Feets Don’t Fail Me Now


Everyone runs out of gas at one time in their life – well, everyone except my wife but that’s another story. I’d almost be willing to bet no one has hit the big “E” as often as I have.

It’s not as if I try to cruise around on fumes, it just kind of works our that way and occasionally, like twenty times in the past dozen years, I’ve grossly over-estimated the amount of fuel in my tank.

People say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and I have to agree. For example, I know that there’s always couple of gallons left in the tank when the low-fuel light comes on and, to make matters worse, I also know that there are usually still a few drops left when the gauge reads empty. I just don’t ever believe my instruments until the engine coughs, hesitates and goes quiet.out-of-gas-running-empty-no-gas

At one time I had a ready excuse; my car, a rusted out 1981 Toyota Tercel, had no fuel gauge. I ran out only twice with that car. The most memorable time caught me racing to the bank to cash a check during my lunch hour. I was probably going to get gas money – and that’s exactly what I ended up doing.

I was cruising North on Route 495 just after the 495/93 exchange when my engine quit. I sighed, turned down the radio (I don’t know why, but that’s was my first reaction when I run out, and how sad is it that I have a routine for running out of gas?), and pulled into the breakdown lane. As I crossed the white line, it occurred to me that I was still traveling over 70mph and, at the very least, I could coast closer to the nearest gas station – which was at least a couple of miles away.

I rolled past the off ramp to Rte 28 still going about 40mph and that’s when I realized I might be able to make it all the way.

I rolled silently down the off ramp, made a quick look to my left to check for oncoming traffic, and pulled onto Rte 114 and into the Exxon station at the corner. After hiking over to the Shawmut Bank across the street to cash a check, I filled the car and headed back to work.  All-in-all, my little trip was a bit more exciting than I’d expected, but I did manage to get back to work before my lunch break ended.

Sadly, that has not always been the case. I pulled the same trick at a gas station in Chelmsford one morning. As I rolled in front of the pumps – silently again – I realized that station was still closed. That day, I missed an appointment while roundly cursing myself.

This running out of gas thing has become almost a rite of passage for all my cars. I don’t think I’ve ever owned a car that I didn’t find empty at one time or another.

When I bought a Ford Escort a few years ago, I assumed it had a low-fuel gauge. On the first full day I had the car it stopped running. I was idling in a parking lot, waiting for my wife. No reason, no explanation, and most importantly, no warning lights. As I looked up the number for roadside assistance in my owner’s manual, I was chagrined to note that the car didn’t even come with a low-fuel warning light. I guess someone at Ford figured I would have ignored it anyway even if they had included it.

No amount of gas will ever prevent me from running the tank to empty. While in college, I drove a 1967 Chrysler New Yorker – a car so large I could fit four teenagers in the trunk (don’t ask). It came with a 22-gallon gas tank that I don’t think I could ever afford to fill. In any case, I hit a dry patch one Friday afternoon after work. I was on my way to cash my paycheck and scrambling for gas held me up just long enough for the bank to close. I was left holding my paycheck all weekend (Right, this was back in the days before ATM’s, Saturday hours and branches in grocery stores). You can’t imagine how long a weekend can be until you’ve spent it flat broke. My girlfriend was none too impressed either.

My father still reminds me of the times – yes, more than once – that he had to bring me money for gas. Sometimes he had to travel scores of miles to bring me five dollars.

I’m sorry to admit that I’m still running out of gas at an embarrassing pace.

Just a month ago, my engine sputtered and died as I waited for an attendant to come out of his little booth at a Methuen gas station. I handed him two dollars and raced off wondering if I had enough to make it to work and home again.

Update: I wrote this in the 1990’s and have at least slowed down my frequency of running out of gas. I’m pretty sure I’ve only run out twice since 2005.


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