Funny Story: Driving to Florida

The summer after I graduated from college and waiting for job applications to bear some fruit, I decided to drive to Florida and do some auditions at Disney World. My great-aunt and uncle were so generous to let me stay with them for a month so I wouldn’t have to pay for lodging, and at short notice at that. I was and am so grateful for their generosity. On the way there, however, I may have driven myself right into a crazy situation.

From where I lived in the Midwest, Orlando is about a 16 hr. drive with good traffic. Of course, that doesn’t factor in rest stops, food, and running out of gas. Yup, that’s right. I was that girl. So a little background. At the time I was driving my 2003 Mercury Mountaineer. While I loved that car, he was a bit unreliable in the gas tank department aka I didn’t really trust my gas gauge, and therefore I didn’t keep a good eye on it. Instead I had a decent idea of my typical mileage on a single tank and when I’d get close to that I’d compare with the gauge to get an idea of where I was. When I drove my dad’s car before I bought mine, it would tell you how many miles you had left on a tank which got me in the habit of running the tank as low as possible to get maximum output from each fillup.

So combine that with being on the road for 14+ hours, and the monotony of highway driving, and we set the scene. It’s about 9ish pm and I’m on the phone (handsfree) with my cousin talking to keep myself awake and focused. I’m in no-wheres-vill Georgia a little from the border of FL. Suddenly, I look down at my gauge and see the needle on E, it may have even been a little below.

“Oh NO! I need gas. I NEED GAS NOW!”

Luckily the highway at that moment was fairly free of other cars so I could change across to the right-most lane as fast as possible.

My cousin, of course, starts asking me the details of what’s happening. There’s 2 gas stations at the next exit whose sign I pass at that moment so it’s about 1 mile away.

She says to me, “Has your gas light come on?”

“No! There was no warning!”

“So you should have enough in the tank to take you that far if the light hasn’t come on yet.”

“Ok right, that makes sense. It’s a mile away so hopefully I can make it.”

Then the light comes on, and the engine shuts off. Thanks for nothing, buddy.

I coast as far as I can, which isn’t as far as I’d like, and the car stops moving.

I’m now about .7 mile from the exit, my car is down, I’m alone, it is getting dark, and there is nothing around me except swampland and highway. So my only option is to walk to the gas station, buy a gas can, and carry it back.

My cousin who is still on the phone tells me that she doesn’t want me to walk alone, and I’m like what other choice do I have??? She suggests calling the police on the non-emergency line and seeing if an officer could follow me to make sure nothing happens. We know they won’t drive me or get the gas for me.

I call them and describe where I am, the dispatcher says it’s actually highway patrol’s area and transfers me. I then talk to a grumpy officer who clearly doesn’t want to help me. He says that he’ll see if he has anyone to send my way, but I should check with my insurance, credit cards, etc. to see if I have any roadside assistance. I already did check all these, but now I have to bite the bullet and call my parents to make sure we don’t have anything, and tell them what happened. As I suspected, nothing I had had any reasonable roadside assistance that could help me at the moment. It’s been a long time so I call the non-emergency back, and get transferred again. When I ask the officer if he was still coming, he says no I was never sending anyone. No one is available.

By this time about an hour has passed. The evening light has turned to darkness, and the empty highway has become backed up to a crawl because of a crash just ahead of where I am, and another just behind. I have no choice, but to walk. So an hour wasted and I’m no closer to getting back on the road, and my aunt and uncle are expecting me, it’s already late, and I have at least 2 more hours to go. Plus, I’ve had to go to the bathroom since the car stopped. Great!

I grab this awesome bright flashlight I had with me, my leatherman (everyone should have a pocket knife), my wallet, and my passport (I had this with me incase I succeeded in getting a job). I wanted to have valuable and essential items on my person in case someone breaks into my stranded car. Now I did not turn the flashlight on to walk the shoulder of the road. It was a clear night, and the lights from the traffice was adequate. Mostly, I didn’t want to draw more attention to myself being a single, young, stranded, girl. I took it mostly incase someone did mess with me, then I could flip it on and blind them. Luckily none of these things happened.

I can’t remember if it was on the way there or on the way back, I think on the way there, I called my parents to calm them that I was ok, and as another little insurance against foul play. So about 3,700 ft. later and I get to the off ramp.

As I make my down the ramp, a fire engine is pulling off the same ramp beside me and passes me. When I get to the street I see the closest gas station, which looks super run down and sketchy, is closed. Almost everything on the exit (which is hardly anything) is dark and closed. Definitely not an ideal place to get stuck. So now my brain starts flooding, do gas stations close? what happens if the other one is closed too! I’m going to be stuck here.

Luckily I see the BP is open. Now I think this is a good thing because I usually think of BP’s adjacent stores to be nicer of the gas station options. Not this one. It’s the sketchiest and smallest BP I’ve ever seen. As I walk up, there’s a whole bunch of bikers. Like the classic leather vest – long white beard – kinda scary looking – bikers. This does little to comfort me. I walk into the store and see the bathroom is behind the counter in the middle of the store. It looks awful and there’s a rope tied across it blocking the entrance with a paper that says “CLOSED”. Remember, I’ve really needed a restroom going on 2 hrs.

I wait for the cashier to finish helping the biker, and before he can even fully turn away, she looks at me and goes, “No.”

Of course, this threw me off and confused me. So I say, “What?”

“You looked like you were going to ask for the bathroom. The answer is no.”

“Well, I do need it, but clearly it’s closed. Actually, I need to know if you have gas cans.”

“No. We fill them (obviously, I think, you’re a gas station.), but we don’t sell them.”

I hadn’t considered a gas station wouldn’t sell gas cans!

That seems so basic, gas station = where you buy gas cans.

Like I said before there is NOTHING around so there’s no where else I can go get a can. I don’t know what to do. I just walk back outside. Outside, I see the fire truck that passed me earlier at one of the stations. Firefighters, you’re supposed to be able to trust firefighters and ask them for help, right? Right? I mean, as a woman, you’re not inclined to open yourself up to any strange man, but of all the men I’m supposed to be able to trust a firefighter to be good and help me. I decide I don’t have a choice, well it’s the best option of the choices.

I walk up to one of the firefighters. He’s a young guy, probably around my age, and I explain my situation. I ask him if he has a gas can I could borrow. I’ll be coming right back to this gas station to fill my car’s tank, so I’ll be able to return it. He tells me that the only thing they have is gas cans filled with mixed fuel, which will do nothing except blow out my engine. That won’t help me. Then he suggests buying a 2 liter, emptying it, and filling it with gas to take to my car. Now, I’m no mechanic, but I know enough for there to be an iching at the back of brain that that’s a bad idea. 1. Because if any of the leftover pop gets into my engine, it could also ruin it. and 2. I’m like 95% positive you can only carry gas in containers made for that purpose. Now I can’t speak to the details of either of these concerns so I can’t do much in terms of negating besides hesitation, and brainstorming other options. Eventually, his partner comes up and asks what’s going on. We explain, and firefighter #1 explains his idea, and #2 confirms both of my worries. The gas would melt through the 2 liter before I get to my car, and anything left over that mixes with the gas into my engine would be very bad.

There is a decent flow of people coming into the gas station so we keep asking them if they have a gas can I could borrow. No one carries one.

Finally, the firefighter says, “You probably won’t like this option, but there’s a bunch of truckers next door, and at least one of them should have a can you could borrow.”

“That sounds perfect! Why wouldn’t I like that idea?”

“Well, it’s a gentleman’s club. I thought you might not feel comfortable going over there.”

“Oh, well, it doesn’t seem I have a choice.” At that moment another car pulls up so I check one last time to see if he has a can I could borrow, with no luck. So again I come to do I trust this firefighter. So far he seems nice and helpful, and him versus a club full of truckers, I’m thinking I’m supposed to trust firefighters. So I ask him if he’ll go with me, and he agrees.

So we walk over to the club. I go inside the front door which leads to a enclosed booth with a big, heavy, wooden door to the right. Basically, so you can’t see anything without paying. I talk to the clerk behind the counter, who is really nice, and ask him if he can check and see if anyone has a can I could borrow, I’ll bring it right back.

Finally! I catch a break. Their cook had a gas can in his car, and it’s already mostly full. Thank goodness, I can finally start moving forward again. As the firefighter and I are walking back to the gas station, he gets a call on the radio that there’s a crash at such and such mile marker. I’m pretty sure that’s the mile marker my car is at! NO! Please don’t let that be my car. I can recover from empty gas tank, but if someone has hit my car going at highway speeds, I’m sunk. I’ll be stuck in the middle of no where with nothing to do and no where to go. I try to tell the firefighter and ask if I could maybe get a ride, but he holds a hand up so he can hear the radio again.

Then he turns to me and tells me to get in. I do with the full gas can. They then say that it was the same accident they had been called to before arriving at the gas station so the call was cancelled. Since they weren’t going onto the highway, they couldn’t take me to my car. They dropped me off at the exit I came down before, which was only a couple feet away, but nice thought at least. I’m very thankful for their assistance, especially firefighter #1.

Now I have to make the trek back to my car. The crazy traffic has died down at least so it’s just me and the night. Only thing I really have to worry about is a stray alligator lol. Luckily no trouble on the way back. I get to the car, which is fine, and I open my tank to fill it with gas. This particular gas can seemed to have a crack where the spout neck connects to the screw-cap. So as I begin to try to pour the gas into my tank, it’s spilling out of that crack all over my arms, the side of the car, and the ground. Moving it around I get the chugging sound so I’m pretty sure, for the moment, it was at least getting some gas into the tank. That eventually stops so I stop trying thinking that I’ll just try to get there on what I’ve managed to get into the tank, and hopefully that will get me to the gas station. If not, I’ll just try again. As I’m putting the can in my trunk, red and blue lights pull up.

At this point, I’m completely exasperated and the officer comes out to ask if I was the break down who called for help earlier. I didn’t think he was coming, and honestly he barely even made it in time to find me at all. Due to my exhaustion, I start rambling. I don’t remember everything I said, but it ended with “this gas can is broken, and the gas got everywhere – on the ground, my arms oh and it’s starting to burn – but I’m not sure that I got enough in the tank to make it there so will you follow me to the gas station to make sure I make it there?”

He agrees and then puts both his hands out, looks me directly in the eye – very serious now-, and says, “Do you need rescue?”


“Do you need rescue? For the gas, do you need rescue?”

“Oh no. I have baby wipes in the car I should be fine. I just need you to follow me.”

So I finally get to the same gas station with the cop in tow, and fill my tank. I should have refilled the gas can before returning it, but my brain was flustered and otherwise occupied with the cop waiting on me. I still feel bad I didn’t think to do that. When I’m all filled up, I explain where I got the gas can from, and that a fireman accompanied me the first time. I ask him if he would go over with me to return it. He says yes, I’ll follow you. That confused me until I realized I had a functioning car again. Lol.

I drive over, and he follows me. I arrive just intime to see the cook getting ready to leave so I can return his can and thank him in person. The cop drove away basically right after I parked so a lot of good he did.

Now I’m stuck with a delemma. If you remember, I still.haven’t.used.the.restroom! I could get back on the highway, and find an exit with a restroom, but that’s going to take all the more time. My aunt and uncle are still waiting for me 2 hours away and it’s about 11 pm now. On the other hand, I could see if this club will let me use their restroom so I can save time.

I walk inside to thank the clerk for his help, and I ask him if I could use the restroom. He agrees, then he realizes he has to check my ID to let me past the big, heavy, wooden door. My ID is in the car so I promise I’m 22, but that’s not good enough. I then realize I still have my passport on me so I get that out. I definitely threw him for a loop with that because he had clearly never had anyone use that form of ID because he didn’t know where to look. With that settled, he let me in, and pointed me towards the restroom.

This is where I find out/confirm myself that strip clubs in real life are a lot different than you see in movies. I make my way through and I see restrooms. The sign for the men’s restroom pointed down a long all and indicated there were showers there too. Yuck.

The women’s restroom was flush with the wall, no hallway. I open the door and right infront of me is a wall and to my left is an opening with a bunch of lockers. Suddenly, I think I’m now where I should be so I check the sign again, and confirm it says Women’s Restroom.

I go inside to discover that they use this small restroom as a changing room for the girls as well. Makes sense since they probably don’t have many women as patrons. There are 2 girls inside. One is changing into sweats to go home, and the other must have been on break because she’s just hanging out in her work clothes, or lack thereof.

I say excuse me and I just need to use the restroom. They’re like come on in honey it’s yours to use. The 2 toilets were through another doorway separate from the mirror and sink where they were changing. To my discomfort, I discover the toilet stalls had their doors removed! I ask if I should close the door, and again they tell me it’s my bathroom do whatever I want. I, of course, say that it’s their bathroom and I’ll close it, but obviously it’s theirs so if they need to come in…. I chose the stall farthest away from the door so no one would have any need to pass me if they did come in. Good thing too because not 2 seconds later one of them apologizes and tells me she needs to use the restroom as well.

Finally, my needs are taken care of and I can get back on the road. As I wash my hands, the girls kind of questioned me about what I was doing, and I told them how I was heading towards Orlando and my car broke down, and this was the only place I could find help and a bathroom. They were really nice girls.

I arrived at my great aunt and uncles house after 1 am with a crazy story now. I bought a gas can before I drove home. Actually, I think this story is the biggest reason I went kind of overboard with what I keep in my car as I detail in this post. Better safe than sorry, right? Check your gas levels regularly on a long road trip, more like a rule rather than a guideline in this case.