I knew I should have already put some gas in my car. Something just told me I should. But, since it is one of my least favorite things to do, I put it off. It was about 8:30 p.m. when my wife called from the Memphis airport to tell me her plane had been delayed. “I hope I will be able to catch the shuttle back to Macon without having to wait too long. I may be so late I miss it all together,” she said with a somewhat worried tone to her voice. “I’m sure you will,” I said, as I sat in my pajamas typing away on my computer.
“I’m going to be cutting it close,” she said when she called more than an hour later to tell me she was finally on the plane. I let out a deep sigh and asked, “Do you want me to drive to Atlanta and pick you up?” I held my breath in hopes that she would say no, but her voice suddenly changed from worried to happy. “Would you?” she asked. “Of course,” I said, already trying to calculate in my mind what time I would have to leave to arrive at the Atlanta airport at the same time. It was a little after 10 p.m. by the time I got dressed, said goodbye to our chihuahua, Georgie, and left the house.
When I cranked up the car, I was horrified when I saw the gas light winking at me in bright red. The red definitely illuminated much more in darkness than it had earlier in the daylight. I must confess, I am very familiar with the red gas light, just not usually at this late hour.
Over the years, I have learned exactly how long I can drive once the gas light appears. One thing I knew was it would not get me to the Atlanta airport. My mother and daddy always thought I drove on the “vapors” and constantly warmed me of what could happen. And, as usual, they were right. I didn’t want to run out of gas, so I convinced myself it would only take a few moments to stop by the nearest gas station and fill up. Time was ticking away as Debra was high up in the night sky traveling much faster than I could.
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When I reached the gas station, the “Open” sign was still on glowing in the exact same red color as my gas light. The store seemed dark to me and upon closer inspection, I came to the conclusion it was closed. But only after I had already gotten out my car and undone the gas nozzle.
With not at minute to spare, I sped off trying to decide which gas station was the nearest. In route, I couldn’t believe that in 2010 a gas station was closed at that hour. “What in the world were they thinking?” I asked myself.
It took me about five minutes to reach the next gas station. As I put on my blinker, I scanned the entire place to make absolutely sure it was open. “Everything is on and people are everywhere so it has got to be open,” I said to myself as I came to a stop and once again started the fill up procedure.
I inserted my credit card and nothing happened. I was starting to get a little panicky. I tried it over and over with no results. Knowing I had not a moment to spare, I decided I would be forced to go inside and see what was wrong. That meant locking the car and making sure I had the keys and credit card in my hand. Off I went with the nozzle still somewhat suspended into the side of my car.
I was greeted by an older man as I burst through the door. A quick scan around the room told me that no one was behind the counter. “Where is the person that works here?” I asked the man with a little urgency in my voice. “Oh, she will be right back. She just had to go to the restroom,” he said with the calmest of voices. I was frantic.
Three minutes later, she appeared and I begged her to turn on the pump for me. “I’m at pump 6!” I yelled as I turned to walk back to my car. She told me to press the “cancel” button and it would be fine. I pressed it and still nothing. This time I ran back into the store. “It’s still not working,” I said, thinking that Debra probably already had landed in Atlanta by this time. The whole process took about 15 minutes.
With travel time and two gas stations later, I had wasted almost half an hour. But at least now I was gassed up and ready to go.
As I drove to Atlanta, I thought about how purchasing gas had completely changed just in my generation. When I was a small boy, a gas attendant always filled up your tank, cleaned your windows, checked your tire pressure and handled the transaction without you so much as leaving your vehicle. Then the “self-serve” pump was introduced and I just knew it would not catch on. Boy, was I wrong. Back then there were no all-night gas stations, so you had to plan ahead to purchase your gas, which is a concept I have never completely gotten.
Earlier that day, as I had passed gas station after gas station, that little voice inside of me said, “Mark, you need to go ahead and fill up your tank.” But I didn’t listen. I thought I had plenty of time to do it later. I was mad at myself for not listening.
Recently, I have been trying to really listen to my inner voice. I do it when I am writing. I do it when I am painting. I try and do it in most every situation that arises. I wondered why I had not listened to it earlier that day concerning the gas light. I don’t know.
But I do know that, after my experience the other night, I will certainly be a much better listener. That little voice is inside us for a reason. We should all open our ears to what it has to say.
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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; fax them to 474-4930; call 757-6877; e-mail to email@example.com; or become part of Mark’s fan page on Facebook.