Stupidity, Part 1

I could have died, twice, on my drive from Plano to Las Vegas — and both times were from my absolute and utter stupidity.

Day 1 — last Sunday — saw me leaving home at about 8am, day’s end destination TBD, looking forward to a drive through small-town America.

By late afternoon, I finally cleared West Texas. I won’t say it was a boring drive — I did hit a tumbleweed full-on somewhere outside Plainview; terrible mess, cleaning twigs and such from my front bumper and license plate — but it was when I got to New Mexico that the fun started.

Normally, I travel very carefully and with much preparation so that I don’t have to worry while on the road. This trip was a little different. Maybe my mind was still in Britishland, where no trip lasts longer than a couple of hours, and if it does, there are always villages and such where one can find gas and such — and even on the small byways, there’s traffic.

This was not the case on US Highway 60 in New Mexico. Whoa. I could drive for an hour without seeing anybody — couple of trains, but few cars and even fewer people. So when my gas gauge showed a quarter-tank, I looked at the map and saw that the next town was 30 miles away — easy, because even when my gas warning light comes on, I get 40-odd miles, as my car’s handy lil’ trip calculator showed. Except that the next town wasn’t a town, per se, but a few houses; and no gas station. Okay, the next town was only 15 miles away, so no problem, right?

By now night had fallen and the temperature had plummeted from Texas’s warm and friendly 56F to much less: about 28F with, as I was to discover, a biting wind which put the chill to about 15F.

As I got to the next town, I looked for a gas station, but nothing was visible. According to the calculator, I now had 20 miles’ gas left. Shit. There was also (surprise, surprise) no cell phone coverage along that stretch of road.

There was a motel on the east side of town, and I decided that if there was no gas station in town, I’d turn back and stay the night there, and deal with the fuel issue the next morning: in that kind of weather, sleeping in the car was right out.

Luckily, however, I turned a corner, went under a railway bridge, and there was the blessed sight of a 7-11. I dad to pop an aspirin tab, my heart was racing so fast by that point.

I stopped, filled up (nearly freezing to death in the process, because — idiot! — I had forgotten my gloves at home), and set off again. Right before I filled up, though, I checked the trip calculator one more time, and saw that I’d had 12 miles’ of gas left. Way too close for comfort.

Anyway, just as an intellectual exercise, I looked to see where the next gas station showed up — US 60 was about to join I-25 shortly, according to the map, and there had to be a gas station there, right?

Wrong. The next gas station anywhere came up a full 30 miles after I’d filled up. Without that 7-11, I would have run out of gas in the middle of Fuck Nowhere, NM. I wouldn’t even have made it to I-25.

And with no traffic to be seen anywhere, I would have had to stay in my car and wait till morning. Where I would have been found, probably as dead as a doornail and stiff as a board — even though I had a blanket and warm clothing.

But that was nothing, compared to what happened to me the next day. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.


  1. My rule for driving across the Southwest is “plan for time, not for miles.”

    Start looking for gas when you have at least an hour’s worth of gas left. There’s too many places where 30 miles just gets you in worse trouble (like the stretch from Needles to Barstow).

  2. Been there and done that and it is not fun, years and years ago in kind of a mountain area I literally coasted into a small town with the one gas station closed, no motel however a nice kind person stopped to see what happened or, most likely what I was up to. That person took me over to the home of the gas station owner who took pity on me and drove me over to his station, got some gas to put in my car to get me to his station where I filled up. One of those kindness to stranger things that happen to us from time to time.

    Now in my old age when I travel neither my wife nor I have two hour bladders so with the frequent stops we make she has a rule that if we pee we have to spend money so I always top up the tank before we hit half way. She calls it her pay to pee plan and it’s good for us to get up and move around.

    Kim, I am glad you did not turn into a frozen goober on the side of the road in New Mexico and most any GPS thingy will tell you where the next gas station is, how far, how many minutes and, just saying. I always enjoy the ‘time to beat’ on my GPS.

  3. Glad you made it. On long trips, I usually fill up when I have half a tank. It makes me stop more often, but I don’t have to worry about finding a gas station (or pushing my car off the road.)

    In Indiana, I always carry a sleeping bag in the winter. Of course, 28F isn’t considered cold, either. Cold is when the wind chill is -15. You know, retiring to Texas is sounding better all the time.

  4. Did that drive alone 2 years ago when I moved from Texas to Washington. The most boring scenery EVER! No cars, houses or animals to see. Made a lot of stops for coffee and gas.

  5. Gas, Piss stop and Coffee at the half tank mark is my standard operating procedure also. It served me well on my five mile per hour race up I-95 ahead of Hurricane Irma in September. My OnStar service includes delivery of fuel and I was tempted to see what would happen as I inched along in gridlock but I’m sure there’s some kind of “We can’t deliver fuel by helo” disclaimer.

  6. I think there is a bit of a cushion with those mileage calculators. I have gone a few miles with the reading on “0”. But I sure didn’t like the feeling.

  7. A few years back I was driving a 1984 HJ60 from Alice Springs to Carnes, and then down to Sydney. I knew pretty much exactly how many km I could get out of a tank.

    Heading north up the Stuart Highway, I didn’t account for the headwind, nor the extra resistance all our extra luggage on the roof.

    So about 5km shy of the petrol station in Tennant Creek, I learned how to prime the fuel pump on a naturally aspirated diesel engine. On the side of the road. After it had been running for 4 hours.

    I would say it was “fortunate” that I had a 20 liter fuel container on the roof, but “fortune” had nothing to do with it. In that part of AU fuel points are about 50 to 60km apart, and if one is closed you might need it.

  8. My wife gets a little testy with me when I load the Jeep “my way” for anything over 4 hours travel, or in winter. In addition to luggage, laptop case, and a small cooler with water and snacks:

    20l water can, full
    20l jerry can, full
    Winter kit (cold weather gear, shovel, camp stove and cookware/bowl)
    72 hour pack (food, change of clothing, medical kit, tarp/woobie)
    extra wool blanket
    extra woobie
    Car spares action packer

    If I have safe storage on the far end then a shotgun and ammo pack gets tucked in there as well.

    But I do leave room for her suitcases, really I do.

    We also follow the ‘half tank is empty’ rule, especially in winter. Its been years since I drove out west but my Dad was a little gas paranoid and I learned it from him. Two is one, one is none, half tank is sucking fumes, get gas asap.

  9. My wife has a friend whose daughter thinks the gas warning chime is there to tell her to fill the tank. She borrowed her brother’s car when her’s was in the shop, it didn’t have a warning chime, and she ran out of gas. She asked “How am I supposed to know when to fill the tank if there’s no ding-er?”

    Even just running around Northern NJ I’ll never let my tank get below 1/4 full, and I’m seldom further than a couple miles from a gas station. I’ve personally never heard the warning chime on either of our cars.

  10. I did a south to north run in western Nebraska many years back in a Ford Aerostar van pulling a pop up camping trailer. My goal was to get from Scotts Bluff (a pretty interesting place) to the Black Hills. I had about 3/4 of a tank when I left Scotts Bluff and thought that I’d be able to find gas 100 to 150 miles down the road. This was back in the days when your navigation was done by a Rand McNally road atlas. Yes there were towns listed in Western Nebraska, but the towns were marked by two houses on a state highway intersection rather than one. Plenty of worn out cowboy boots on fence posts – and I still don’t understand that – but no gas stations. We finally found gas out in the middle of nowhere in a country store that still had the old mechanical counters on the pump. I paid cash as I don’t think that they’d even heard of a thing called a credit card.

    I really enjoy long distance drives. I load a good book on my sound system and go. The stops for this old man are about 2 1/2 to 3 hours apart. That’s all my bladder and back will stand. If I’m driving a familiar route I’ll look for gas when I stop for a break or when I get down to 1/4 tank. I don’t really trust my trip computer as it seems to be a little optimistic. If I’m in desolate country, and that only applies out west where there’s only sagebrush, sand and death I look for gas when I’m at 1/2 tank.

    My late father said “never pass a bathroom”. As I grow older I’ve come to appreciate his sound advice. I’ve added – “when you’re in unfamiliar territory, never pass a gas station.”

  11. The father of one of my boyhood friends, as we all aged out and he was an old man saw us at a class reunion. He took me aside, put his arm around my shoulders and said, ” Three Things, there are Three Things to know as you become an old man, number one, never pass up a chance to take a piss, number two, never trust a fart and the last one, number three is, never waste and erection.” Word of wisdom.

  12. I once hit an underpass packed with tumbleweeds at about 70mph in my boss’s car. :>) Fortunately there was nothing solid in there but it was a spectacular explosion. Also fortunately, he didn’t wake up. I told him about it years later.

  13. Sadly, over the years I have thrown caution to the wind by driving numerous miles on dark, deserted, highways out west with gas levels going dangerously below a quarter tank with the low fuel light on for the last 30 miles.

    Having resolved to fill up before the needle even neared the quarter mark I would watch the miles tick away getting that old familiar wormy feeling in my guts while “chewing holes” in my worn cloth seat. Always hoping-against-hope that the lights of the next 24-hour station would pop into view. Not even Art Bell on KOA 850 could ease the churning stomach and sweaty palms.

    Doing a little better at my advanced age. Not as many of those marathons any more now that I can afford to stay in a decent hotel.

  14. This is just one of the ways you could have died. You promised us two.

    In the immortal words of Judge Smails, “Well? We’re waiting!”

  15. Cross country travel off interstate is for when you’re not really concerned about getting where you’re going. Kinda like eating with chopsticks is for when you’re not really hungry. Having said that, I’ve had some sketchy moments on I-40 twixt Amarillo and Barstow. Mostly in New Mexico, iirc.

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