Car Disasters of 2016 or Bad Fortune Cookies

breakdown

            I was driving sixty miles an hour on Southbound 101 when the car abruptly died.  It was my nightmare fantasy come true.  My heretofore trusty ’98 Jeep just  stopped.  The radio went off, all the gauges slid to zero and I realized that I was coasting to a halt in a busy freeway lane.  I tried to restart the car.  I had no lights, no nothing.  I couldn’t even put on the emergency blinkers. 

            I was terrified.  Vehicles were hurtling towards me at sixty and seventy miles per hour and they had no clue that I was dead in the right lane.  All it would take would be one dreamy driver to plow into me and I would be both cause and outcome of a multi-car  possibly fatal accident.  Should I get out and run for it?  Should I wait here?  I didn’t know.  It seemed more honorable to stay with the car, to go down with the ship.

            A Highway Patrol car materialized behind me, its lights flashing.  I was pleased, for the first time in my life, to see Law Enforcement flashing its lights at me. The officer walked briskly to my front window.  He gestured to me to roll down the window. 

            Problem is, I can’t roll down the window.  The Jeep’s driver’s side window doesn’t work.  I had to pop open the door to hear the man’s voice.  Embarassing?  And maybe illegal?

            “Put it in Neutral, sir.  I’m going to push you to the shoulder.”

            Thank god thank god the gear shift works.  It works kind of funny, like there’s only one gear.  The lever slides up and down without stopping.  Oh god I hope this Jeep is not stuck in gear.  The CHP officer squares off behind me and bumps my fender with his big front pusher bar.  The car moves!  Oh! 

            There’s another CHP car about two hundred yards upstream from us, slowing traffic by weaving across the freeway.  I get to the shoulder and the officer appears again.  He shouts at the closed widow.  He thinks I’m a moron. “Have you got Triple A, sir?”

            “I do.  I do. I do.” I feel like I’m getting married.  “I do I do”, I stutter, my nerves shattered, my forehead bathed in perspiration. 

            “Call ’em right now.  What’s wrong with your vehicle, sir?”

            “I don’t know, it’s been running fine and then, suddenly, whammo! Dead.  D-
A-I-D…dead!”

            “If this vehicle is still here in two hours it will be impounded.  Do NOT exit the vehicle unless supervised by your tow driver.  Stay in your vehicle!  You’re lucky I don’t write you a ticket for reckless driving.  I’m feeling benevolent today. Today’s my lecture day.  If this was tomorrow I’d write you up for twenty different violations.”  I’m listening to this through the open crack of my driver’s side door and the opened rear window, and all the other open windows except the one next to me that doesn’t open any more.  I’m praying the policeman doesn’t notice the passenger side front mirror, because it’s taped on with duct tape and is not glass but a piece of reflective plastic whose images are distorted  beyond recognition at any speed.

            I call Triple A and wait for the tow truck.  I get texts every few minutes relaying the progress of my rescuer.  “Recovery Vehicle has departed current location at.etc. etc……ETA 45 min.”  When the tow truck arrives it conveys me to Bowens Automotive Repair, a garage that I picked at random off the internet.  The mechanic does his tests and I absorb the diagnosis: My alternator is shot.  The car needs a new alternator.  Price tag: Five Hundred Dollars.

            I have no choice.  I call my partner to pick me up and drive me home in the other car.

            The Other Car.  The ’96 White Chevy Blazer.  It was once a luxury car.  Leather seats.  Key fob operated remote lock/unlock.  We haven’t driven it in four years because it doesn’t start.  I would presume its got a dead battery but I swapped another battery into the car and it still didn’t start.  So, maybe a blown starter motor?  Bad solenoid, frayed ground wire, failure to make contact somewhere within the fiendish complexities of its electrical jungle.

            The Jeep has always been our go-to car.  I haven’t had the money to repair the Blazer. But now I must buy a new battery.  If there’s something else wrong with the Blazer  I’m wasting my money but I follow this handy rule:  If the car doesn’t start, and the battery doesn’t charge, replace the battery.  Maybe the swapped battery was dead, too. 

            The moment of battery replacement is fraught with tension.  Will it, won’t it…start?  I connect the new battery, turn the key in the ignition and….hallelujah!  It starts right away.  Oh, what a relief.

            I drive the Blazer to work the next day.  We’ve been using the Blazer as a storage bin.  Its rear is filled with linens, dishes, books, tools, all kinds of stuff  loaded up to the line of sight in the rear view mirror.  If we put any more stuff in there, I won’t be able to see what’s behind me.

            I drive to work.  I work.  I prepare to drive home.

            The driver’s side tire is flat.

            Shit!  Where’s the spare?  Is it underneath all that storage?

            No.  It’s under the chassis, riding beneath the rear wheels.  The problem is that the tools for jacking and removing lug nuts is underneath the dishes, the linens, the books.

            And there’s a trick to getting the spare to come free, a trick that I don’t know. I’ve been using a sledge hammer to whack at the wing nut that constrains the spare.  I whack it and the nut turns but it’s not un-threading.  It’s not coming free.

            I begin to unload the stored goods in the cargo compartment.  Maybe there’s a special tool, something to help me understand the spare tire conundrum.

            A motorist rolls up beside me in the parking lot.  He’s driving a Blazer.

            “Are you stumped by the spare tire riddle?” he asks.

            “Totally stumped.” I admit, raising my shoulders.  The back of my t-shirt and pants are black with asphalt and tar.  I don’t know this, yet.  I can’t see it.

            The Good Samaritan emerges, opens his rear hatch and pulls a variety of jack stuff from a compartment.

            “If you take this to a pro tire shop they won’t know what to do either.  It’s the great Blazer Spare Tire Riddle.”  It turns out there’s a hidden slot next to the license plate.  When my new friend inserts a blade-style tool into the magic slot it turns a cog and the spare tire DESCENDS on a cable until it hits the ground and I slip it off the wing nut.  There is no thread.  There is just this clever but now-obscure arrangement.

            Flat tire off; spare tire on.  Drive to the tire place.  Spend $120 to replace the spare.  Okay, the car runs.  As I drive, I see the one thing THAT I MOST DO NOT WANT TO SEE.   The dreaded SERVICE ENGINE SOON light comes on.

            I hate those lights!  Hate em!  They utterly destroy my peace of mind.  They are the manifestation of worry on the Material Plane.  As we all know, The Material Plane is dominated by concerns for automotive hygiene.  If you don’t got transpo,  you don’t got shit.

            I try driving the Jeep.  I’m too scared by the friggin’ SERVICE ENGINE SOON light on the Blazer.

            The Jeep takes me to work the following day.  I detour through Novato and prepare to drive to Petaluma.  I’m going “the back way” because north-bound 101 is a parking lot.  It’s always a parking lot from 3 to 7 P.M. five days a week.  What is this insane life we live?  Why do we spend four hours a day sitting in automobiles?

I’m heading for South Novato Boulevard when a giant cloud of steam erupts from under the hood.  GIANT CLOUD OF STEAM!  NOT GOOD.  NOT GOOD.


blowin steam

            I pull into the parking lot of the last shopping center before I embark on twenty miles of rural winding roads.  I buy a jug of coolant and I fill the Jeep’s reservoir with the gooey green stuff.  I wait twenty minutes and I attempt the drive home.  The Jeep runs, somewhat jerkily, and I spend the next forty minutes of back-road driving in a state of profound alarm. 

            I make it.  I’m home. 

            I know a little bit about cars.  That kind of volcanic eruption of steam can indicate a water pump has gone bad, or the thermostat has failed, or the radiator is toast.  Or all of the above.

            My neighbor, Mike, knows about cars.  “I’ll change your thermostat,” he says cheerfully.  Mike is attending AA meetings and has just got his thirty day chip.  That’s not an issue for me.  It just adds to the air of tension: Mike struggling to stay away from drink.  His wife has quit smoking and is on Day 27.  My neighbors are deeper in poverty than we are.  No wonder Mike eagerly volunteers to change my thermostat.  Mike is all over the place helping people. 

            I purchase a thermostat.  Mike replaces the old one in about ninety minutes.  He doesn’t want to charge me.  I give him fifty dollars.  The new thermostat works, the Jeep stays cool.

            I didn’t want to mention this before but it just happens that the Blazer’s registration is due in a week and I know, for a fact, that SERVICE ENGINE SOON means that it will not pass the smog check.

            Fuck.

            Nonetheless, I feel safer driving the Blazer and I take it to work the next day.

As I’m coming home on North Petaluma Boulevard I hear a sound like a very large and joltingly loud motorcycle cruising up on my driver’s side.  Wow!  That’s loud!  I look to my left and I see no motorcycle.  There’s no traffic at all.  But the Blazer is crunching and flubbling.  It sounds like a propellor blade being demolished by a potato masher.  The Blazer is behaving as if it has the hiccups.  No question: another tire is flat.

            I get over on the shoulder to inspect the damage.  Holy Shit!  The tire is literally shredded, it’s nothing but four inch strips of rubber hanging from a punctured black matrix of nameless stuff.

            Call Triple A.  Second time in three days.  An hour later the big yellow truck pulls up.   A toothless rail-thin old guy gets out, grinning happily, and tells me that my tires are sun-damaged.  They’ve been sitting for too long and the heat has soaked the oils out of the rubber. They’re all about to blow at any second. I need to instruct the tow truck man how to get the tricky spare out from under the Blazer.  Once the tire is changed I drive straight to the tire place and get four more new tires.  That is, after I’ve cued the guys at American Tire Co. about the Great Blazer Spare Tire Riddle.

            There are days when nothing goes right.  When to touch a machine is to wreck it.  Or when one makes an error due to a lapse of attention that causes a ten foot fall off someone’s deck into a bed of blackberry bushes.  I’m having one of those days.  I put on the coffee.  It’s a stove-top espresso maker.  I wait for the boil, wait and wait.  I smell something burning.  Uh oh!  I take a pot holder and lift the coffee maker.  Oh man!  Oh man oh man! I forgot to put water in the bottom part of the Vigano stove top coffee maker.  Now the rubber gasket has melted and scorched the threads and the coffee maker is a casualty of Morning Mind Mush.  In spite of the damage, my partner is greatly reassured.  My error is comforting to her.  She thinks she’s “losing it”.  Now she knows she’s not the only one who’s “losing it”.

            I must locate a smog shop, a Star Certified Service Center, one of those in cahoots with the smog-fighting money-sucking bureaucracy of the DMV.  I pay for the smog test.  The Blazer fails.  How much, I ask, will it cost to fix it so that it passes the rigorous standards of our state’s air-quality guardians?

            The Blazer needs a tune-up, a forward oxygen sensor, a rearward oxygen sensor and a catalytic converter.”That would be about nine hundred and fifty dollars,” answers the mechanic, whose name, Kelvin, is stitched onto his dark blue jump suit.  Kelvin’s wife/receptionist is named Tran.  They’re Vietnamese.  

            How many times have I said “shit” or “fuck” in the last three days?

            “Kelvin,” I ask, “is there some kind of discount for the poor and the elderly?”  I have been poor my whole life.  The ‘elderly’ part occurred while I wasn’t watching, about three years ago, when my left hip began to feel as if a strong man was applying pressure to it with a vice grip.

            There is, in fact, a program for the poor and the elderly to pay $500 towards smog repair.  I get the papers downloaded and send in the application.  A week later the grant arrives.  Five hundred of that nine hundred fifty dollars will be paid for.  Hell yeah!

            The smog repair takes two days.  I wait eagerly for Kelvin’s call.  At last the phone rings.  “You passed your smog test,” says Kelvin.  I’m so happy!  I’m thrilled.

I had needed a victory, any victory, a small victory, whatever, I’ll take it.

            “But there is a problem, I’m afraid,” says Kelvin, and my heart takes up residence at the ends of my toes.  I can feel my pulse down there, bumpity bump, pulsing up through my toenails.

            “A…uh…problem?”  Fuck!  Shit!

            “I think your water pump is about gone.”

            “You think, you THINK.  Is it gone or isn’t it?”

            “I don’t know.  There was a pool of coolant under your car when I came in this morning.”

            How much does he want to repair the water pump?  Well, you see, one should also replace the thermostat when one replaces the water pump.

            HOW MUCH?

            Four hundred seventy eight dollars.

            Stop everything!  HOLD THE PRESSES!

            I’m not stupid.  I check online and a water pump plus a thermostat costs about sixty bucks.  My neighbor, my pal my buddy Mike will do any automotive task for fifty dollars, gladly.  The work boosts his self esteem and it keeps him out of his RV and away from his jonesing wife.

            The Material World is a challenging place.  Our current model, this 21st century science fiction hip-hop deodorant-peddling appearance-worshiping stage set is peculiarly complex, is like a cross-word puzzle without a solution.  No one wins in the Material World.  All endings are bad endings.  If I’m lucky I will die quickly and without indignity.  If I’m lucky.  Meanwhile, as I wait for the denouement of my life, I must endure and meet the challenges thrust into my face by the invisible spirits of Destiny.

            Is the cup half full, partially full, partially empty, or totally empty?  The Highway Patrol Cop did not write me up.  The guy in the Blazer showed up as if dropped from Heaven.  I got a five hundred dollar grant from the DMV. The battery in the Blazer started the car.  The Jeep still runs.

            The cup is the cup.  Whatever’s in it is what I’ve got.  I may as well accept that fact.  It’s all those things, partially full, partially empty.  Life is blessed and sublime and life can be unspeakably vile.

            While I’m at it, I should check my credit rating.  I might want to purchase a recent model used car.

The Miracle Of Highway Six

 An excerpt from AVOIDING THE POTHOLES: ROAD STORIES IN A CHANGING AMERICA
 Highway 50 through Nevada is reputed to be the loneliest road in the USA.  It has a rival, and its name is Highway 6.  It takes a northeasterly diagonal the entire breadth of Nevada before vanishing into the wilds of The Great Basin in Utah. It is far more isolated than 50, a hard hot eerie stretch of rocky desert and bare crags.   There is one Flying J truck stop a third of the way across the state. After that: nothing.  The town of Ely  (pronounced E –Lee) is the road’s first destination.   It’s a crossroads town with signs pointing to Las Vegas, Reno, Salt Lake City. Highways 50, 6 and 93 enter and leave the town in a few confusing blocks.
            After surviving our plunge down 89 with a broken steering column, we made it to Bishop, and, god knows why, we wanted to get onto 6 and put another fifty miles on the odometer before stopping for the night.
            Rule number one about driving an RV.  DON”T DRIVE AT NIGHT!  It’s hard enough to control a bulky machine without playing with peripheral monsters at the side of the road, highway fatigue and caffeine nerves.           
            We pushed out of Bishop after stopping at a Super K-Mart, where Fox and I got separated and I couldn’t find her to save my life.  I was reduced to calling her pet name, knowing that she would hear it more readily than a shouted “Fox, where are you?”  So, I stood in the middle of an aisle full of hosiery and started crying plaintively, “Boo Boo!  BoooooBoooo!”  Everyone wascertain I was retarded. I was wondering myself if my previous life of risky activities hadn’t finally damaged my brain. From now on we carry cell phones or walkie talkies, I don’t ever want to go through this ordeal again.  “Booooo boooooo!”  Where the hell did she go?  One second she was right THERE, looking at skin cream, and the next, she had vaporized into the merchandise, wandered off like an un-tethered toddler. This store occupies ten thousand acres and you can’t see more than twenty feet!  I might never find her, or wander for two and a half years before fetching up at the customer service booth, begging the teenage girl in the silly uniform to speak into her microphone:  Will Booboo come to the customer service counter, please?
            At last, re-united by calling booboo until I got within sonic range of Fox, I was able to carry supplies out to Yertle, our beloved RV, in the darkening afternoon.  Why did we continue driving?  We were nuts.  As I navigated the final stoplights of Bishop, a nearby driver began honking repeatedly and gesturing towards Yertle.  I pulled over and discovered that I had been driving with the steps still sticking out of the camper.  Keep a check list, RV rovers!
               After fifty miles, we came to the tiny one-store town of Tonopah.  Fortunately, the store was open.  A very large young man, Native American, confirmed that there were no campgrounds before Ely.  He said, however, that we could park in the school parking lot and spend the night.  The school was just behind the store.  “Lots of people get stuck out here,” he said.  “It’s okay.  Just try to be gone before school starts in the morning.  Nobody will bother you.  I’ll tell the sheriff when he drops by, tell him you’re back there.  But if he sees you before I do, tell him Bear said it was okay.”
            This kindness was touching.  We began to realize that we had met kindness at every obstacle on this trip, and that kindness came in all sorts of disguises, in the most unlikely places. 
            In the morning there was snow on the tops of the mountains.  Nevada is a washboard, an undulating series of mountains and valleys, and the roads cut straight across this ancient seabed.  At the top of each peak, the view spreads down the road ahead, which goes in a straight line for miles and miles until it disappears into the next rise of the landscape.  I had never expected Nevada to be so beautiful.  There were huge clouds casting shadows upon the vast valley floors.
            Tomorrow’s drive was supposed to be easy: a hundred sixty miles to Ely, where we would join up with our old friend, Highway Fifty. It was November;  bright, clear, and warm in the valleys, crisp on the peaks.Yertle ran well, but I continued to be apprehensive.  It’s one thing to drive a car. It breaks down, you call a tow truck.  An RV is another matter:  we were carrying our lives in the damn thing.  The water tank held twenty gallons. We had food, propane. There was no shelter on Highway Six, no trees, no roadside stops.
If Yertle broke down, there was no telling how long we might be stranded. I imagined our quandary if something happened.  Out here in the desert, way beyond cell phone service, we could be truly stuck.  Therewas little traffic.  Every hour or so, we’d pass a car, going the other way.  Everyone, it seemed, was going the other way.
            Gathering my nerve, I hit the accelerator, and the old Chevy 350 gurgled forth, up the highway, into the brightening day.  My gas tank had been filled in Bishop.  The truck seemed happy.  Yertle was whispering, “don’t worry, I’ll get you to Arches, don’t worry.”
 I can’t help but worry, Yertle, I responded mentally.  It’s my nature to worry.  I am the son of my father.
            This was ‘lower’  Nevada, an uncompromising landscape.  Sandstone blocks tipped by ancient floods and earthquakes littered the northern side of the road. On the south was nothing but miles and miles of scrub, tumbleweed, creosote bush. The stuff gave off a smell, a pleasant goldish earthen odor. We were skirting the northern fringe of Nellis Air Force Base, with its old atomic test sites.  If they once tested atom bombs here, they must have considered this the ultimate in remoteness. 
            At fifty miles an hour, the noise from Yertle’s engine and various parts bouncing around made conversation or music impossible. There was nothing to do but drive, and look at the landscape, however monotonous or downright eerie.  Occasionally a vulture would mark the sky like a comma on vast blue paper.
            We pushed north and east, and everything seemed okay.  Then, about fifty miles out of Tonopah, I heard a high whining sound from the engine.  Yertle kept on going, so I said my  prayers and continued to drive. 
            We had entered a  wide valley.  It looked like thirty miles to the next ridge, and I could see all thirty miles of road, slightly undulant, like a road-kill rattlesnake, until it disappeared between the breasts of the next rise in the primordial earthbody.
            Then I was brought to alertness by a loud bang, and a nasty smell of burning rubber.  Yertle was running, but I had to pull over.  I was afraid to turn the engine off; afraid she’d never start again.  I got out and pulled open the hood.  Pieces of fan belt were shredded all over the motor compartment.  I picked them out, saving the biggest piece for reference.  Fan belt for what, I wondered?  How I wish I understood cars, how I wish I were a competent mechanic!  Then, as I inspected the various parts of the motor, I saw a thumb-sized hole, right through the metal rectangle of the I-don’t-know-what.  Pieces of this metal were strewn about.  It was as if we had been shot by a  high caliber rifle.  I knew, however, that it was a case of metal fatigue, that this porous, cheap material, this aluminum casing for some part of our vehicle’s innards, had met its deadline. 
            Yet, the engine was running fine.
            What the hell, I thought.  Let’s go until we can’t go any more.
            We kept driving, praying for Ely.  Seventy miles to go.  Come on, Ely, come on. About half an hour later, I saw a convoy of vehicles in the distance.  Two highway patrol cars were parked at the side of the road.  The officers were waving us to stop.
            I was glad to see a human being, a person of authority.  To make that statement, “I was glad to see a person of authority”, is indicative of  how scared I was.  I don’t have anything against policemen.  I have a significant resentment of all authority figures, always have and always will.  I learned that there are times when one might be thrilled to see a person of authority, and this was one of those times.
            We pulled out onto a wide margin.  A mile down the road, a gigantic truck was hauling a gargantuan pipe, long as a freight car and wider than the entire road.  I took a chance, and turned off the engine. I got out of Yertle and approached the officer. 
            “Sir”, I asked respectfully, “can you spare a moment to look at our truck?  Something broke a while ago, and I don’t know what’s going on.”
            The policeman was half my age.  He was short and compact, and looked like someone who could tear three phone books in half with his bare hands.  He glanced under the hood, while the monstrous pipe rolled slowly past our place beside the road.
            “That’s your air conditioner belt,” he informed us.  “And that hole, well that’s your air conditioner.  Looks like the belt shredded and then popped the AC unit right through the guts. Good thing it wasn’t the fan belt, or you’d be stuck out here.”
            Greatly relieved, I thanked our benefactor, started Yertle and proceeded down the ever-lonely road.
            Things happen to people. Events are events, but our interpetation of these events overshadows the events themselves.  For me, the most important thing is to react with imagination, to view life as a process of gaining understanding, regardless of whether good things or bad things happen. 
            I didn’t know what the hell was going on with this crazy trip.  All I knew was that it was scaring the bejesus out of me.  I asked Fox, several times, ‘Do you want to turn back?”
            Fox is made of stronger stuff than I.  “No,” she always said, “We’re supposed to go to Arches.”
            God, I felt like a pussy.  Men don’t enjoy feeling cowardly.  It’s not a good man-feeling.  It’s a feeling that lurks in some small fetid bathroom down in my soul, a bathroom with a naked bulb worked by a pull-string with a knot at the end, a bathroom with old squeaky faucets that give out brown water.  It has a frosted window that’s jammed shut, with a paint job where the streaky white paintbrush overswept right onto the window and the painter didn’t give a shit to scrape it clean.  That’s what my cowardice feels like, it feels like that cheap hotel bathroom and it’s not fun at all.  I was going to have to brace up.  That’s what the wise old samurai said to the Toshirure Mifune character in “The Seven Samurai”.  It’s become an in-joke for Fox and me.  “Brace up, Kikuchiyo”, we tell one another.  “Brace up.”
            And Yertle, in spite of her perfidy, kept reassuring me.  “I’ll get you there,”
she whispered, “Stop worrying so much. I may be old but I’ve got plenty of miles left in me.”
            Never once did I wonder if I was completely nuts, talking to an RV.  I was simply being swept along by events as they occurred.  What else could I do?
            The landscape began to rise, as we came into another range of the Humboldt-Toyabe Forest.  I looked at the gas gauge and with a shock realized that we were down to a quarter tank.  Where did the gas go?!  The tank was filled in Bishop, only a hundred fifty miles down the road.  I had badly overestimated the mileage of which Yertle was capable.  That, and a headwind, had drunk our gas, and I had been so preoccupied, I failed to fill her up at the one and only truck stop between Tonopah and Ely.  Now, I wondered if we were going to run out of fuel on some tricky mountain curve without a shoulder. 
            Fox was an active participant in all this, of course.  By mutual agreement, I was and would always be the driver of our RV.  On rare occasions I would give Fox the wheel, but it was a shaky proposition.  Fox is given to seeing things, especially when the light is low.  A rhino can pop out of the sagebrush and give chase.  Osama Bin Laden sits in the back of a pickup truck, grinning smugly.  Fox is n’t crazy, but she is psychic and sometimes has trouble separating vision from reality.  Maybe it’s the Apache blood. The closer we got to the ancestral homelands, the weirder she became.  But she was calm where I was not.  She was stoic where I was terrified.
            Compulsively, I watched the gas gauge, then chastised myself and equally compulsively avoided watching the gas gauge.  I forced my eyes to bypass the little meter as it quivered, ever downward toward EMPTY.  Why weren’t we carrying a gas can with five exrtra gallons.  Rule Number Two of RV’ing. ALWAYS CARRY EXTRA FUEL!  The fuel consumption of the most innocent looking RV is a ravening dragon, an elephant sucking up fluids faster than they can be replenished.  Motor homes LOVE fuel,  the way kids love candy or the way addicts love dope.  Gimme some gas! they breathe, panting with appetite.  Gimme some gas!
            Thirty miles to Ely.  Okay, steal a look at the gauge.  It’s hovering over the little line that says, EMERGENCY!  hurry up and get a fill!  I’m calculating. Let’s see, if we are getting ten miles to the gallon, and we have three gallons, we can just get to Ely.  But if we’re getting eight per gallon, we’re totally fucked. That’s assuming there are three gallons.  There might be five; or there might be two. Does the gauge read short when we’re going uphill?  That’s possible, I suppose.
            Naturally, the headwind grew more powerful and our route took to yet another interminable climb up into the Toyabe-Humboldt Forest.  The road was Nevada-smooth, paid for by gambling taxes, well maintained.  But here, on the undulant highway, there was no shoulder, just a line of white fence posts, blocking all exit from the road.  Run out of gas here, around a blind curve, and some truck can come a’whamming along and crunch us like an old  Pepsi can before the driver knows what’s happening.
            I spent the next forty five minutes waiting for the engine to sputter and die. I watched the side of the road for potential escapes, and watched the rear view mirror for the following eighteen wheeler that spelled our doom, like the monster truck from that early Spielberg movie, “Duel”.  The forest grew thicker, looking like a real forest.  Now there were signs touting campgrounds and tourist sites, in the southern approach to Ely.  They were little comfort to me.  The gas gauge quivered and teased me as it sat on Empty.  My heart was beating in every pore of my skin.  Why so scared, I chided myself?  Everybody runs out of gas at least a couple times in their lives. Yes, I responded, BUT NOT HERE!  Not in Yertle, noble RV, not on a curvy road with no shoulder, where the last vehicle we saw was a FedEx truck, and it passed us going uphill in a no pass zone, like we were standing still.  People drive crazy in Nevada on Highway Six.  They think the roads are empty. Crazy.
            We came to a crest of the mountain range, and I thought with relief, it’s downhill from here!  We can coast, we won’t burn our precious bits of fuel climbing laboriously up every steep curve of the road.  Alas!  After going down for a bit, the road turned upward once again.  The gauge was on EMPTY.  I played games with it.  If I looked at it from the side, it kinda looked like there was more gas in it.  I leaned right, leaned left, but I wasn’t fooling myself.  Yertle soldiered onward.  I was running out of gas on a road with no shoulder, I had a shredded air conditioner belt and a fist-sized hole in the engine.
            The roadside sign said, “Ely—12mi”.  And there we were, at the real crest of the range.  I put Yertle in neutral, took my foot off the gas, and coasted down and around the mountain curves.  At last, the ominous white fencing beside the road vanished. A few houses appeared.  Billboards advertised motels and gift shops, gambling casinos, banks and auto body garages.  More houses.
            Ely!  My eyes were pealed for a gas station.  I made a left onto Ely’s main drag and made a beeline for the first gas station I saw.  Yertle coasted over the curb, I put her in drive, lined her up  to the pump, and then….and then…..she gurgled and died, out of gas.