Independence, MO – I ran out of gas last month.
It was an unseasonably warm Monday afternoon. I was racing from Warrensburg, where I’d spent the day at the University of Central Missouri, to the airport.
I had a seat on Delta’s last flight to Indianapolis. And as usual, I was cutting it close.
My Garmin Telenav led me on 350 under 470 and toward Raytown. I quickly realized bypassing 470 would extend my drive 15 minutes.
Eager to learn my airport ETA, I glanced at the GPS device suctioned to the windshield. That’s when I noticed the “fill up your tank” light pulsing near the fuel gage.
I fingered the on-board computer to learn how many miles remained. The feedback wasn’t encouraging; the dashboard data screen registered an unsympathetic —-.
That couldn’t be good.
I pulled up my boot straps and soldiered on. My grandpa always said automakers designed car fuel gauges to register empty when two gallons remained for procrastinators like me.
The folks in Sweden must have missed that memo. I’m living proof Volvos are in fact out of fuel when their gas gauges read empty.
That discovery dawned on me on the sunny March afternoon as my V70 sputtered to a stop on 350 West just east of Noland Road. It died in the middle of the intersection. Precisely.
Not the ideal place to learn a lesson. But learn I did.
I first made a mental note never to let my tank dip below the 1/16-of-a-tank mark again. Then I smartly engaged my hazard lights.
That’s when it hit me. I was stranded in the middle of one of the busiest and most dangerous intersections in metropolitan Kansas City. I couldn’t exit the car and get to the shoulder because of the continuous stream of traffic.
My Eagle Scout instincts kicked in. I pulled out my AAA card and called for help. I texted Kate, a colleague and a Scouting buddy, and asked for a quick prayer.
Then I waited.
As I’m sitting there, stranded and out of gas, wanting desperately to get to the side of the road, hundreds of people drove by. All but one expressed the same emotion, in varying forms.
Some honked their horns. Others shook their heads in disgust. Several dozen flashed their bright lights. And six – I counted them – flew me the bird.
That’s right. In a span of 11 minutes, six people flipped me off because I’d run out of gas in the middle of one of the most dangerous intersections in town.
As if I’d done it on purpose. Go figure.
One person stood out. He had dark hair and drove a black, early 2000s-model Suburban. He had a full moustache and was wearing a black T-shirt.
He didn’t honk. He didn’t shake his head. He didn’t flash his lights, and he didn’t flip me off.
He pulled up next to me. He rolled down his window and motioned me to do the same. And after I did, he offered to help.
“Can I help you get out of the intersection?” he asked. “Do you need gas money? A cell phone? “
I said I’d called AAA and expected help. He asked if I was sure I didn’t need backup. When I confirmed I was fine, he drove off as he waved encouragingly.
Thanks, Mr. Black Suburban. Whoever you are, your spontaneous offer of philanthropy made a real difference.
The AAA truck arrived a minute or two after you left. The driver poured gas into my tank, which enabled me to motor up the hill to the gas station and fill my tank out of harm’s way.
For a minute, though, it was touch and go. And that’s when you rolled up and offered to help.