There are certain circumstances or situations that seem more conducive to writing than others — for instance, a stolen moment of quiet in the midst of everyday chaos … a shady spot on a breezy but warm Spring day … the break of day or the dawn of night when the whole world sleeps — but riding shotgun at a rate of speed that would make Dale Earnhardt, Jr. blush shouldn’t be one; yet I feel the urge. Perhaps it’s the craziness of Bryan’s driving, floss stick protruding from the corner of his mouth, while he attempts to placate me with proclamations of his spotless driving record as he warp speeds through the heart of Mississippi with precious cargo aboard. Perhaps it’s the boredom of not being able to sleep in said shotgun position but being too tired to take the wheel myself. Or perhaps it’s just simply that our kids are too funny to not write about.
We stopped for a drive-thru lunch, not the healthiest of options but when we’re on the road between Arkansas and Alabama, we’re trying to beat time — think George hightailing it to the Hamptons with no regard for Jerry & Elaine who attempt to follow behind. And KFC is itself not the best of the cesspool of drive-thrus when driving is actually involved, but what’s life without a little variety, eh? So an 8-piece bucket o’ original and a 3-piece chicken strip pack ought to be plenty for a family of 4 and a 1/2 (Wonder Boy being the half) – 2 pieces each and the strips for Wonder Boy, right? Well, The Girl was staaarrrrvvviiinnnggg to deeeaaattthhh (at least 3 syllables there, folks) after her 2 and asked Bryan to share his second piece. As he continued eating without response, Boy Genius determined he should interpret, and quipped, “Uh, [Girl], I’d take that as a ‘no.’ Daddy’s eatin’ it like a wild animal.”
Now, lest you think we’re depriving our children countenance for our own benefit, know that The Girl’s starvation was apparently impervious to corn (i.e., she hates corn unless it’s on the cob, which this wasn’t). If her choice was “Give me corn or give me death,” then she’d cry “Give me chicken.” All the while, Wonder Boy’s screaming “Mommy” at Daddy and demanding more of anything edible in the car — he might actually be the best eater of all, devouring all the scraps of the wild.
Fast forward a few hours later when we’ve made excellent time (thanks to Bryan’s need for speed) and our estimated arrival at Mema’s is about an hour away. Mid-conversation about something I can’t recall now, Bryan stops and the following exchange occurs:
Bryan: “Holy crap, we’re out of gas!”
Me: “Like, out of gas, out of gas? or just out of gas?”
Bryan: “We are slap out of gas!”
Me: “No, like stop at the next exit or …” (noticing the car slowing) “… car stopping on the side of the road?”
Bryan: (shifting to neutral and steering to the shoulder) “Car stopping, out of gas.”
We cruised for maybe half a mile down hill before finally coming to a stop as the incline of the landscape worked against us. So here we sit, on the side of Highway 78 (the newer section only open to “local traffic”), just shy of the exit sign that reads “Dora Sumiton 1/2 mile,” flat out of gas with 3 kids (one of whom is crying … um, take your pick) and 2 dogs panting for water and a pee break after a 6+ hour drive.
In what I’m pretty sure constitutes serendipity, though, turns out Bryan’s grandmother lives (at least part of the time, since remarrying a few years back) about 10 or 15 miles from that very exit. We discover this when we call Mema, who lives considerably further than that from our current predicament. So we talk with Anna (the grandmother) who says that she and Joe are on the way. When the two arrive (more than 30 minutes later), her only comment to Bryan as he meets her across the 3-lane to walk her back to our van is “a CEO and a lawyer and you guys run out of gas …” (Now, he’s not a CEO, but a CNO, but the phrase “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” comes to mind).
We get the 5 gallons Anna and Joe brought us (at $2.47 a gallon we’re told … hmmm, did we offer to pay?) into the van and it starts right up. Our rescuers head back to their truck parked on the shoulder across the median and facing the other direction as we merge back onto the highway. As we’re driving along and talking about a place to stop to fill up, Bryan says “I bet we could make it to Mema’s without stopping.” Is he serious or is that an attempt at humor? Who knows. All I can think of is “did The Girl eat the rest of that Chex Mix bag … will we be rationing it on the side of the road waiting for another rescue … or scavenging the Jasper woodlands like wild animals?” Well, at least, Bryan apparently has a knack for it.