Thursday, August 18, 2011

Driving on Fumes

Happy birthday to my sister Kate who turned 49 the other day.

I'm blessed to call Kate both sister and friend. We share a colorful history. When we're together, Kate and I inevitably end up reminiscing about the antics of our teenage and college years. While not wild by nature, we've pulled off our share of harebrained stunts. I'm glad we made it to adulthood more or less intact.

I've written before about our teenage habit of driving on fumes. Really, this was just a simple case of well-ordered priorities. If you have two bucks to spend, do you put it in the gas tank or split a milkshake and live on the edge? Sadly, life on the edge didn't always end up being life in the fast lane.

Our first tale of woe must have been when we were both still in high school. We were driving on fumes and then found ourselves grinding to a halt on a busy road in the middle of a torrential downpour. Within minutes, my father -- who happened to be driving down the same stretch at the same time -- spotted the abandoned car ... and us. He was not pleased. We were -- for at least a brief period -- highly motivated to make the heroic sacrifice and fuel the car.

Some years later, Kate and I were headed out to go shopping. Perhaps a tad more circumspect but still just as cheap, we checked the gauges of both vehicles and drove off in the one that was at least registering a whiff of gas. We left my parents to cope with the other car.

(Note to my children: Don't even think about it!)

Off we went. On the way home we spotted my parents driving the fuel-challenged vehicle in the opposite direction. We surmised that they were going out to dinner without us. What were they thinking? As we liked both free fuel and free food, we pulled a U-turn and followed the sporty Pinto wagon.

And then we saw it. On the side of the road. Presumably out of gas. And we panicked, I mean panicked. And we briefly considered driving past cuz Dad wasn't going to pleased about any part of this.

But, all things considered, we were a tad irresponsible, but not complete heathens. So we pulled over to pick up the stranded 'rental units. As Dad got out of the car, we noticed he had his arm wrapped in a towel. Seems he had walked past the pool filter in our backyard and caught his hand on a piece of raw metal. He was sporting a nasty gash.

They were not heading out for a bite to eat; they were going to the hospital to get Dad stitched up.

We were glad we stopped. And Dad didn't say a word.

At this point, I should write This kind of thing never happened again. Not quite true. A few years later, we were racing to the airport in a large vehicle with a broken gas gauge (Dad, I swear I'm not making this up). We sputtered to a halt. And guess what? We were in the middle of a huge thunderstorm. Kate and I looked at each other and laughed as hard as we have ever laughed. The pathetic part of this anecdote is that we were no longer broke teenagers. Kate was then a CPA and I was a manager with a Fortune 500 company. And we were Out! of! Gas!

Lame, lame, mega lame.

I managed to catch my flight because a sympathetic woman pulled over and offered us a lift. (Note to Dad: we never, ever would have taken a ride from a guy!) How Kate recovered the vehicle, I haven't a clue. I hope she called my brother.

We had another close shave, but this totally wasn't our fault either.

As a college graduation gift, my parents gave me a plane ticket to Europe. Kate and I rented a car in Brussels and motored down to the South of France. The roads that wind through the Alps are packed with breathtaking vistas and hairpin turns ... and absolutely void of guardrails and gas stations. As a bird flies, the trip wasn't all that far. But small rental cars don't fly, and the curvy roads made the trip at least twice as long as we planned. In the '80s we travelled without benefit of Mapquest or a GPS. We arrived in Grasse, France, -- the perfume capitol of the world -- with a sigh of relief and quickly found a gas station.

The return trip brought us through Paris. We'll skip the scenic route, we thought, and get there faster and easier. Still no gas stations! We arrived in Paris wondering when the car was going to quit on us. It was late; it was dark. We parked the car in what we hoped was a legal space and thought we'd sort out the gas issue in the light of day. In the morning we were surprised to find that the car was parked ten feet from a gas pump. French gas stations, unlike American ones, don't have fluttering flags and enormous signs that scream Shell! or Exxon! There's simply a pump on the corner. We were relieved to see that one.

Kate and I have many other stories that have absolutely nothing to do with gasoline. We have travelled a good chunk of the world together --- from Bermuda to Mexico, from Cape Cod to San Antonio, from London to what was then known as East Berlin.

Lots of laughs shared, lots of memories forged, too little fuel purchased.

Kate and her family are currently in Israel, touring the sites and commemorating my nephew's Bar Mitzvah with a visit to The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Happy birthday, Kate! Enjoy Israel. And that little device behind the steering wheel? The one with the E and the F? FYI, it's called a gas gauge.

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