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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Empty Head, Empty Tank

Apparently, I’m a ‘thrill seeker’.

I’ve never considered myself to be pushing the envelope further than any other hyperactive and marginally sane person, but the proof is fairly convincing. I’ve been whitewater rafting. I’ve gone skydiving. And I’ve written this drivel for all to see and ridicule for more than three years. Clearly, I’m camped squarely in the ‘fast lane’. I even had a career counselor tell me so once.

But there’s one chance I’ve never before taken. Sure, I’ll switch jobs, or even career fields, at the drop of a hat. I’ll cavalierly rip the tags from mattresses, without a second thought. I’ll show up at potluck picnics without a dish, and assume that ‘things will work themselves out somehow’. But never have I driven a significant number of miles with the gas tank on ‘EMPTY‘.

Until today.

“It’s like prancing naked in front of the open bedroom window, then finding out the neighbors weren’t even home. What the hell’s the point, anyway?”

And let me tell you — gambling on not running out of gas blows. There are risks, and then there are risks. When you’re teetering on the verge of a cross-country relocation or a round of tough job interviews, there’s a rush of possibilities. When you’re huddled inside a Cessna at three thousand feet with a half-hour of training and a backpack full of nylon, the air crackles with excitement.

But when you’re stuck in gridlock three miles from the nearest filling station with six ounces of octane left in the tank, you just want to pull onto the sidewalk, climb into the trunk, and hope it all goes away. It’s high anxiety for no good reason, a risk without reward. It’s like prancing naked in front of the open bedroom window, then finding out the neighbors weren’t even home. What the hell’s the point, anyway?

How did I find myself in my fossil-fueled fussy foofaraw? It was simple, really — laziness. I wasn’t seeking thrills; I was shirking chores, specifically the one that reads:

Fill the tank with gas when the ’empty tank’ light comes on

In my defense, I was a tad busy when the ’empty tank’ light first lit yesterday evening. I was rushing out of the office to make it to a softball game when the familiar amber glow crept onto my dashboard. By the time I sped from the field to my billiards league match, the light was a fiery, accusing orange.

(Yes, my dance card currently includes the twin ‘fat old man sports’ of softball and pool. If only I could find a league in which to bowl, play bocce, or sit on my ass and complain about the local sports teams, I’d have the trifecta.

As a side note, I scraped my knee in the final inning of the softball game, and didn’t have time to clean up until I reached the billiards league site. So I can tell you from experience, if ever you find yourself washing your own blood off your leg in the bathroom of a shady pool hall on a random Tuesday night, you’ll know you’re doing something right. Say hello to the ‘High Life’, my friend.)

Of course, the pool league lets out way too late to be worrying about trifles like filling the gas tank. So did I fuel up on the way home for the night? Nope.

Did I make a mental note of the situation, and gas up first thing this morning, before heading to work? Nope.

Did I at least stop at the first gas station on the way to the office, a few blocks from my house? Uh-uh.

No, instead I decided that I had just enough juice to make it to one of the stations nearer the office, but several miles from my starting point. And by then, the empty tank indicator was looking less like a ‘light’, and more like a ‘beacon’. People in passing cars complained about the glare. Boats were using it to navigate to shore. And tonight my left leg has a painful sunburn with a distinctive gas pump outline evident betwixt the ouchies. Time was quickly running out.

So, of course, I pulled the thirsty old gal onto the four-lane throughway towards the office. That’s the throughway without a breakdown lane, I might add. If I sputtered out there, I’d still make it to work — but only because the oncoming traffic would smash the car all the way down the road. Not the ideal commuting option, to be sure.

Soon enough, I began to question the sanity of my decision, and considered ways to whisk my neck — and my Nissan — back out of mortal danger. And again, I made a series of regrettable choices. This is why I should never be trusted with important decisions at any time before noon. I’m incapable of rational logic before lunchtime; it’s amazing I make it through my morning toothbrushing without impaling myself.

I let the first exit whiz by, deciding it was too soon to switch courses. By the time I passed the second exit, I’d changed my mind, but didn’t want to slow down enough to slip behind the Honda next to me and into the exit lane. By exit three, I’d flip-flopped again, and decided I was close enough to the office — and assorted close-by gas stations — to make a run at it. It was only what — three, maybe four more exits to go?

That’s when I hit the gridlock.

I rounded the corner after the third exit, and found myself stuck behind several dozen cars at a complete standstill. A half-mile ahead, as-yet unseen, a cop had blocked the road and routed all traffic off to the next exit. Because of a wreck, or road maintenance, or an elaborate bar bet with his buddy in the DoT, I couldn’t tell. Slowly, our three-lanes-smooshed-into-one crawled towards the exit.

Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick…

The first traffic light after that exit isn’t usually an issue. Today, it took three cycles to get through it, with all the extra cars around. I turned off the radio to conserve gas.

Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick…

The second traffic light after the exit is always an issue. It’s far too short, cars turning left back up immediately, and the cross traffic often snarls up the area surrounding the intersection. I waited through six cycles, and killed the air conditioner in desperation, before finally scooting through a left turn and six car lengths further, before getting held up by the next light.

Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick…

Finally, I made it through all of the stop lights, and onto the road with several gas stations close to my office. Another road without a shoulder. Three blocks in, I signaled a left turn into a gas station… and waited for a sea of oncoming cars to creeeeep past.

Tick tick. tick! tick tick tick tick TICK!!!

At long last, I pulled my parched vehicle up to the pump, and proceeded to pump her full of liquid refreshments. I even broke my filling station rule (formulated exactly two weeks ago), and poured exactly fifty-three dollars and twenty-five cents’ worth of high-octane happiness into the tank. After she was such a trooper, how could I deny the old girl even a drop of delicious unleaded love? You look into those headlights, and try saying ‘no’ to that grill. It can’t be done.

So, the story has a happy ending. I pushed the envelope, and survived without a call to AAA, an unfortunate highway incident, or a mob of infuriated fellow motorists. It sure as hell wasn’t a picnic thinking for twenty minutes or more that each drop of gasoline could be the last, but it all worked out in the end. Just remind me to never, ever ignore that gas tank light for more than a couple of miles. I may be a ‘thrill seeker’, but I’m never going through that again.

Permalink  |  2 Comments

2 Responses to “Empty Head, Empty Tank”

  1. Roofie Raccoon says:

    Happy birthday, putz! That’s some fine procrastination. You’re lucky your car didn’t die just to punish you for letting it languish.

  2. kerry says:

    is it your birthday? well, have a happy one!

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