The fuel range readout says 47 km, but the next gas station is 60 km away – do you forge ahead or turn around?
If you use a navigational system when you’re driving, you’ll know that it tells you the time of your arrival. It factors in the speed you’re travelling as well as the distance, and sometimes even traffic conditions. A joke making the rounds recently on social media indicates most of the people I know consider that time not a goal, but a challenge.
Every time you manage to shave a minute off your ETA, you get a cyber high-five from the GPS Fairy.
Something similar happens with another gauge many cars have. It tells you how many kilometres you can travel with the fuel remaining in the tank. This is a terrific safety feature, once only the province of higher-end cars. I wish I’d had this when I was younger, because if anyone needs a how-far-can-you-go-without-sputtering-out gauge, it’s people who consider filling up a tank a luxury. There were many years I’d 20-buck it and hope for the best.
I pulled out of my cottage early one morning last week and glanced at that gauge: only 47 kilometres. I hadn’t driven the car last, so I hadn’t noticed. I tend to keep it topped up when I’m out of town because gas stations can be a little random once you leave the major routes.
Cottage country entrepreneurs here in Ontario have become quite prescient at opening establishments that city people flock to as they pretend they’re getting away from it all. Where we stayed when I was a kid, it was nearly an hour to a town of any size, and the village that was closer had a typical general store. We couldn’t even rely on getting our Archie comics from the nearby shop; it opened whenever the owner felt like it, which wasn’t often.
Now, you can get designer coffee and endless antiques within a 15-minute trek. You can also get booze as restrictions relax and allow the tiny local stores to carefully check I.D. as grateful cottagers choose between Coors Lite and the only red left on the shelf. I’m happy I don’t have to wander far except by choice, but I do wish someone would put in some gas pumps.
I stared at the 47 on the fuel gauge, and did some math. There are a few stations within that distance and I knew it, but they were the wrong way. I’m not sure how to best explain this, but I was raised with a near-pathological dread of wasting gas by travelling the wrong way; backtracking to get gas on the way home is like petting a cat backwards.
My father – the same one who was strangely OK with Sunday drives to nowhere that lasted hours and formed much of the narrative of my childhood – refused to waste gas on frivolous things. If he’d had his way, we’d have driven to the cottage, never left it for weeks and then coasted home on fumes. Instead, my Mom would take us driving all over the place – something she called fart-arsing around – then gas up and just not tell him.
I know for an actual fact that the next station directly on my route home is nearly 60 kilometres away. I remember watching a movie over 30 years ago called Blue Thunder; it starred the cop from Jaws playing another cop because he does it so well. All I remember is a segment where they’re taking a police rescue helicopter out on a practice run, and to make it interesting they fly out across the ocean until they have just under half a tank of fuel left – less fuel than it took them to get out over the water. To this day I can feel that dread even though it’s just a movie, and of course they’ll make it back because you can’t kill the guy who killed the shark. My gut does a funny little clutch that anyone would think this could be fun.
I stared at my fuel gauge and wondered if I could Blue Thunder it.
I know that number is based on averaging how the car has been driven thus far; I know there are variables you can muck with, like how fast or slow you drive. I know you can actually “earn” some kilometres back in a game related to shaving time off your estimated arrival on the GPS. I also knew it was 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning and if I miscalculated, I’d be stranded in the most isolated part of my drive for the stupidest reason.
“Have you ever seen the movie Blue Thunder, officer?”
I backtracked up the highway to the nearest gas station. Sorry Dad, I’ll have a chat with the person who left me on 47.