George lived about an hour south of me, in Sarasota. When we went home for Thanksgiving break, we drove down together in our own cars. Matching Volvos. His gold, mine red. Ya'll, we were that cute. We took the same interstate and listened to the same radio stations and pulled up next to each other and sang the songs to each other. Just thinking about it now makes me throw up a little in my mouth. When it was time for my exit, I waved goodbye and he kept driving the few hours south.
Thanksgiving week was long, with talking every day. As we were winding down the week of vacation, I was ready to head back to Gainesville. I was going to take a sorority sister home with me. I had to pick her up at the Shoney's that was six exits up the interstate, but I was running late. No time to gas up. No worries. I had a quarter tank of gas and only about 30 miles to go. I cracked open a can of Mt. Dew and hopped on the interstate.
Just past the fourth exit, I saw brake lights. That sentence alone strikes fear in the hearts of drivers everywhere. I saw brake lights. I think I would rather have seen dead people.
As I was slowing down from my 75 mph clip, I realized that they weren't just brake lights. Cars were stopped. Standstill. No one was moving.
Now this was the time before cell phones. I wasn't sure if my sorority sister would be able to get back to school or not, but there was really nothing I could do about it. I could only sit in my car. Study a little, have another Mt. Dew, have a little snack I had packed. Camped out a little.
And inch along. One. inch. at. a. time.
At this point, I would say 'mile after mile', but we only made it one mile in an hour and a half. Let me say that again for you. One mile in an hour and a half. While I'm repeating myself, let me also repeat that I had a quarter of a tank of gas and two Mt. Dews at this point. So, not only have I missed my meeting with my sorority sister, I have to go to the bathroom in a bad sort of way, and oh yeah...I've got no gas left. At all.
I have a decision to make here, and no cell phone. I'm in a wide open area, running on fumes, and I gotta go somethin' awful. So, I decide first to tackle the problem that is correctable. I find some napkins in the glove box, stick 'em in my back pocket, and pull the car over by a bridge that has a bush. Double the coverage.
I get out of the car and see a state trooper with lights flashing pull up behind my car.
"Ma'am, is there a problem?" (At this point, I am painfully aware of the illegality of the act I am about to commit.)
"Um, yessir, I just ran out of gas. I was going to walk to the next exit." My penchance for smidging the truth to the po-po dates back to 1997.
"Well, I'll give you a ride in my car. It will give me an excuse to use my lights." Awesome!!
I learned a few things at this point.
1. You can't sit in the front seat of a state trooper's car. There's a computer and a bunch of other cop-py junk there.
2. When you are driving down the side of the interstate in the back seat of a state trooper's car, it is like a parade. I was waving like I was the strawberry queen. In my mind I was.
It's not easy to make small talk with a state trooper. I mentioned the fact that I was supposed to meet a sister not the next exit, but the one after and he agreed to take me there instead of the next one. I also told him that I kind of had to go to the bathroom. He also had to go to the bathroom. I told him that I didn't really just kind of have to go to the bathroom. I kind of had to sprint out of the car the moment he put it in park and run into the first bathroom facility I saw. That kind of go to the bathroom. He didn't mind.
You know who did mind? The ladies working the register at the Shoney's.
Oh, I also forgot the third thing I learned. In the back seat of a state trooper's car, there are no door handles. They don't want prisoners to escape I guess. That does present a problem for the strawberry queens that need to go to the bathroom.
So, we pull into the Shoney's (lights flashing) and the kind officer gets out of the car and lets out the strawberry queen. Only they don't know it's me. They just see the officer come in to the parking lot, let the person out of the back of a car, and watch as that person sprints, seemingly from the police, into their restaurant. You imagine the relief on their faces when I simply yell "BATHROOM!" at them. They were kind enough to show me the way.
But the story goes on from there. You're probably wondering where my sweet sing-along strawberry king was in this story. I called AAA from a pay phone, and a man met me a the Shoney's with a can of gas to take me back to my Volvo. As we pulled a u turn in the median, I spotted my knight in shining gold Volvo, parked behind my abandoned car, studying for an upcoming exam.
Swoon. We got out and embraced. He said he saw my car and knew I'd be back and that he'd wait for me. It was beautiful. Until the AAA guy got out, pulled the gas can out and put gas in my car. Then, it was...
"You ran out of GAS?! You're on the side of the road because you ran out of GAS?!?! Ugh. Call me when you get home..."
And with that he got in his shiny gold Volvo and drove off into the distance.