Day One of our maiden voyage: Overall, success. Yes, there was cursing (the hitch) and a kitchen faucet turned Old Faithful (fixed), but I figured out the stove and water and fridge (it runs silently, which I thought meant it wasn’t running at all), and you have no idea how exciting it was to use the toilet and not have that turn into Old Faithful. I gave a little cheer when I flushed, and how often do you want to do that?
On the drive down I saw a well-coiffed, well-dressed older woman emerge from the trees by the side of the road. Was she stashing a body? Having some sort of wild wooded tryst? I think she was peeing. We were on a long stretch of highway, no services in sight, which brings me to why it’s good to look at a map before you hit the road.
I had almost half a tank of gas when I passed through Vaughan, NM. Willie Nelson was singing “Georgia On My Mind” and I wanted to keep going, thinking surely there’d be another town before Roswell.
When the signs after Vaughan said Roswell next, no other towns mentioned, I got nervous. But not nervous enough for good sense to kick in and turn around for a pit stop. I kept driving. Another town would show up.
But I had to keep driving. And driving. And watching my gas gauge drop closer and closer to empty. Once my gas light goes on I’ve got about two gallons left, and since I’d figured out I was getting 18 – 20 mpg (I’m geeky like that), I thought – Okay. As long as that light doesn’t go on before I’m 36 miles from Roswell, I’m fine. Meaning I had about 300 miles on the odometer before I was bone dry.
The light went on at 275. I was cutting it close, but figured I’d make it. I was ten miles from town when the gauge dropped below E. I turned off the radio. I focused. I could see the town, for chrissake, how far could I be from a station? I coasted down hills. I petted the dashboard for encouragement. I held my breath for longer than humanly possible.
I thought, Really? My first day out on my big adventure, and I run out of gas? Wouldn’t that be some sort of cosmic message, a slap from the universe? I growled to myself. Idiot.
But then, like a petroleum oasis, there was a gas station. Halle-f*ing-lujah. I practically swaggered in my seat, proud of my excellent calculations and driving prowess.
Then I noticed the yellow bags over the gas pumps. Dry. Jesus.
I got back on the road, drove a couple more miles. I prayed to the Honda gods, Please let me see a gas station, please let me not run out, please let fumes be something you can actually drive on.
After what seemed like a week I finally hit Roswell, and all I saw were motels with green cartoon men saying “Welcome!” Where were the goddamn gas stations? Then, I saw it. I exhaled. I coasted to the pump, and heard the engine shuddering. Empty. I parked, whipped my wallet out, and prepared to fill that tank to the brim.
Then I saw the sign: “Members only. No cash.” Was this some sort of cruel 80s-inspired fashion joke? What did it mean?
Christ. I was at a Sam’s Club. And I’m not a member.
I knew the car wouldn’t start, and I knew I wouldn’t make it to another gas station. I found a man in a blue Sam’s Club vest and explained my problem. I was not a member. But I was out of gas.
He frowned. Pulled at his chin. Looked at my camo-cargo pants and black t-shirt. Then he softened. He traced the shape of a rectangle in the air. “Do you have…” He searched for the word, but I knew exactly what he meant. “Oh, I’ve got credit cards,” I said.
I followed him to the pump, he punched in a code, and the screen asked for payment. I gave it. Screen said, “Remove nozzle.” I resisted the impulse to hug blue-vest man, though I thanked him profusely and called him Sir. He smiled and moved on to the next customer. I put in 16 gallons. I didn’t even know my tank held that much.