Saturday, March 23, 2013
Adventure By the Interstate
It starts by Nancy informing me the fuel gauge on my Camry was broken. She'd filled up the tank, but it was already registering "E." So Thursday morning I drive to work with my carpool buddy Chrishele, explaining to her not to be concerned by the little fuel warning light, that it was a mere mechanical difficulty. Then after a busy day of molding the little minds of today to be the moldy minds of tomorrow, we drove home.
Here began, as Shakespeare puts it, a tale, the lightest word of which would harrow up thy soul.
We were about halfway home when the car gave that tale-tell shudder that says it's down to its last fume. I got off on the exit, and waiting for the light to change, we saw a bearded panhandler. We debated whether or not this were a mere homeless man or Jesus Christ and decided it was probably Jesus, and in any case, we didn't want to chance it. (Jesus, in case you didn't know, pulls this sort of stunt all the time - showing up on earth as a vagrant and seeing how you'll treat him. I guess he has a lot of free time on his hands since the Resurrection and all.) So we give him a couple of bucks, and when the light changed, I turned the key - the car had briefly conked out - convinced that after this good deed, karma would see to it the car would start.
But karma did no such thing.
So Chrishele, the man who might have been Jesus, and I pushed the car out of traffic, and Chrishele and I walked to a nearby gas station. I will say this, and this will be a recurring theme in this story; I was embarrassed by the situation and anxious about having put my friend in a dangerous situation. I don't want you to think people were shooting assault weapons at each other from the windows of primer-colored vans, but the fact remains, we'd abandoned my car on an off-ramp and were walking the weedy verge of a moderately busy road during rush hour. Moreover, it was late, and Chrishele, quite reasonably, wanted to be home not out here amid exhaust fumes, weeds, and litter. But here's the thing. She was so completely game about it, laughing and joking, where someone else would have been pissed off and upset. For all the world you would have thought that instead of a dratted inconvenience, we were sharing a jolly little adventure. Which in a sense, I guess we were.
At the gas station we asked where the gas cans were, and being directed to them, found only an empty shelf. Well, the shelf wasn't strictly empty: there were jugs of motor oil and antifreeze, but the spot where the gas cans should have been, was signified by an empty gas-can shaped space. So we walked to the next gas station which did have gas cans. While standing in line to pay for it, a kindly man let us cut in front of him. He deduced two people do not visit a Citgo to pick up gas cans on a whim, especially during rush hour. Gas cans are not impulse purchases like beef jerky but something you buy in a crisis. We filled up the gas can and walked back to the car.
To this day, I am not certain if the gas can were defective, missing a part, or Chrishele and I, two college-educated professional pedagogues, were too bone-headed to figure how to work it. Perhaps Chrishele knew full well how to work it, but stayed mum to spare my tender masculine pride. In any case, we could not attach the nozzle to the can. I know what you're thinking: you're envisioning the way your gas can works and thinking what a knucklehead I am not to figure it out, but I can only assure you this can did not work like yours. Unwilling to walk back to the gas station and ask for a replacement, Chrishele and I ended by holding the nozzle in the gas tank and pouring gas from the can into it. Having gotten about fifty percent of the gas into the tank, twenty-five percent on the ground, and the remaining twenty-five percent on our hands, giving us that je ne sais quois that only the aroma of petrol can give, we decided to fire up the engine again.
Here I will return again to my theme. Throughout this ordeal, including the dousing of her hands with cold gasoline, Chrishele remained absolutely cheerful and encouraging. The phrase "positive attitude" does not begin to cover it. There was something inspiring about the way she encountered one damn setback after another with a smile and a laugh.
To make a long story no longer than strictly necessary, we drove to the gas station, added a few more gallons to the tank, and got safely home. On the way, the needle edged back to "E" confirming there was a leak in the fuel line somewhere. As I write this, the Camry is at our mechanic's awaiting repair.
So here's the thing. I'm convinced this whole anecdote is meaningful, but not in any clear way I can put my finger on. I'm absolutely certain the homeless guy was Jesus - he wasn't there when we returned with the can - but I don't quite get why he merely helped us push the car out of the way instead of just seeing to it the tank had enough fumes to get us to the gas station, something he could have easily done, just as he could have filled it with wine or fish or loaves of bread if he'd chosen. Clearly the rascal had something else in mind, but what? I think it had something to do with the man who let us cut in front of him at the Citgo - and in fact, I half suspect he and the homeless guy were the same person - and that it has something to do with Chrishele's wonderful and gracious reaction to every incident along the way.
Every once in a while, I get a glimmer of what the whole thing signifies, but I haven't quite got a handle on it.
I'm still working it out.