Running out of gas on the highway: our experience

Okot Nyormoi

Running out of gas is a phrase commonly used but only figuratively.  For us on June 28, 2014 at about 12.35 pm coming off a bridge on Interstate 10 West, Louisiana, USA, running out of gas was literally true.  I heard my wife asked, “Why is the car slowing down?” when it was supposed to be moving at 70 mph.

A glance at the fuel gauge and warning light informed us that we were out of gas. Without panicking, we put on the hazard light to signal we were in distress, got off the freeway onto the shoulder and parked. Thank goodness, we had cell (mobile) phones and a membership card of the American Automobile Association (AAA) with a telephone number to call for roadside assistance.

After verifying our AAA membership and ascertaining our location, we were informed it would take half an hour to an hour for help to arrive with enough gas to take us to the nearest gas station. The gas was free since its cost was already covered by our membership fee. We felt good that this incident occurred in the middle of the day and mercifully it was not raining.

Our happiness was but a fleeting moment. We soon realized that parking just inches away from the driving lane with 18 wheelers and cars zooming at 80 mph and rocking the car as they passed by was not safe for us and the car. Any slight mistake could bring the fast moving vehicles crashing into us.  Many motorists have been killed in this manner.

With the temperature soaring at 930F and with high humidity, we could not stay in the car. Besides, we had to stand up by the car to be easily visible to the AAA person we were expecting. To add insult to injury, it soon began to rain, raising the humidity. The mosquitoes from the nearby bush along a creek made a meal out of us.

After 30 minutes, we received a call from AAA informing us that it would take thirty minutes to an hour before we could get help. The thirty minutes painfully turned into an hour and an hour into 2 hours. The longer we waited, the more anxious we became.  While waiting, we noticed a gas station not too far from us on the other side of the freeway. We were tempted to walk over, buy enough gas just in case the AAA help would not come and we would be on our way.

The fast flowing traffic made us aware of how much valuable travel time we were wasting waiting for the AAA roadside assistance. It was a test in patience made tolerable only by our steady focus on the possibility of a positive outcome.

While waiting, we got a new perspective on highway travel which those who zoom at high speed do not have. Before then, we did not realize that the highway is extremely noisy. We had to shout to hear ourselves.

Danger posed by fast moving vehicles seemed more real where we stood by the roadside. The highway patrol men apparently do not routinely stop to check on any parked car with the hazard light on.  Two sheriff vehicles zoomed by our car and never even slowed down a bit.

Of the hundreds of cars passing by, we expected at least a few to stop to check if we needed help. Only one truck driver stopped to check. It dawned on us that one could be dying by the roadside and most motorists would just blissfully zoom by. Upon reflection, we realized that we ourselves have never stopped to check on anyone in our situation. Motorists are most likely afraid to stop because a vehicle parked by the roadside could be a decoy to lure victims to be robbed. However, we did not think that with all of our gray hair, we would be taken for gun totting highway robbers.

Running out of gas was definitely an “Oh no!” moment which was tempting for us to seek and lay blames on each other. Our reaction was tempered by another incident that occurred the day before. At that time after driving for about thirty minutes, I thought I had left my phone at the house. Instead of asking how and why it happened, we calmly agreed that it could happen to anyone. Just as we were about to look for a U-turn, we found it. It turned out the phone was sitting quietly in a side pocket of the car where I had put it. My wife did say, “I just thought that if I had been the one to leave my phone, what would my husband do?”  She thought I would have been as calm about it as she was.

So, when we ran out of gas, we handled the situation in a similar manner. The situation was like spilt milk that cannot be put back into the bottle. It was a humbling experience that reaffirmed for us the idea that the best thing to do in a bad situation is to avoid the blaming game and focus on the solution. By so doing we quickly restored the wonderful time we were having just before the incident.

The AAA roadside assistance finally arrived but not in the manner we expected. Instead of a van or a car with large AAA emblems  written all over it, we were surprised to see an old non-descript anonymous van arrive at about 2.35 pm. Out ambled a sleepy looking old man with a red gasoline container. Although he was extremely miserly with his conversation, we managed to extract from him the information that running out of gas on the highway is a daily occurrence.

After fueling the car and eating at the nearest gas station, we drove off laughing about what friends and family might think of the incident. Then we resumed listening to the good oldies like the Duke of Earl.