Vacation Was a Gas

Dear Will:

A couple of weeks ago my family and I returned from a vacation in southern Colorado. We enjoyed a week of rafting, horseback riding, soaking in hot springs, hiking, exploring ancient ruins, and lots of driving—2,300 miles worth. We had a marvelous time, but as you would guess, by the time we finally pointed the car toward Orange, I was ready to be back in my own home.

So it was that we found ourselves, rolling down I-40, trying to take our minds off of the road. As we approached Havasu City, I remember noticing a Pilot station selling gas for “only” $2.39 per gallon. “Pretty good deal,” I thought—which will tell you all you need to know about what I was paying in and around Durango. As I drove past that exit—the last before we crossed into California—I discovered that I was running low on gas and would need to stop.

(Those of you familiar with that stretch of I-40 can probably anticipate the rest of this story. Having never traveled that stretch of road before, I was not so fortunate.)

When we got to Needles, I took the first exit and pulled into a Union 76 station that was charging $3.09 for a gallon of low-grade unleaded. “I’m not paying 3 bucks for a gallon of gas!” I exclaimed as I drove right through the station without stopping. Assuming that the first exit would offer the most expensive gas, I got back on the freeway and tried the next exit instead.

“Three-nineteen! I’m not paying $3.19 a gallon. This is ridiculous. We can get gas in the next town.” Once again I got back on the freeway without refueling. I looked at the gauge and concluded that I would have plenty in the tank to get me to Fenner—only 38 miles away.

Not far down the road the low-fuel indicator came on. I was averaging 17-18 miles to the gallon, so now I was worried. I had my whole family in the car and the in-dash thermometer indicated that it was 122 degrees outside. I imagined my wife and children baking in the unrelenting heat while I shuffled up the road, gas can in hand, in an ever-growing state of delirium. The desert stretched before me, blank and unforgiving, and the word hubris pounded over and over in my head. Somewhere nearby a lizard laughed. Hysterically.

We came over a rise, pushed onward by the last few drops of fuel in the tank, and finally saw in the distance evidence of what we thought must certainly be Fenner, California. As we drew nearer, however, the highway was pinched down to a single lane. Road construction. “Just watch,” my wife said. “With our luck the exit will be closed.”

It was like some kind of sick joke. The exit was closed. As we drove past the exit and saw the gas station—tantalizingly close, but unattainable—I gnashed my teeth and berated myself for my pride and stupidity. If I were a swearing man, I’d probably have felt a little better right about then, but not much. The next town was almost 60 miles further west.

Quickly I saw what I must do: At the first opportunity, I broke several traffic laws by driving across the median so that we could head back the other direction (there was no construction activity westbound) so that I could get to Fenner. We limped into that gas station, hot and relieved . . . and gladly paid $3.59 for a few gallons of gas.

PW

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