Personal Musings

I Once Ran Out of Gas Fifty Feet From My House

I once ran out of gas for my car fifty feet from my front doorstep. Even the measurement “fifty feet” may be an exaggeration. If you held a tape measurer in your hand and walked out the yellow aluminum roll, thirty or forty feet may be the more precise measurement.

This scene played out back when I lived in my hometown of Phenix, Virginia. That’s Phenix without the -o for all you Arizona residents out there. I was sitting in my car at the basketball court. My buddy Brian was with me. It was two o’clock in the morning. Everyone was asleep. But not us. We were chilling. I had my driver’s seat reclined slightly. Brian did the same with the passenger side. With our windows halfway down, we smoked cigarettes one after the next and talked about girls. A punk rock cassette played in the background.

Until my car gurgled its last gurgle and sputtered into silence in the dead of the night. Of course, I had no idea why. I was sixteen. Logic? What is this concept you speak of? Sure, yeah, I had been parked with the engine running idle in one spot for two or three hours; okay, five hours. Maybe six. Who’s counting? A man must keep warm even while chilling. Let it be known across the land.

But running out of gas that close to one’s residence? Does such a thing happen?

“Pop the hood,” Brian said. Despite not even being sixteen years old, Brian fancied himself a bit of an impromptu mechanic. He talked about fixing old cars from time to time, though I’d never seen him in the act of fixing an old car. Nonetheless, I deferred to his expert knowledge.

I popped the hood.

“You have a flashlight?” he asked.

I didn’t have a flashlight, and back then, we didn’t even have cell phones so no flashlight built into a phone on my person either. Instead, I kept flicking my cigarette lighter until the metal coil became so hot I nearly blistered my thumb.

“Might be the spark plug,” Brian finally said dropping the hood closed. “Or the battery.”

“I can’t believe my car died fifty feet from my house,” I said. “Guess I won’t be dropping you off at your house.”

“I’m used to walking anyway,” he said, and off he went.

My mom, upon waking herself from an undiagnosed sleep apnea — of which, nearly thirty years later, my aunt has finally convinced her to get a sleep study done — turned on the front porch light and called over to me at the basketball court.

“You need to come inside for the night,” she said.

“I can’t,” I said. “My car’s dead.”

“Fifty feet from the house?” she asked.


“I’ll get your dad,” she said.

It was a Saturday, so my dad who normally worked third shift, happened to be home. Groggy from trying to adjust his sleep routine and from being awakened by my mom, my dad walked over to the basketball court where I stood next to my dead car.

“How did you manage to kill your car fifty feet from the house?” he asked.

“I have no idea,” I said.

“Pop the hood,” he said.

“I don’t have a flashlight,” I said.

“Flick your lighter. I know you smoke cigarettes. No need to hide it now,” he said.

I flicked the cigarette lighter and held the flame until my already tender thumb could handle it no longer.

“Might be the battery is all,” my dad said. “How long have you been over here?”

“Since eight or nine o’clock,” I said.

“Were you listening to music the entire time?” he asked.


“That’s probably it, then,” he said.

He opened the driver’s side door and warm air rushed out.

“Tell me you weren’t sitting over here for the last five or six hours with the car running,” he said.

“I was,” I confessed.

Sling Blade. “Ain’t got no gas in it” scene.

There’s a scene in the movie Sling Blade when a group of men are standing over a lawnmower after it’s brought in to the small engine repair shop. Bill Cox says to Karl Childers, played by Billy Bob Thornton, “Karl, see if you can figure out what’s wrong with this. It won’t crank up and everything seems to be put together right.”

Karl bends down and unscrews the gas cap, looks up, and says to all the men gathered around in his trademark voice, “It ain’t got no gas in it.”

Which is exactly what my dad said in that very moment at two o’clock in the morning fifty feet from our house: “It ain’t got no gas in it. Go grab the gas can for the lawnmower and see if that does the trick.”

I ran fifty feet across the road back to my house and grabbed the gas can for the lawnmower, popped the tank on my car, and filled it up with a solid $2.50 of gas. I turned the key in the ignition and my car sputtered back to life.

“First thing in the morning, go down to Mike’s and fill up the tank. Do not drive over to the basketball court and hang out until it dies again,” my dad said.

“Will do,” I said.

“Now get in the damn house and go to bed. It’s two in the morning.”