Down from on high

August rolled around and we were thrilled to take our honeymoon, finally, a little more than a year after getting hitched. This is fine, as it turns out, since my knee is all better and I’ve had time to rehabilitate the joint such that it doesn’t blow up like a balloon animal after short walks.

And the cruise, as already noted, was fantastic, full of animal sightings, a tour of endangered glaciers (as well as one advancing ice pack), and some funny-because-it-sucked shipboard musical performances.

Then we docked back at the Port of Seattle. This wasn’t like disembarking off of an airplane, which has its own annoyances, including the rush to ignite one’s cell phone, waiting for the dumbasses in rows 5-20 to get their bags out of the overhead compartment so you can move forward, and the lovely time wasting exercise of standing in baggage claim. No, to depart a ship, you have to give your stateroom steward your bags ahead of time, thus leaving each person in your cabin precisely one bag of toiletries, dirty clothing from the day before, and all of your valuables-slash-electronics. Then you proceed with your dirty clothing carryon to some previously assigned room, such as the drinking lounge three decks below your stateroom, so that you can wait around until your specific departure time. This departure time, other than seemingly based on how many prior cruises you’ve taken with the line, is an algorithm of the finest mathematics, calculating  your likelihood of throwing a total caniption if you’re forced to sit around next to a bag of smelly underwear for more than two hours.

Fortunately, one dining room out of five is open this morning, so feel free to stand on your head while waiting for a table.

Finally, we were off the ship, roughly at 10 o’clock. We found a cab after standing in a long taxi line, and made our way over to our car across town. One quick cup of coffee back on land and we were off—to the airport. This would have been a great time to gas up the car, but as is my neurotic need to be early or on time, I could only rush down to SeaTac, as if the seconds were ticking away before my sister and her two daughters were landing. Of course, the seconds were ticking away. A full 7,200 of them. So really, we had time to take it easy. But I think our time in the Vista Lounge had addled my brain somewhat, so we did some more sitting as we waited for their flight to arrive.

Finally, it did, and then we were in the car, heading back to Walla Walla, and oh, what was this on the freeway? Traffic?

Bad traffic, as it turned out. It took us 2 hours to travel about 25 miles. Eventually we were able to go faster, and then we were out of the confines of the city, and the metropolitan area, to boot.

At this point I realized we were seriously low on fuel. Now our Honda CR-V is a handy little vehicle, and by handy, I mean it has a computer for everything. It will tell me if a tire is low, as it did on this day. Not which tire is low, mind you, but that one of the four presently supporting the vehicle, take your guess or buy a gauge. It communicates this status with what looks like two parentheses and a very upset-looking exclamation mark, the whole thing in italics, like this:


That this means “pull over, your tire is low,” is simply an amazing moment for technology to me. Because it SUCKS.

Another attempt at useful computering is the gas gauge. Not only do I have a pixelated series of columns showing me how many twentieths of a tank of gas I have—with 14 gallons in the tank, it’s showing me every .7 gallons per column on my dashboard—but I also have a “miles remaining” calculator. My brain likes this little number, like a friend gently telling me how great the road is ahead. This is so much better than that 1980 Ford Escort I used to drive that actually always pretended I had three quarters of a tank, presumably because 3/4 was just its favorite setting EVAR. I have therefore walked, usually accompanied by rainfall, a couple of miles to a gas station, needing to get a gallon so I can drive to the pump. But now I don’t worry, because my car tells me I have 79 miles left in my tank.

79 glowed at me, all happy and reassuringly. And then it read 78. We had passed an exit with gas a few miles back, well within 78-mile range, but who needed it?

I’d forgotten that the gas calculator takes into account, among other things, and for perfectly understandable reasons, the labor on the engine cylinders. So it was as we began to make our way into the Cascade Mountains, yes MOUNTAINS, that the “remaining gas estimate” changed.

Twenty-seven miles. 27. Fifty miles of level terrain navigating gone, just like that.

We kept motoring, and I saw the road sign ahead. The next town was 42 miles away.

I quickly did the math in my head, because I’m a sentient being, and frankly, it wasn’t hard, and realized we were screwed. Sure, I could turn around, but now we were in the middle of the mountain range, so we weren’t going to get many of those miles, the Lost Miles of 2009, back. I wasn’t sure we’d make it in either direction.

I stopped listening to the conversation in the car, and started sweating instead. It was like I could only do one or the other.

Susanne noticed my silence first, and as she was sitting behind me, she only had to look over my shoulder to read the dash and see the root of my concern. It was at this point that she started gearing herself up, getting ready to start walking for gas when our fumes gave out on us.

Now everyone was aware of our little issue. We had 22 miles, or so the car said. I was grateful for a couple of downhill sections of road, and coasted my way in the right lane. We pulled off as soon as we could, but we were really in the middle of nowhere. Next exit, nothing.

Next exit, down to 17 miles of fuel, and we found a ghost town. It really was like something out of a western movie, with boarded up storefronts on one dusty main street, but darn it, they had a gas station with one pump. You never saw people so excited for crappy noname gas. The girls bounded into the convenience store, and came back out, thrilled to find some kind of purple Monster cocktail that drives parents crazy in 6.4 minutes. And we were off again, 503 miles of gassed up goodness sloshing around in the tank. We may have spiked the sales tax income of that little town for that day.

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Categories: driving


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