Yesterday was a fun day- a day I was looking forward to for a while. Some of my friends and I had a road trip and met up with friends from Canada in New York. We went to Watkin’s Glen State Park, toured the town, and caught up in a cute coffee shop. It was a good day.
My cousin Kezia was driving the last hour and a half before we got back to her place in Allentown. We were almost there when I asked her how much gas we had left. She said there was an eighth of a tank. I made a mental note to get gas before we got on I-78 to head home.
Right before we left her place, though, my other cousin, Heidi, offered to drive the rest of the two hours back to our area. I said ok and hopped over into the passenger seat, relinquishing the keys and, simultaneously, my responsibility for the gas gage. We talked and listened to YouTubers until we were on 81. I then fell asleep. And now we come to…
THE GREAT ADVENTURE
In Which We Run Out of Gas
Through my sleep-fogged mind, I suddenly heard Heidi asking me if we didn’t need gas. She was pulling over to the edge of the road. “Yes, we do!” I jerked awake. I was surprised to find that we were across from the Rutter’s in Clark’s Ferry.
“Ok,” she said. We had just passed Sheetz and something suddenly reminded her that we needed gas. “I think I can cross the road and catch the Rutter’s.” She turned on the car, and just as she was pulling out it coughed and choked off. She jerked it into neutral and coasted off the busy highway.
“We just ran out of gas,” I said.
“But I think it just got on E now!” she said, “My car goes on E for a long time!”
My mind was jumping ahead to calling my long-suffering mother, and telling her we had run out of gas, not just before the Sheetz, but just after passing the Sheetz in Clark’s Ferry. Somehow it wasn’t a pleasant thought. “Look,” I said. “We’re literally right beside two gas stations. We’re not calling anyone. We’ll go see if we can get a gas can, and if we can’t we’ll have to just buy a jug of water and dump it out and fill that with gas.”
In Which We Visit Sheetz
Trudging along the road in the dark in Clark’s Ferry after 11 pm was slightly disconcerting. We decided to walk up to the Sheetz which was on our side of the road, instead of running across the busy 4- lane highway to the Rutter’s. It was cold, and I wished I had taken the time to grab my jacket out of my car. We were annoyed to be there when we should have been nearing home. It had been a long day.
When we got in the Sheetz, there were no gas cans to be seen. “Are you going to ask the cashier if they have one somewhere?” Heidi asked me.
“No.” I couldn’t. “It’s too embarrassing. Let’s just get a drink jug and try to fill that with gas and dump it in my car.”
First, though, we ran back to the bathrooms. I looked in the mirror at the white, tired ghost looking back at me and started laughing. It was kind of a funny situation, after all. When we were coming out, I saw a woman brushing past me to go into the bathroom. I stopped and looked again.
“Hey!” she said, “I know you!”
“I know you, too,” I said, so intelligently. It was one of my coworkers from the hospital. Not one I work with often, but, as we both stated, we certainly knew each other. I let her go without filling her in on my life events of the past half hour.
“Who is that?” Heidi asked.
“Someone I work with,” I said.
“Alison, if you know her, you need to ask her for help!” Heidi whispered in a stage whisper outside the bathroom door.
“No way!” That would be too, too humiliating. I didn’t know her that well, and I felt like I would faint of embarrassment.
“Listen, it’s a chance!” Heidi said. “Maybe they’ll drive us back down to our car, even if they don’t have a gas can. Besides, wouldn’t it be even more embarrassing if they pass us walking along the road towards our car in a couple minutes, and you hadn’t said anything?”
She had a point there. I moaned in distress but took my courage in both hands. When my coworker came out of the bathroom a couple minutes later, I cornered her, and awkwardly, so awkwardly, explained our predicament. No, she was pretty sure they didn’t have a gas can, but she would check with her husband. She checked with her husband. Nope, no gas can.
I plastered a smile on my face and said that that’s ok, we would figure out something, and thanks for your help. They said, “No problem,” and left us.
I had embarrassed myself once, so I went up to the cashier and explained the situation the second time, asking if they didn’t have a gas can?
“No,” She offered no help. “We used to sell them, but we don’t anymore.”
“Let’s take one of these cups, then.” Heidi grabbed a big slushy cup, a lid, and a straw. She thought maybe if there was a valve that needed opened to my gas tank, she could open it with a straw.
“Aren’t we going to pay for them?” I protested.
“No!” she said. “They wouldn’t want us to pay!”
I felt like a thief, but really didn’t feel like approaching the cashier again.
We walked out of the Sheetz and over to the gas pumps. There were two guys pumping gas at the one pump, so we chose one out of their line of vision. I was hysterical right then. I swiped my credit card and stood there and laughed till I cried while Heidi pumped gas into that Sheetz cup.
In Which the Sheetz Cup Fails Us
“Look, 58 cents worth,” she said.
“Do you really think that will even be enough gas to get us to one of the gas stations?” I asked.
“It has to be!” she said. “You get 30 miles a gallon.”
When we arrived back to my car, Heidi dumped in the gas while I held the light. She did it without the straw, since she said that it looked like there wasn’t any valve. I’m rather clueless about such things, so I didn’t offer an opinion. Most of the gas seemed to run out around the edges of the cup, but Heidi thought that there was probably enough in the tank for us to get to a gas station. We hopped in my car, and I turned the key. The lights clicked on, and the engine stayed off.
“God,” I prayed aloud, “Please let my car start!” I tried again. Nothing changed. We looked at each other and groaned. “It probably wasn’t enough. Let’s go to the Rutter’s and check if they have a gas can, yet. They’re more like a truck stop, so they might have one.”
In Which We Visit Rutter’s
We hopped out of the car again, making sure we had my keys and debit card. We waited until the road was clear of impending destruction and dashed across to the median. We waited there until all was clear and dashed again. I don’t even want to think about how we looked to people driving by. We imagined them talking about the Amish girls on Rumspringa. We certainly were “running around”, in a very literal way.
We hopefully canvassed the shelves of the Rutter’s. And there it was. One last gas can, sitting on a shelf. I grabbed it, and made my way to checkout, commenting under my breath that there was nothing unusual about two Mennonite girls buying a gas can from Rutter’s at midnight. I imagined that the cashier smiled sardonically, when he asked me, “That all for you, boss?”
I stuck my chin in the air. “Yup!” I said confidently and stuck my card in the chip reader.
We grabbed the gas can and charged to their gas pumps. I stuck in my debit card again and typed in my PIN. It canceled my purchase.
“Your zip code, Alison, not your PIN!” Heidi said.
We waited a minute, but the gas pump stayed locked up. Heidi grabbed the gas can and went to the next pump. “Let’s try this one.”
We filled the can with gas and twisted on the spout. I took the can, and we made another frenzied dash across the highway. Back at my car, we struggled with the gas can. The gas didn’t come out of the spout, and there was a funny looking red piece that seemed to be connected to that problem. We struggled in vain, taking turns holding the light and trying to pry the spout open. Would we have to call someone to come open our gas can, after all we had accomplished?
In Which the Knights Without Armor Rescue the Damsels in Distress
Suddenly, I heard a voice behind me. “Are you having a problem?”
I turned around, and there were the two guys that we had seen pumping gas at Sheetz about 45 minutes before. They looked young, probably twenties, and were dressed up in business clothes. Nothing about them looked like serial killers, but my mind started sending out wild signals, DANGER, DANGER, DANGER…
You could call me paranoid, but I prefer the word cautious. You would have to know that I am my mother’s daughter, and she has taught me to beware of kidnappers, beware of being out alone after dark, beware of less than ideal places and situations, and malls, and strange men. I need to beware. And Clark’s Ferry (a slightly sketchy place) at midnight on a Saturday night could very well be a place fraught with danger.
So, I told myself to beware, and cautiously confided in them that we were having a hard time getting the gas can lid open. After all, I thought, if they were serial killers there wasn’t much I could do about it, and if they weren’t then I might as well let them help us.
“Yeah,” said the one guy, “Some of them have tricky safety valves.”
He started wrestling with the gas can, and I held the light for him and stood there silently. He tried to make small talk, asking us where we were headed from?
Don’t give out any information! My little beware voice squeaked in my head. “Oh,” I said, all vagueness itself, “We were on a road trip today.”
“Ok,” he said. “We were just coming from a business meeting in Lancaster, and there were some people there who looked like you. We saw you at the gas station earlier.”
“Oh.” I said, thinking skeptically, That’s a likely story. (I’m ashamed of myself for being so distrustful.)
“Yeah,” Heidi said a little embarrassed, “We tried to fill a cup with gas.”
I think they got the idea that we didn’t want to talk to them, because they stayed quiet until they had poured most of the gas into the tank. Then he asked us where we were headed.
I hesitated and then waved my hand vaguely up 322. “Juniata County,” I said. He said that they were headed back to Pittsburgh yet that night.
“You’re going right back to a gas station, right?” the spokesman asked. “I don’t know this area very well, but I don’t think there’s another gas station for a while.” I think he was worried we would run out of gas again. After all, it seemed like we liked to just drive our car until it stopped.
We assured him we were, and I was so relieved when he handed me the gas can and told us they would wait until they were sure our car started for us. I decided they must be nice people after all and thanked them gratefully for their help.
We hopped in the car, and I turned the key. My car didn’t start. “It still doesn’t start,” I said and turned it again. It came to life.
“He’s trying to talk to you,” Heidi said.
I turned and opened my door, almost hitting him with it. I apologized.
“It’s ok,” he said. “I don’t think you can get across to the Rutter’s though, so you should probably make a U-turn and go back to the Sheetz.”
He jogged out onto the median and waited till he could see it was clear and beckoned me to come. I sped out into the middle lane and blew the horn farewell.
I have no excuse for what happened next, none except that it had been an extremely long day, and I hadn’t slept many hours the night before, and the last hour and a half had been rather trying. I turned into the left lane, instead of the right, and started driving towards the Sheetz. Heidi hollered at me immediately, and I jerked over into the right lane, but not soon enough to save my pride. What was left of it after the events of the night shattered with a great crash. I was overcome with embarrassment. I could only imagine the rescuing strangers shaking their heads in consternation and asking themselves if I was fit to have a license. I half expected them to follow us to the gas station and ask if we were safe to drive ourselves home. They probably wouldn’t have believed me if I had said that I was twenty-three years old, and held down a respectable adult job, and drove hours on highways every week. Regardless, I made Heidi get out and pump the gas while I sat in the driver’s seat and laughed and laughed until the tears rolled down my cheeks.
We continued laughing the entire way home. When I got home, I got ready for bed, intermittently chuckling, and then crawled into bed.
I know that at one point last night around 10 p.m., all I wanted was to crash into bed and sleep. When I got there, though, at 1:30 a.m., I lay wide awake laughing into the dark, wondering when I will ever grow out of these crazy incidents that seem to follow me like my shadow…
The first moral of this story is not to run out of gas. The second moral is to persevere, and the third one is that God can protect you. The fourth one, though, is the important one.
The fourth moral is that there are still good people left in the world. There are still people who turn around and come back to help you, without any ulterior motives. There are still gentlemen who will make sure you can safely get your car started and leave, even when you treat them icily, because you think they might be serial killers. Because of this, I told myself that I need to stop being so distrustful and always thinking the very worst about people. And I asked God to bless those business men for being so kind. Because maybe, as my cousin Kezia said, maybe they were angels in disguise…