I have often mentioned the importance of journaling your travels and how it can take you back to details and moments you’ve forgotten. What I have not mentioned is that sometimes those details are ones you’d rather forget. The second travel journal I ever kept, the first being lost to time, is from the summer leading into my senior year of high school. I was given the option go to Space Camp, something I’d asked for year after year, or the whole family could go on a cross-country vacation to California and back. Let’s put it this way: this post isn’t about my awesome time at Space Camp.
This post is about blind faith and obedience and how it landed me in the hottest hot water of my life. We were on day six of a tented journey through America. You see, we didn’t do hotels in our family. We had tents and a minivan, a blue Plymouth with a small four-cylinder engine that you couldn’t park on a hill. The strain on the transmission would lock up the gear box and you’d have to rock it back and forth to get it out of park.
On June 23rd we were halfway between Maryland and the west coast, traveling through the open flat lands of Wyoming. I was driving, my mother was in the passenger seat and my father was taking a nap on the back seat. I was given explicit instructions by my father not to stop for gas unless I could see the service station from the road. So I drive.
The window was down, we didn’t have AC, I had my 1983 Baltimore Orioles hat on and some country station on the radio (all of the stations in Wyoming are country). The beautiful rolling landscape of swaying grass and the occasional cow standing at the fences were the only distraction other than the needle on the gas gauge creeping closer to the red. I didn’t see a gas station so I wasn’t going to stop. I was nervous, but kept going.
The light went on and that’s when I finally asked mom: do we stop for gas? She immediately asked me how I let the gas get that low. We woke my father. I explained that I hadn’t seen a gas station and the closest town was Grey Bull, 20-plus miles out.
The engine quickly begins to surge, running on fumes. We roll to a stop. My mother, who is the most level-headed person I know, loses it. Somehow my father is the opposite; he’s the one who’s calm. He gets out of the car and begins to walk; we are 11 miles outside of Grey Bull. A truck stops and he climbs in and my mother, sister and brother wait with me in the van. The following is an excerpt from my journal (keep in mind I was in high school, cut my writing a little slack):
“Because of this I have lost all driving privileges. So much for that. It seems as though if you want something done and done right you don’t ask me? It’s hard to remember whether or not I had done anything dumber is beyond my memory.”
It’s needless to say I learned a few things that day. Gas stations are very far apart in Wyoming. Also, never let your tank get below the half full mark. Perhaps most importantly, you may never see the gas station from the road, so take whatever exit has a sign pointing toward a station.
My dad, years later, admitted the reason he didn’t get angry was that he was proud that I followed his directions to the letter despite the outcome. The final lesson: parents eventually forgive you, no matter how dumb you are.