Empty gas tank, broken gauge and you’re still on my mind
By Mark Rutledge
Saturday, August 24, 2019
In the middle of a lake is no place to be powerless. But there is usually a measure of life-affirming experience that comes from running out of gas.
It was a long time ago, and I’m not sure if I was there or if I’ve just heard the story so many times. What I know happened is that the boat ran out of gas, and the owner immediately found a positive light to shine on the situation.
“This is good,” he said. “I needed to know how far it would go on one tank.”
His friends have had plenty of fun with that during the years since. But he wasn’t saying that being dead in the water was a good thing. He was saying, “This isn’t as bad as it seems, guys. And look, here comes another boat to tow us in.”
Most boaters who spot a vessel in distress will immediately motor over to offer assistance. It might not be a rule of law, but on the water it’s considered a moral code — on the water.
So when I ran out of gas driving home from work the other day, I tried to look on the bright side. “At least I know how far it will go,” I said out loud.
“Yep. All the way to the side of the road,” I could hear my friends laughing.
The gauge’s needle had been slowly losing its mind for weeks, launching into a twitching, spinning fit after about the half-tank mark. I thought it had finally gotten over the shakes. Turns out it had somehow balled itself up in a holding pattern at the quarter-tank mark.
Being stranded on the side of a highway is different from being in distress on a lake. You don’t need an anchor to stay in one spot, and the other motorists know that.
Even those who might have stopped to help 20 years ago now see that you have a cellphone and figure you have the situation under control. I know because I’m one of them.
“Well, looks like he’s got help on the way,” I say to myself, and I motor on.
The question is, how is that guy going to use the downtime spent leaning against a guardrail. I spent some of mine pondering the way that a fully loaded semi moving at 80 mph can visibly shake a half-ton pickup from 20 feet away. That’s power.
I spent some time peering through the cars and trucks speeding past, staring at a white cross and a small, wooden cutout of a double tractor-trailer planted like signs in the median.
The spot where I ran out of gas is someone’s hallowed ground from something far worse.
I doubt that she considered it a moral code, but my wife did finally swoop in and rescue me in her trusty minivan. It was about 10 minutes before she arrived when I realized that I should have been writing a country song during all that time against the guardrail.
“We met on the highway
I flagged her down
No gas in my pickup
No friends back in town
‘You look sad and lonely’
She said with a grin
‘Climb in here beside me, we’ll go for a ride
Who knows where the party might end’”
And there I was thinking my tank was dry.
Contact Mark Rutledge at email@example.com or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.