Friday, March 9, 2012

Flashback Friday

This column ran in the Post-Bulletin in September 2007. I'm sorry to tell you not much has changed -- except now I have a car that tells me when I have "0" miles left to go on a tank of gas, which, in instead of making me more responsible, only ups the anxiety factor.

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I was on my way home from “up north” last week when I realized my fuel gauge was on E. By the time I made it to the next town, I practically rolled into the gas station on fumes. This is typical. I always think my gas tank can handle one more errand, get to one more town.

You’d think I’d learn.

Two years ago, I was on that same stretch of road on the way to my grandparents’ cabin. In a move that I believed to be genius, I decided to make the 6-1/2-hour drive at night. I figured I’d cheat time by driving in the dark and get an extra morning out of the deal.

So I bid my husband and kids goodbye, threw in an audiobook and hit the road. I was making good time, and had just an hour to go when my fuel light blinked on at midnight.
“Ah,” I thought, dismissively. “I’ll just stop in the next town.”

It turns out there are long strings of towns in northern Minnesota — with names like Ogema and Bejou — where pay-at-the-pump doesn’t exist and gas stations close at 8 p.m.
So there I was at 12:30 a.m. — the glowing orange pointer of my fuel gauge resting decidedly below E. By the time I hit Waubun — the fourth town in a row without an all-night gas station — it was time to make a crucial decision: Was it better to spend the night in a service station parking lot or stalled on the side of the road two miles outside the next town? I went with the parking lot.

But here’s the thing. In the middle of the night, even quaint little towns with populations of 388 look eerie and dangerous. I decided I needed to get low, keep hidden and find a weapon in case someone decided to break into my van and/or kidnap me. (I was fairly convinced that at least one of these scenarios was inevitable.)
So I locked the doors, crawled into the rear seat and covered myself with my emergency blanket. Then I turned on my cell phone, pulled out the antenna (sharp and weapon-ish), entered my husband’s phone number, and poised my index finger above the “send” button.

Two hours later, with my trigger finger still at the ready, I heard tires slow and then stop on the gravel outside my van. Terrified, I lifted my head to peer outside.

It was a police car.

Did I breathe a sigh of relief? Did I wave a white flag out the rear window? Did I run to the cruiser in gratitude?

No. I ducked and prayed he didn’t see me.

For some reason, I was afraid it was illegal to stay overnight in a parking lot. (OK, so I don’t do my best thinking at 3 a.m.) And, frankly, I felt like an idiot. What was I supposed to say? “Hi. I’m just waiting for the station to open. But, hey! I’ve got this here cell phone I can use as a weapon, so don’t worry about me. I’m good.”

No, it wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have.

The officer was gone when I woke at 5:30 a.m. to the sound of keys in the gas station door. I was relieved to realize I hadn’t been kidnapped — though I did succumb to an untamable case of bedhead. When the overhead lights flickered on, I was the first in line to gas up. And I vowed to keep my tank above the half-way mark for the rest of my life.

But, apparently, I’m still working on that.

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