On Balance

I-5There is very little to recommend California’s Interstate 5 except straightness and speed.

In a midsummer’s sunset somewhere south of Buttonwillow, I am rolling at 80, glazed by oncoming lights and nearly listening to bad luck and worse love on a Country FM out of Visalia. I lift, drink, and am down to an inch in my water bottle.

Suddenly a below-decks clang-clank yanks my eyes to the rearview, and there’s something bouncing along behind me in the road dusk, losing ground. A non-conscious thought hikes my foot off the accelerator, and I coast into senses and an immediate inventory: there is no smoke, no smell, no untoward grinding, no power loss, no strange vibrations. A Miata winks by, followed by a Lucky Stores semi as I sink below 65. When all holds for the next dozen breaths, my pulse and the mph reverse places, and I am back to Visalia-on-my-mind.

santa nellaTen miles later, a low-gas light interrupts my doze, and I am surprised at my mpg. Didn’t I fill up in Santa Nella? Two gas stations shine from either side of the overpass less than a mile ahead. Next gas 32 miles. I pull off, fill up (“Phew…somebody spilled gas here.”), then fling southward, straightlining through the south San Joaquin Valley, screeching “Born To Run” irrespective of Garth Brooks.

The next exit and my low-gas light come upon me simultaneously. I am in the left lane, passing a loaded car carrier, a double-trailered tomato hauler, and bearded leathers on a Harley. There is a chance…but no. I am too far along to make the ramp. Discretion over courage. Next exit: 22 miles. Several hundred yards further, I slide to the shoulder, peer back for an opening, and make an illegal U-turn across two lanes and a tumbleweedy median. Then up the north-going ramp, and I am under Chevron lights. I smell gas, look under the car and instantly spot a pencil-sized stream of octane arcing forward out of my gas tank. I become the Little Dutch Boy, my finger plugging the dike.

I think. Assembling the relevant facts, I get:

1) This Chevron is a snack bar, not a repair shop
2) I can probably continue to get 30 miles to the tankful.
3) The nearest motel is one tankful away.
4) I am hungry (I do not consider that this might be an irrelevant, stress-related syndrome).

I remove my finger and walk slowly into the Rocket-Mart, realizing that the tank will empty whether I hurry or not. Once inside, I examine the shelves, looking for what Cheesie Mack in his first book calls the Perfect Junk Food, that totally excellent combination of the Four Fast Food Groups: Salt, Sugar, Starch, and Grease. Finding nothing that meets the 25-25-25-25 requirements (Cheesie suggests fries with catsup comes closest in the “real world”), I settle for a Honey Peanut Balance Bar (40-30-30 in three healthier categories, but sans catsup). At the cash register, the Balance Bar open and bemunched, I notice tubes of Super Glue for sale.

Boing! the light goes on.

Moments later, I am under my vehicle, wiping road grime from the gas super gluetank and squaring off a piece of metallic Balance Bar wrapper with my Leatherman knife. Offering a short prayer to Him/Her/It responsible for the adhesion that holds our World together, I bless the yellow-and-blue patch with a firm palm and three minutes. I gas up, spot no leaks, and climb the Grapevine into the San Fernando Valley without incident.

Several days and $425 later, the patch is removed and the tank repaired. I have lived happily ever after.

I now keep a Balance Bar and a tube of Super Glue with me at all times. I often eat one of them.

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