I chalked one up for my mom memory books the other day. But it's one I kinda wish I didn't have to record. Since “all's well that ends well,” as the adage goes, I am sure I will go on unscarred, because it did end well. Still, I'm sure I'll be the laughing stock of my girls and their friends for the immediate future, at the very least.
Here's what happened: I had volunteered to pick my girls, and two of their friends, up from a different friend’s pool party. As I was leaving home in my large SUV (aka tween mobile) in order to retrieve them, I noticed that my gas tank was at a little more than 1/4 of a tank. Despite the fact that a 1/4 of a tank typically registers in my mind as EMPTY, I pressed on and pushed it to the back of my mind.
“Don't have time,” I thought again to myself as I backed out of the garage, hustling first to the bus stop to hug and kiss my six younger kids who were headed to their dad’s for the weekend. “I'll get gas on the way, once I leave the bus stop,” knowing full well that there was little wiggle room between the stop to bid farewells and the pool pickup. As I made the long trek to the pool party, again I glanced at the gas gauge. “I'll be fine,” I thought to myself -- yet it was so out of character for me, a planner who hates unexpected drama. Running out of gas? Ha. That only ever happens to those discombobulated folks who DON'T plan ahead, right?
Arriving at the pool party exactly on time, and feeling very happy with myself because of it, for some reason, I again dismissed my fuel concerns. “I'll get gas after I pick up all the girls.” While the girls changed, the moms chatted about end of year stuff and exchanged details on summer activities and plans. And then it was time to head home. As we buckled our seat belts, I announced to my car full that I needed -- quite urgently -- to stop for gas and asked the girls to keep an eye out for a gas station as we made our way back to the main highway, heading home. I chuckled to myself as the only response I received was four heads looking down at their phones and iPads. “Ok, so I'm on my own in my search for a gas station,” not that it surprised me in the least.
I started the car, blasting the air conditioner, and crossed my fingers. Between the party and the highway, we saw NO gas stations. At the first exit, we exited and drove a few miles, back and forth, passing every restaurant and store you could imagine, but NO gas stations. My gas light came on with an earth shattering BING. Gulp.
I tried to comfort myself, assuming I had a few miles until I'd sputter and come to a gas-less stop. I was hoping for at least 10 or 20 ... preferably 200 miles, but I didn't know how many I actually had, and since this particular vehicle didn't have the “miles until empty” countdown feature, I didn't have any way of really knowing ... which added tremendously to my internal panic.
We roamed around, making it a game. We saw a Mexican chain restaurant. One of the girls said, “We could fill it up with burritos. Would that help?” We laughed.
Next we saw an office store and I said, “Shredded paper for fuel?” Again we laughed. The game eased my nerves and by the time we were done, we had seen many other imaginary “fuel stops,” including a bank and all agreed that filling the tank with money -- “$100s only please” -- was the best alternative to gasoline! Following our fun game ... still NO gas station.
I pulled over, not once but twice, in order to look for a gas station on my car GPS unit and using a “finder” phone app. One gas station literally no longer existed and the other was too far away, and I feared we'd never make it. So, not knowing what else to do, we returned to the main highway. By now, we were about 45 minutes into our search! By this time, my girls were requesting an ice cream stop. I laughed to myself at the differences between a kid’s and a parent’s priorities! Clearly they didn't understand the urgency of the situation at hand, regardless of the fact that my orange gas light was practically blinding me as it glared from the dashboard. But, to give myself credit, I was doing my best to keep the stress level minimized, for their sake, by playing games and chatting.
We drove until the next exit and took the off ramp in our continued search for a gas station.
By now I was exclaiming out loud in utter frustration, “Seriously? This is a busy, well-established area with many frequently traveled highways coming together and there's not ONE gas station located off ANY of these exits????” The car full of girls giggled and then Cara spilled her party cup of popcorn all over my car floor. That didn't go over very well, as you can imagine. “Just par for the course,” I sighed to myself.
I pulled over yet again, and this time I was delighted to see that there were a few gas stations within a mile or two of our current location. Cara took that opportunity to clean the popcorn off the floor mat while I programmed the address into my GPS unit. “I think we're getting somewhere, finally!” I announced triumphantly.
A few miles later, as we rounded a corner, I took bets from my passengers to see who believed “Mrs. Map” (my name for the car GPS unit) that the gas station would soon “materialize” in front of us ... not surprisingly, given our harrowing adventure, everyone, including myself, hesitated ... until we finally saw the glorious red and yellow sign with the hint of an “S” peeking out about a quarter of a mile ahead! The sound of a collective sigh filled my car as we pulled in and I aligned the vehicle next to the only available pump. I handed the girls some money to run inside and grab themselves each a snack while I filled the tank to the “tippy top” with gas. When all four emerged, they were smiling and happily chatting, while slurping on milkshakes. No harm done, right?
With the urgent situation at hand now off my mind, I asked the girls to text their parents to let them know that I hadn't kidnapped their daughters (lol). They laughed and reached for their phones to do just that. With gas tank and stomachs happy, off we went ... AND because I believe that absolutely everything that happens in life is a “lesson learning opportunity,” I went into full blown speech mode to my car full of future drivers. My lesson? “Someday really soon, you'll be driving. Take it from me and this experience and never ever ignore your gas tank! Keep it filled up! The only other time in my life that I ignored a quarter of a tank, it ended just like this!” I received four milkshake slurping typical pre-teen “whatever” type looks in response. I am quite sure that I read on their faces that I should take my own advice.
I felt ridiculously embarrassed -- and still do, but I promise in the future, I will.
Have you ever been in a panic to find a gas station?
Image via Kate Gosselin