My body no longer ached. I made every attempt at not watching the gas gauge. When the needle miraculously dropped below half, I began to pay attention

Posted January 8, 1997, CALEXICO, CA
At 5:30, Saturday night, after a seemingly uneventful ten hours of driving, I took a break at the Pop-a-Top in Guymon, OK emotionally gearing up for the final two hours to Tucumcari, NM. Watched a little football. Had couple beers. A half-hour later I was pumping gas for that final leg. Reached into my wallet for my debit card and it was not there. It came to me in almost retching spasms—I had left my card (my only source of cash) at the last gas fill-up—a distance of three-quarters of a tank ago. At some station in some town. This far into the journey, all little towns looked the same. It was the only gas receipt I didn’t save. All I knew is that if I turned around with a full tank and drove until it was three-quarters empty I would be in the vicinity. Either that, or continue on, report the loss to my bank Monday, live off the Travelers Cheques I have, and request the bank to send me a new card to my hotel in San Jose. One more factor in the equation of things that could go wrong. I wanted the card in my possession. I went back into the night. Down a dark, lonely two-lane blacktop.
My only time reference being the gas gauge. A gas gauge that dropped dishearteningly fast had characterized the whole trip. Now it couldn’t drop fast enough. As I peered into the darkness I entertained myself by reconstructing the moment: There were two rows of pumps, the station’s entrance was in the middle of the building. The register was in the middle of the store. A newspaper rack as next to the door, with the Wichita Eagle on the top rack, the men’s restroom wouldn’t lock. There was a problem with the card machine, the person behind the register became flustered, there were people waiting. It was the chaos that prompted my misfortune. I drove deeper into the night. My body no longer ached. I made every attempt at not watching the gas gauge. When the needle miraculously dropped below half, I began to pay attention. Rampant optimism was responsible for the first station I pulled into.

The next town, 20 miles. It seemed about right. Greensburg, Kansas. Not the first station. The second station, its familiarity screamed at me. The woman at the register searched all the usual places for a lost card. Nothing. No card had been turned in. Sorry. I knew I had left this gas station without my card. Was it now a stolen card? I asked the woman to phone the woman who worked that afternoon. Lois. Lois might have gone into Pratt, someone added. The call was placed. The call was answered. The card was in the safe. Lois came down to open the safe. I had my card in my hand. I drove back as far as my body would allow, to Liberty, Kansas.

(On the way back, in the middle of nowhere in a black night, the countryside was suddenly illuminated by a tremendously bright series of flashing lights, like from a beacon. It didn’t seem to be coming from any particular direction.

I looked around for a tower or nearby buildings. Nothing. The pulsing light lasted about 30 seconds. It was then as it had been. Infinitely black.)

Highlights, lowlights, ramblings and random thoughts that kept me entertained:

Four days. 1700 miles. All distances gauged in three-hour increments/Duluth to Minneapolis units of measure (DTM’s). So what can I tell you? I saw a lot of country. Three days, until an hour north of Los Cruses, it all had snow, with the eerie exception of northern Minnesota. A driving strategy that paid big dividends was my decision to take, from Albuquerque, the longer southern route through Tucson instead of I-40/I-17 Flagstaff/Phoenix. Television reports showed scenes of winter carnage that sent shivers throughout the body of this winter-hardened soul.

What follows, chancing that it may be as boring to you as it was to me, are

  • my half bag of Twizzlers lasted one hour, not even into Iowa.
  • Bob "Slim" Dunlap’s newest album is superb. You can feel how much fun he is having. You can sense what a truly nice guy he is.
  • American drivers drive fast. Very European feel.
  • The Radio Ranch, a classic country program, should be a regular feature of all country stations all across America. I heard it at KFCI 1070 AM out of Wichita.
  • Saw first magpie outside Cullison, KS. (Hwy 54)
  • In Bucklin, KS the snow was piled up to four feet at the roadside.
  • Top 100 most-requested oldies countdown, final weekend of ’97, four Beatles songs between 50 and 30: Yesterday- 49 (surprisingly)
  • Strawberry Fields- 42
  • Michelle- 33
  • Radio station embarking on a Top 1000 countdown. (Are there special pre-recorded programs for this?)
  • Mental note to someday explore the headwater area of the Canadian River.
  • Found a "guardian angel" at a gas station in Montoya, NM and pinned it to a curtain.
  • Personal Achievement Radio out of Albuquerque on Feel Good Talk Radio.
  • Ponderings: why is it when you can only find one radio station that comes in clear enough to listen to, it is a religious station?
  • Very nice RV passes towing a late-model Caddie. Whatever RV park they are bound for, they will be making a statement.
  • Benson, AZ—first opportunity to drive with my arm out the window, even though the air has no heat component to it yet.
  • Gila Bend, AZ—first convertible with the top down flies by.
  • Yuma, Tuesday, 8 a.m. First sense of warm weather.
Zelda’s Diary
am in the car. I am happy for that. We are going somewhere and I am happy for that too. But I am going crazy. My little seat. I am hungry and thirsty, but I can not leave my little seat. There’s too much to see. Where are the cows? Where are the other cow-like animals? Back and forth. Nose to the window. From one side to the other. All day. When we stop I sleep. Sleep. Sleep. No dreams. Every day is worse than the one before. I have to move. I go over and get my head scratched. I whine. I let out the occasional yap. When I have a chance to get out, I have learned to do my business in a hurry, because I hardly have time to give the area a good sniffing. Back in the car. Back in my seat. Back looking for cows.

Previous dispatch
Next dispatch