The Nightmare Before Christmas

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Once upon a time, there was a husband and a wife. The husband was from Nebraska, the wife was from Georgia, and they had family spread aaaall over the country. In order to see as much family as possible, still maintain a balance in their checking account, and not max out their credit cards, they decided to drive from Washington, to Nebraska, to Georgia, and back to DC for Christmas. So, on December 19th, they set out on a long, cold, tiresome journey to Holdrege, Nebraska-- a 23 hour drive.

The husband and wife set out on their journey, leaving Arlington at 10 am on Friday morning. Along their journey, they had milestones every few hundred miles during which to take bathroom breaks, fill up with gas, or just mentally note the progress they'd made. Snack break in Nowhere, West Virginia, gas stop in Dayton, Ohio, dinner in Indianapolis... After Indy, their next planned gas stop and closest major city was Peoria, Illinois, along Interstate 74. Peoria was about 200 miles from Indianapolis, where they had about a half a tank of gas left.

So, around 11:30 that night, the wife, being a good wife and a natural night owl, decided she'd take over the driving at midnight, but needed to shut her eyes for a few minutes to make sure she was awake and alert enough to take the wheel. So, she reclined her seat, bundled up under her husband's big wool coat, and closed her eyes for a quick winter's nap. She popped up a bit later, relaxed and ready to relieve her dutiful husband from driving. She looked out to find herself surrounded by vast, dark farmland and inches of snow on the ground. No lights, few cars, and many miles between each exit sign. And then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash. What could that be? It was the GPS system of the car, flashing that they were low on gas, and needed to be re-routed to the nearest gas station. "You have only 11 miles of gas left," the GPS read. "How could that be," the wife asked? "Well, I forgot to pullover in Peoria," the husband nervously laughed. Luckily, the GPS found the closest gas station to be seven miles away-- close enough for the car to make it.

The next exit was several miles away, so the husband slowly pulled off of the icy interstate onto the cold, dark exit ramp as soon as they approached it. The wife, now awake, alert, and with a rapidly increasing heartbeat, saw no gas station in sight. Only more darkness, farmland, and icy roads. No lights. No cars. Just Route 97. The husband slowly crept along the two lane road, repeatedly checking the GPS to be sure they were indeed being directed toward a gas station and checking to see if they had enough gas to make it wherever they were going. The further down the road they drove, the further from the interstate they were, and the more nervous they became. It was now past midnight and they were most definitely in the middle of the nowhere. Barbed wire fencing lined the road on each side, only passing an occasional old trailer, farmhouse, or abandoned, snow-covered car (which made them feel a lot better).

Neither one of them said a single word as they drove deeper and deeper into the frozen darkness. Only the wife sat there with visions of the movie "Vacancy" flashing in her head and thoughts they went something like this:

"HOW THE &!#@* DO YOU FORGET TO PULLOVER FOR GAS?? I CLOSE MY EYES FOR TWENTY MINUTES AND YOU FORGET TO GET GAS??? WHAT IF WE RUN OUT? DO WE HAVE TO GET OUT AND WALK? DOES ONE OF US GET OUT AND THE OTHER STAY? THERE'S NO WAY IN %@#! I'M STAYING BEHIND BY MYSELF. DEAR GOD, PLEASE HELP US. PLEASE HELP US... HOW THE @#!&% DO YOU FORGET TO GET GAS??"

Finally, miles and miles down route 97, they pulled into a zero stoplight town. Maquon, Illinois, population 350. No signs of life, just empty cars, lightless street lamps, closed stores, and lots of snow. Not a creature was stirring (not even a mouse). And then, what to my wondering eyes should appear, praise God, the
Maquon Miracle Mart. They roll in on literally, their last drops of gas. The pumps look old and tired and the wife initially thinks they won't take credit cards. But upon closer inspection, they find they do. Thank God! Except, wait...there's a pink sign taped to the pump... What does it say?

"Sorry, Out of Gas."

"WE'RE GOING TO DIE OUT HERE! IT'S AFTER MIDNIGHT, WE'RE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. SOMEONE IN A PLAID SHIRT AND A PUFFY VEST AND A TRUCKER'S HAT WITH THREE MISSING TEETH AND THREE DAYS WORTH OF STUBBBLE IS GOING TO WALK UP AND ASK IF WE NEED HELP. AND THEN HE'S GOING TO DRAG ME ACROSS THE STREET TO THAT CLOSED DOWN BAR AND THEN... HOW DO YOU FORGET TO GET GAS?? DO WE HAVE AAA?? THERE'S A PHONE NUMBER ON THE SIGN OF THAT METHODIST CHURCH ACROSS THE STREET, MAYBE WE CAN CALL THE PASTOR. WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?!?!," the wife angrily thinks.

The husband swears but tries to convey a sense of confidence, while the wife is completely aware that he is just as nervous and unsure as she is. "I don't think those pink signs were on all of the pumps," he says. "Maybe if look on the other side..." He drives around to the other side and sure enough, no pink sign. The car is pulled on the wrong side of the gas tank, but they can't risk starting the engine and wasting gas, so the husband stretches the pump across the trunk of the car and squeezes the nozzle in. Wife quietly sits in the car-- stiff, scared, and nervous-- staring straight ahead, pretending to not watch the husband. Swipe the card. Select the grade. Squeeze the pump handle. Nothing. Squeeze again. Nothing. Swear. Cancel transaction. Swipe the card. Select a different grade. Squeeze the pump handle.

"Please dear God, please dear God. Let there be gas. Please don't let us be stuck out here. We're in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. Please let there be gas."

Swiiiiiiiiish. Oh great day of joy!! There was gas!! Gas came out!! "We're not stuck here!! We're not going to get kidnapped, raped or murdered! We don't have to call the church pastor or AAA!! I'm going to live! I'm going to graduate school and have kids! I'm not going to freeze to death!" They paid $2 a gallon for premium, but at that point they would've paid $10 a gallon. The wife prayed every single drop of that gas into the car that night (and probably the husband too). And he purchased 18.2 gallons of gas for their 18 gallon car.

Grinning, the husband climbed into the car, and started laughing. The wife did not laugh or smile. She only said her first words in over a half an hour. "HOW DID YOU FORGET TO GET GAS?? THAT WAS NOT FUNNY!! SERIOUSLY, STOP LAUGHING! DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE DONE IF I HAD FORGOTTEN TO PUT GAS IN THE CAR AND STRANDED US IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE??"

I made him drive for two more hours after that little stunt. It was punishment, but it took me a good half hour for my heart rate to recover and my nerves to calm down. We were able to make it out of Illinois without further incident, then into Iowa, through Des Moines, into Omaha, then Lincoln, past York, Aurora, Grand Island, Kearney, and then off the interstate to make our grand entrance into Holdrege. We pulled in at 8:30 am local time, almost 24 hours after we left. The temperature was a whopping 3 degrees. I took a picture of the thermostat for proof.

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