Category Archives: gratitude

18.6 Gallons

When it hits, I fear it may be a stroke such as traumatized an uncle. I break the airport security I’ve just cleared enroute to working from the road with my wife Joan, who is on assignment in Montana.

On to doctor, who looks in eyes and ears, manipulates body, then cheerfully pronounces just BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo), see lots as people get older, inner-ear crystals and whatnot, just need medicine and vertigo exercises.

“Well, I was headed to Montana. Can I fly?”

“Sure, people may think you’re having a stroke, they may think you’re going to vomit, you might even actually vomit, but you won’t be having a stroke.”

So I fly though forced to look only at the floor when walking.

As Joan picks me up in Bozeman, the vertigo fades. After her next work day I’m happy to drive us to her Kalispell assignment. But as interstate speed limits rise crazily by Eastern standards, we hit curvy mountains. Vertigo returns.

So my poor exhausted wife is driving. GPS says shorter this way. We’d stopped for a snack while I was driving and agreed gas later. Joan obeys GPS. But it doesn’t occur to either of us that GPS will take us through wilderness for oh, 2,822 miles. We have nice chats in between my covering my eyes.

Suddenly Joan stops talking. No matter what I say she just drives. What? Marriage over? What? Ah, she can’t handle my aging process now that she sees how it’s going to go. Okay, Joan: Why aren’t you saying anything?

“I was hoping not to have to tell you before I fixed it.”

“What? What?”

“We’re running out of gas.”

“WHAT? HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?! Why didn’t we (YOU) get gas? Where are we?”

“I don’t know.”

“How far to civilization?”

“I don’t know.”

I ask Joan’s phone (mine has no signal) where gas is. It won’t say. Because now her phone has no signal.

“How far down is the gas?”

“It’s been in the red a long time,” reports Joan, not quite her usual inspirational self.

“Joan, we’re in big trouble.”

“I know. I know I know.

We get to a sign promising gas/lodging that way. We go that way. Nothing.

A man in a dusty pickup comes toward us. I open my door, I wave wave wave. He looks at the lunatic. Hard look. But he stops. He lowers his window.

I stagger over and cling to his truck. “Sorry to bother you but we’re those crazy Easterners who come to Montana and then run out of gas. Do you know where we can get some?”

“How much do you have left?”

“Almost none.”

“Can you make it 15 miles?”

“Maybe. Not sure. Maybe.”

“Okay, if you keep going that way you’ll get to this intersection with a Sinclair.”

Okay. Ipod off. Can’t stand it. No talking. Except a strangled occasional query from Joan: How many more miles? 12, says GPS. 11.9. 6.25. At times Joan’s speed drops. Why? Gas gone? No, slowing down from 80.

5.7. Get us at least within 3. Then we can walk or stagger. 2.5 miles. 1.5. Green and red glimmer. Oasis! Heaven! Nirvana! The Meaning of Life in Car Crazy America! Who cares about climate change and fossil fuels and the collapse of civilization. The SINCLAIR!

I pull out the rental car manual. Gas tank capacity: 18.75.

“How much did you put in?”

“18.6. I was praying,” she said.

“People pray and bad things still happen,” I said.

“But we made it.”

“You’re right.”

I don’t know how to theologize about this. But I am grateful.

—Michael A. King is publisher and president, Cascadia Publishing House LLC. He writes the column “Unseen Hands” for Mennonite World Review, which first published this post.