I have always hated filling up my gas tank. It is one of those mundane domestic chores, like laundry, that can be finessed for a while but eventually becomes unavoidable lest your regular life come to a grinding halt.
Hopping in the car for the morning commute, I’d note that the gas gauge was reasonably close to the quarter tank mark and I’d decide there was plenty of reason to avoid a trip to the filling station. “Tomorrow,” I’d say. Always “tomorrow.”
My bad filling habits only once got me in trouble – I actually did manage to run out of gas on the road, even more galling because I was within sight of my destination gas station. That taught me not to push the “tomorrow” thing too far, but I still tended to cut it rather fine.
One memorable trip, I left the plentiful gas station thicket of suburban Las Vegas behind and sped off into the Nevada desert with less than half a tank. Several hours later, with the gauge hovering ominously over “E” and no buildings of any sort to be seen, I was delighted to crest a hill and see a filling station in the distance.
Turns out it doubled as an Area 51 gift shop, with plenty of plastic alien toys and bags of something cryptically called “Alien Jerky,” and also happened to be a legal brothel. I decided not to test whether the “Cold Beer, Hot Girls” sign was accurate, filling up and speeding off as fast as I could.
So it came as a shock this past Thursday to realize that it was the first time since October that I had let my tank drift under the half-way mark. I quickly headed for the gas station to remedy the oversight.
Fire will do that to you, apparently.
I’ve lived through and covered a lot of different disasters over the years, from the tiny to the epic, but none I can remember have changed my behavior and outlook in such a specific way.
On the night we were evacuated from Calistoga, then threatened by the Tubbs Fire, among my first thoughts was “do we have enough gas?” I was pleased to see that both our vehicles had plenty of gas to get to Napa and well beyond. All the way down Silverado Trail that early morning, though, I kept glancing at my gas gauge, even though it didn’t move down all that much for the whole 20-something-mile trip.
My first stop once we reached Napa was to top off the tank because, well, you know. Things could always get worse in a hurry and I’d hate to be out of gas.
Since that day, I have not let the needle drop below three quarters without scheduling a gas stop on my mental calendar. By the time the gauge approaches the half mark, the urgency is upon me. I’m not quite sure how the needle escaped my attention this week, but as soon as I noticed it, nothing would do but that I add a fill-up stop to my list of errands.
I’ve learned all the other lessons of fire as well – know where your vital documents and heirlooms are, have an escape route, figure out where to rendezvous with family should you become separated.
But for some reason, this one lesson – always keep your car filled up in case you have to bug out – has burrowed particularly deeply into my mind.
Now, after 35 years of avoiding the gas station, I find myself filling up like there’s no tomorrow.