I should have known. All the best Smith Boy fiascos happen in a Toyota.
Above is a photo of Rick back in his Land Cruiser days. Niece the Elder recently posted it and I’m not sure what the breakdown was. But I experienced enough disasters (cue mike, ronda, 75 million mosquitoes and me waiting overnight for an emergency rescue) to know that the beast dished out joy and suffering in equal doses.
But that was then. Today we were just driving to the Midland airport so Mo could catch a flight. Two hours out, two hours back. Easy.
And the trip there went fine, other than the drilling museum being closed (we were supposed to buy little bro and sis-in-law an oil pump snow globe and a Permian Basin says Bring Back Obama hoodie.) We dropped off Mo, got back in the car and departed. 2:30. Home by 4:30 easy.
We were driving along on I-20, talking and gazing at West Texas while enjoying that refinery smell, when I noticed we had gone 30 miles when the cutoff to San Angelo should have been at 11. I had missed the turnoff. No worries. Just keep going till we hit Big Spring, and turn off there, giving us a straight shot home.
And then. I noticed the fuel gauge light had come on. No worries. Big Spring has both essentials of life, gasoline and medium chocolate frosties. We would have gas to spare. I made the turn onto 87 and kept going. And going. And there was nothing there, just an endless empty blacktop. This was weird. I thought Big Spring was right off the Interstate, but i haven’t driven this road for a Bush presidency or two, so I kept going.
Rick, a trusting soul, became a bit concerned at this point, asking tough questions like “just how much gas do we have left” and “didn’t you notice you can see 60 miles in every direction and nowhere does the word ‘gas sold here’ appear?” Reporters ask mean questions. Rick will NOT have credentials for future briefings.
No problem. Google maps to the rescue. I look up the nearest gas station. Sure enough, only 5 miles away. Saved.
It says to make a U-turn. We drive 5 miles, and then it says to make another U-turn. We drive another 5 miles. The terrain looks strangely familiar. Clearly, google maps is stalling in an effort to run out the phone battery. Rick, insightful as always, says quietly, “maybe we should turn that thing off.” Rick was always a paper map guy.
Having wasted 10 miles, we’re really, really low. What to do? We do the only thing left to do — try to make it to the next town. I’m no longer confident that Big Spring actually exists, so we head the other direction, toward Sterling City. I stare alternately at the odometer and the gas gauge. Rick is patting the passenger door softly, saying “you can do it. One more hill.” I already know how this will end, a triumphant coast on fumes into a dusty station. Disaster averted. Cue curtain. Take bows. Perfect. .
The speedometer steadily makes its way toward zero. I always wondered what it would feel like to run out of gas. The answer: Not that great. I coast to the shoulder. It’s 102 degrees. We’re in the middle of nowhere. And the world becomes very, very quiet.
We sit and look at each other. i want to remind him of the Toyota in the lake bottom and say “ok, now we’re even.” But he has more water than me, so I apologize and call AAA.
Where are you, the dispatcher asks. Highway 87, I respond helpfully. Can you be more specific? I offer that it’s somewhere in Texas and there is a white wind turbine nearby. She sighs and says someone will be there within an hour.
So we wait. And sweat. And wait some more. Rick looks in the back, in the Smith Boy tradition of finding a fix with available tools. Or possibly looking for something to whack me with. I don’t ask.
It’s West Texas hot. There’s no breeze. The buzzards aren’t even making an effort, guessing we will be there when the sun goes down. In true West Texas fashion, several people stop to see if we need help. One offers his bottled water. People here have good hearts. But no exyra gas cans.
Just as all hope is lost, the AAA guy pulls up right on time. Super nice. Keeps asking how we wound up here if we were going from the airport to San Angelo. I tell him I’m not from around here and too dumb to listen to my brother. He shakes his head, gives us gas, explains how to get to Big Spring and wishes us well. Oh, and he explains the secret to my misfortune: They recently built a new cutoff from i-20 to the 87 that bypasses the town altogether. I never had a chance.
We start down the road again, basking in air conditioning and all the freedom 2 gallons of gas brings.
10 minutes later, the phone rings. It’s the AAA guy. “Just checking to make sure you’re not lost again.” I think he enjoyed that one too much. And with that, we were in Big Spring. A Wendy’s stop, a full tank of gas (yes, Rick leaned over to check before we left the station), and we were on the road again. An hour of wondering how we rode bikes across America without getting lost (i’m guessing paper maps were the key), and all too soon we were home. The two hour drive became a 4 1/2 ordeal, a reminder that suffering can be fun if you have the right partner in crime. And I did.
The funny part: We were in a Toyota RAV4.
All the best Smith Boy fiascos happen in a Toyota. I should have known …