“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name…”
A Horse with No Name - America
When taking a long road trip, some careful planning is required. Once the destination has been established, and the route chosen, there are many other considerations. How many miles a day will you drive? What will the budget be for food, lodging and fuel? What are the “must see” sights, and when will you put the hammer down and put on some major miles?
Travelling in the United States is a straight ahead proposition. It’s hard to go more than 20 miles without seeing a sign for hotels and gas stations. And, of course, the “golden arches” are as plentiful and ubiquitous as our own Tim Horton’s coffee shops up North.
On a recent transcontinental journey covering close to 10,000 kilometers, my son, Peter, and I spent most of the journey south of the border. We witnessed some extraordinary music in both Nashville and New Orleans, and sampled the vast array of cuisine available as we passed from one state to the next.
One thing veteran road warriors know is to always keep your gas tank as close to full as possible. Virtually every time we stopped, we topped off the tank with some of the cheapest gas you can imagine. There was one exception. Texas. The “Lone Star State” is huge and the landscape is dotted with plenty of exits to service areas.
At one of our pit stops we decided to take a pass on gasoline. Prices can fluctuate wildly from town to town and even within towns. Gasoline in the U.S. is not as highly regulated as it is in Canada. Seeing that we had 250 kilometers (160 miles) left in the tank, and with gas a bit higher in price than the last time we fuelled, we hit the road.
This particular stretch of Texas was barren, to say the least. The miles crept by and we started to pay close attention to our ever dwindling supply of petrol. With just 15 kilometers remaining before we would run out, we heaved a great sigh of relief as we saw an exit ahead with the familiar Exxon logo on the sign. We were in the middle of nowhere. Actually, nowhere turned out to be Bakersfield; population: 2 – the service station owner and his wife. There were about a dozen vehicles in a lineup, which seemed a bit odd as the price of gas at this station was higher than usual. Nobody was at the pumps, which added to our curiosity. Maybe the other drivers were inside buying lottery tickets, or arranging for sight-seeing tours.
And then we noticed yellow plastic bags covering the pumps, with the words “no gas available” emblazoned for all to see. A serious ice storm a few days prior had caused widespread fuel shortages in the region. We were in the desert with no gas. I looked around the sky to see if I could spot any vultures.
It quickly became apparent that we were all in a bind when we found out that a fresh shipment of gas would not arrive until noon the following day. The mood was sombre to be sure. The only bright spot was the fact that there was cellular service. People were frantically calling AAA.
We pulled our car across the street onto a patch of ground and assessed the situation. From our vantage point, the good news was that we didn’t have a strict timetable and, other than being inconvenienced, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to spend a night in the desert. Also, because we were intrepid travellers, we were well equipped to withstand adversity. We had lots of water on board along with a cooler full of snacks and fresh fruit. Like boy scouts who are always prepared, we had 4 bottles of ice cold Sierra Nevada pale ale. I had this vision of a midnight auction with each bottle fetching $20.
And we had a couple of guitars. I wondered how many folks would be able able to chime in on the chorus to “Song for the Mira”.
I placed a call to CAA and explained our predicament. A calm voice on the other end assured me that, one way or another (delivery of fuel or a tow), we would not spend a night under the stars. Part of me was disappointed as I pondered the story that could have come out of our predicament.
As we waited for a call back from CAA, a half ton truck pulled up and out strode two Good Samaritans in the guise of cowboys. In the back of their truck were several jugs of gasoline, which they promptly disbursed to the anxious throng. We held back knowing that our fate was secure thanks to CAA. They distributed enough fuel for everyone to make it to a service station in a town 17 miles away. They had one gallon left when we got to the head of the line which we hastily purchased, even though they didn’t request any money.
We headed for McCamey, reputedly the “wind energy capital of Texas”, population 189. And there was lots of gas to be had. We filled the car and headed down the road toward El Paso.
Too bad we missed the desert tailgate party. Oh well, perhaps we’ll find Marty Robbins tuning up in Rosa’s cantina.
I write humour columns for several newspapers and have published two books of short stories. You can visit my website at www.week45.com
Photo credit to my son, Peter MacDonald.