to a Salina gas station and I called AAA. The automated response asked for our card number and then hung up on me. I tried again and it hung up again.

He finally gave up on goosing the poor car along and stopped. When he took the phone, he inexplicably got a human instead of the computer and cheerfully announced, “I’ve run out of gas in Kansas!”

Forty-five boring minutes later, we were back on the road. “I thought for sure you had pulled it off again when we saw that gas station,” I said.

“Well,” he replied, “Daddy luck works on many things. For everything else, there’s AAA.”

Almost-Perilous Road Trip

I recently took a road trip with a girlfriend. Technically, she’s the mother of one of Jane’s girlfriends. She’s still in my phone as “Alison’s mom, Sue” even though we know each other well enough that I no longer have trouble remembering her name.

The road trip was to a town about four hours away in another state so that we could see our daughters in a Robotics competition. We hit the road mid-afternoon in my little Prius. The conversation and laughter started as we pulled out of her driveway and never stopped. My mouth was dry. My throat even felt a little raw. I was having a blast.

There is something exciting about getting to know someone that you have interacted with just enough to anticipate that you will thoroughly enjoy the person’s company. We talked about our children, our family histories, sixth grade drama, parenting, siblings, love, marriage, divorce, religion, politics, the workplace, race relations, weight loss, and so much more.

The talking didn’t slow once we arrived. It just encountered more interruptions as we made phone calls, checked on the girls, and prepared for bed. We sat on our beds as if we were about to retire any minute. Sometime after midnight, we reluctantly turned off the lights and went to sleep.

The next day was long and exhausting. At the end of it, the girls didn’t want to ride home with us. They wanted to ride the bus. On the one hand, this meant we’d have to go pick them up since it’d take longer for the bus to make the trip than us. On the other hand, we’d get to continue our carefree conversation if the girls were not in the backseat. The girls rode the bus. We left town extremely tired, armed only with caffeine and conversation.

Eventually, we found ourselves on a stretch of highway that had no towns, a very long stretch of road, when the car beeped at me. We were nearly out of gas! It had not entered my muddled mind to fill up before making the return trip.

To compound the situation, my phone was so close to dead that it could not access the internet and Sue’s phone was not far behind. I slowed down and we started discussing our options if we didn’t make it to the next town. The options were bleak. Some fellow parents were making the drive too and I had their number but they were probably an hour ahead of us. We were well over two hours from home. The school bus full of children and very tired teachers was behind us. I couldn’t fathom asking them to bring us gas.

The car was starting to hesitate like it was going to die so Sue used her phone to find the nearest gas station. She found one 9.5 miles away but it involved getting off the highway we were on. We passed a sign that showed the next town was 16 miles away. Conveniently ignoring one of her earlier tales of OnStar leading her to a closed gas station, we opted to trust the phone app.

The new road was even more deserted than the last. The seriousness of our situation was starting to sink in. We were on an empty road in a car about to run out of gas with two nearly dead cell phones, heading to a gas station that might not exist or might not be open. And we had just left the road that the school bus would be traveling on.

“We can never tell the girls about this,” Sue said. “Just imagine how mad at them we’d be if they were 16 and did something this stupid.”

“At least they aren’t in the car with us.”

“Very true.” We laughed. The conversation died down as we traveled along holding our breaths.

The road went around a bend and we could see lights. Soon, a bar came into view. Sue laughed that at least we could get a drink while we waited for AAA to arrive. After passing by a couple more streets, we found the gas station.

These pumps were old. I mean, really, really, really old. Forget pay-at-the-pump. These still had those little metal number plates that flipped over as you pumped the gas. We had now dissolved into a fit of laughter.

She tumbled out of the car to go ask if we needed to prepay and I began to examine the pumps. I tried to lift the handle and it wouldn’t come up. Feeling around in the dark, I found a padlock! Now nervous about whether they actually had any gas, I checked the other unleaded handle. No padlock. Relief.

Nerve-wracking adventure concluded safely, we returned to the highway and our conversation and eventually made it safely home, full of fond memories of a fun and almost-perilous road trip.