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Gauging the Distance

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This morning, I woke up and drove to work. Now I’m eating a donut and drinking Dr Pepper. “Is that really all that happened this morning on your way to work? Nothing interesting happened?”, you’re wondering. I’m glad you asked. Actually, yes, something VERY interesting AND unusual happened on the way to work this morning…

I ran out of gas. I knew that I should have filled up, even though I was a little (My manager suggested that the word “habitually” might fit somewhere in this sentence) late. But since the fuel light didn’t come on, I decided that the Little Green Lunchbox could pull of the short, ten mile drive to work.

After passing the last “EXIT FOR GAS, BOARD, AND FAST FOOD” off ramp, I held my breath. The Little Green Lunchbox must have sensed my nervousness, because it soon began to sputter and cough. I immediately let the big, white van on my right know through a series of bodily communications (my hands were flailing like a drunken man in San Francisco) that I desperately needed to get over to the right-hand side of the road. He understood and responded immediately by not moving. After I slowed down (involuntarily) to 45 miles an hour, I was finally able to pull over to the side of the…

Bridge. I didn’t have enough gas to get past the steel length of the bridge and over to the safer, dirt edge of the highway. As I sat there, contemplating the meaning of last night’s episode of “24”, realizing that after parachuting from the airplane, Jack was probably going to be stranded for another episode in the desert in Nevada, I also realized that if I didn’t move my own “Cessna” soon, the passing semi-trucks were going to intentionally hit me off of the bridge and down into a lacking-of-water landing. So I got out on the passenger side of the car and started steering with my right hand, pushing the car with my left.

It was all very awkward and funny until I started getting mad … mad at my Little Green Lunchbox for not telling me HOW low on gas I was. Why didn’t the little light come on? I can always gauge how much further I can risk driving by the fuel light that comes on. But without the light, I am left to my own devices (the Gas Gauge.) The Gas Gauge tells me how much longer I have left until the Fuel Light comes on. The Fuel Light tells me how much further I can go before the car starts sputtering. They are all relational indicators, and without all of them being in good, working order, I’m at the mercy of fate and passerby vehicles (which were, by the way, still flying past me, dangerously close, with more reliable Fuel Lights.)

But today a generous, older man named Lee Hinckley stopped to offer me a lift. Not only did he offer me a lift to the gas station, he drove me to several gas stations (the power was out in Orem and the electronic pumps couldn’t…pump), took me to the store to get a gas can, bought my one and a half gallons of gas (he told me he needed to fill his car up anyway), and drove me back to my car. He was a perfect stranger, and he spent 45 minutes making sure that I wasn’t stranded. I learned a lot about Lee in those 45 minutes. I learned that he was the president of two Community Colleges in California, has a wife of 45 years, graduated from high-school 50 years ago, and that his car’s fuel light works.

Now that the Little Green Lunchbox is back up and running again, I have to stop and ponder on the generosity of those who are around me. Not everyone is in too big of a hurry to help others. Sometimes we judge a community or a city or the State of Utah by the way that its drivers maneuver recklessly (literaly: “without a wreck”) through traffic. Sometimes, we, as human beings, “fly” our “Cessna’s” through the “Sky of Life”, unaware “that” we’re not taking time to “smell the gas”, if you know what I mean.

But if there’s anything that I’ve learned through this experience, it’s that tomorrow, when I’m making my way to work amidst the throng of honking horns and drunken-with-hot chocolate-rage drivers, I’ll realize after the profound experience of yesterday, that indeed, I as a driver, am late for work again.

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About Nathan Nelson

  • It IS nice to know that there are decent inviduals in the world who can still see the cars despite the traffic. Sometimes it is only the fact that someone else’s fuel light is low that enables us to appreciate the fact that ours is working. Thanks for a well-articulated thought provoker!

  • hee hee

    you ran out of gas. I’ve done that before. It’s humiliating. Your Lee Hinckley sounds like a very nice man.

    Next time, you will have to be the one to stop and help somebody.

    ..a donut and Dr. Pepper?

  • Thanks for the comment, Eric.
    Wow, you’re a busy man.

  • Eric Olsen

    Very nice story Nathan – thanks!