The first time I ran out of gas

My brother, Ted, and I are driving home from college together. We’re low on gas, as usual, but we’ve got enough to make it home. Really.

It’s freezing cold outside, early 2009, I think. Remnants of snow in the shade. Breezy. Gusty, really.

We’re now about halfway home. The gas gauge light is on, but the needle still isn’t touching empty. I’ve pushed it further than this before. We’ve got enough to make it home. Really.

I round a bend in the freeway and start across an overpass. Out of nowhere, the car – the amazing Eggplant Mobile – hiccups. And then stutters. And then off.

I’m going about 60 miles per hour at this point, slightly slower than usual because of the curve and, well, the lack of power. Oh, and I’m in the left lane as we reach the middle of the overpass.

Time to shift lanes. But not before I try to restart the car as I’m coasting along and drifting into the right lane. Nothing. The car doesn’t restart and thankfully no one’s in the lane right next to us.

I finally maneuver the car all the way into the emergency lane on the right side, just past the overpass bridge.

Okay, what’s the problem, we’re thinking. I try restarting the car a couple times. Still, nothing.

Hmm… maybe we’re out of gas. Maybe the gauge is slightly off. Maybe we should think about how to get some more gas.

Thankfully, again, we’d died right near this exit. No gas station right off the freeway, but there’s one not far down the road. We knew that because we’d stopped there in the past when we were low on gas.

So next question: how do we do this? Should one of us go get some gas and come back, or should we both go together?

We decide to both go. I think Ted has the gloves, and I have the scarf. I turn the car’s emergency lights on and lock everything up. And we’re off.

For some reason, the cold always feels colder when you’re out in it. And when the wind is blowing. Brrrrrrrrr…

We see a bum on the way to the gas station. He’s standing on the street corner, asking for stuff. How does he stand it out here?

A police officer runs him off.

At the gas station, I hunt down a small container to carry back some gas. I feel awkward buying it, like the guy selling it knows I’m some stranded college kid with his little brother. No, really, the gauge said I had enough gas. Really.

I’m not even sure I believe that anymore.

Outside, in the cold, I pay for some gas – thank you debit card – and start trying to pump it. Problem is, I can’t seem to get the lid off the container. It’s equipped with one of those child safety lids, I guess so kids like me can’t hurt ourselves with the gas. It hurt me though, not the gas but the lid. Remember I’m the one with the scarf, not the gloves. And I’m trying to unscrew this thing in the freezing cold. Come on – I can barely make a fist much less fuss with a safety lid.

Ted finally gets the lid off for me. Thanks. That’s what brothers are for, right?

We get some gas and trudge back to the car.

Oh great, a road patrol van parked in front of our car. I guess he’s trying to help, though, so it’s probably not a bad thing. When we get up to it, the man’s like, “Hey, is this your car?”

I’m thinking, No, no, I just thought I’d come by in the middle of the freezing cold to check it out. But no, it’s not mine. I’m not in a good mood, I guess.

Yeah, it’s mine. We ran out of gas,” I finally mutter.

“Okay, well, I just left a note on the windshield to let you know I’d been by.”

Ted gets in the car. I dump the gas in the tank and then hop in. But when I try to start the car, it’s doing the same thing it was before we put in the gas. The starter is turning, but the engine’s not starting.

Wonderful, we just walked all that way in the cold, bought gas and a gas container, and now we’re finding out it wasn’t a gas problem. Now what?

The man from the van peeks in through the passenger-side window. “If you turn the key partially for a few seconds but don’t quite start it, your fuel pump will pump some gas into the engine for you. That should help.”

“Oh, thanks,” I say. “Like this?”

I do what he says for a couple seconds.

“Yeah, that should do it,” he says. “Now try starting it.”

The engine fires up.

I probably wouldn’t have gotten the car started like that if the man with the van hadn’t shown up. I probably wouldn’t have gotten the gas container open if Ted hadn’t come with me (I would have had to ask the gas station dude who already made me feel awkward). And I probably wouldn’t have been able to do any of that if I’d stalled just a couple minutes earlier or later because that exit was the only one nearby.

I’m thankful, really.