Side of the Road

Jennifer Savage essays

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A few months ago I was driving to Missoula from Arlee as I do every day and my car began to slow down. As I was on I-90 I pulled over to the side of the highway to figure out what was going on. I was alone, which is so rare, but on this day was so fortunate. I drive a Prius and while I love the little thing, it is quite particular. When something doesn’t go its way, it acts like a three-year-old in the grocery store at 5 p.m. It kicks, it screams, it pitches a royal fit. So with lights a flashing on every console and screen possible, the teeny tiny car came to rest on the side of the freeway with me behind the wheel puzzled as to what was going on.

I called Seth. It was his birthday, a fact that he has only reminded me of once since this little incident.

“I’ll be right there,” he said.

And by the time he pulled up behind me on the edge of the road I realized what had happened. I had run out of gas. I know. How old am I? Who runs out of gas in a Prius? Well, I do, I suppose. But this little problem didn’t start with the Prius. It’s been a life-long issue, to be honest.

The first time I ran out of gas I was probably about fifteen and a few miles from my house. I walked home to find my dad a little less than amused at the situation. He said something like “…what were going to do, pull the car up in the driveway on empty and let it sit here?” That was precisely my plan. I have no idea why. I just hated to stop and get gas.

Shortsighted? Yes. I was fifteen and like most teenagers didn’t think past the next 20 minutes. But the truth is I still hate to get gas. And while I do it regularly it still feels like I’m always stopping at the Conoco. I live out of town, this is part of the problem I know, but it still feels like an everyday occurrence. I’m not so shortsighted as I was when I was fifteen, these days I’m a busy mom of two trying to keep it all between the lines and sometimes I kind of forget one of the basics. I move too fast, I forget and I get stuck.

Of the three times this has happened in five or so years, I’ve only had children with me once. Somehow, I feel like this is an accomplishment. Every time I haven’t been stuck for long and every time I hear my dad’s voice in the back of my head “…what did you think you were going to do…?”

Seth has never really passed judgment on me for my gas failings. Like the calm, methodical person he is, he gently suggests that I might fill up a little more often but beyond that he’s pretty quiet about it.

Since I’ve known him, Seth has never run out of gas himself. Even the lawn mower is rarely on empty but this weekend that all changed. And I was as shocked as anyone. 

We were driving back from Oregon after dropping the kids off with the grandparents for the week. As we drove across eastern Washington through the Tri-Cities we must have been talking so much, just the two of us, that we didn’t hear the ADD FUEL alert (twice!) and the Prius, loaded with Ikea goods (let the yuppie jokes ensue), stopped cold but not before the car launched a lights flashing three-year-old hissy fit.

“What’s going on?” Seth said.

“I don’t know,” I said but I had a good idea.

“Oh, I think we are running out of gas. How far will it go once it starts to do this?” he asked me, knowing that I knew the answer all too well.

“Not long,” I said.

So he pulled the car to the side of the road and we looked around at the wheat fields in every direction for miles. And I mean miles.

“Well, I guess we have to start walking,” he said. “Ritzville is just right there. One exit up.”

We started walking. We could see the exit far in the distance. We kept walking. About a half an hour later, at the closest gas station, we armed ourselves with a gas can and began the half hour walk back to our car. Seth calculated the mileage and was convinced the car was so loaded down with furniture that our car was using more gas than normal.

“We always make it to Ritzville,” he said a little bewildered by the miscalculation.

I bought his reasoning but I’m kind of used to being stuck on the side of the road for far less adequate reasons so I wasn’t too concerned about our hour-long sojourn on the side of I-90. We talked about the airline crisis, the recent crash in San Francisco, Malcolm Gladwell, hydration and extreme sport endeavors. We arrived back at the teeny, tiny car with blisters on our feet, sun in our faces and a renewed sense that an hour-long setback is not the end of the world.

As I settled back into the air conditioned seat of our yuppie-mobile laden with Ikea crap, I took it as a good sign that I’d rather be walking along I-90 with Seth with a gas can in hand than be just about anywhere else in the world.

About the Author

Jennifer Savage

Jennifer Savage is a writer and mama of Eliza and Lucille. Lately, she's learning to be a farm girl, again. She writes from her home at the base of the Mission Mountains in Arlee, Montana. She is also one of Mamalode's favorite writers and you can fall in love with her too at .

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