how i almost froze to death
in the middle of the city
|It was Friday
night and I was eager to get some distance from what had
been a pretty dull work week peddling information.
It was bitterly cold outside and I had forgotten my gloves at home; I was driving and figured it wouldn't matter. Incorrect assumption #1.
My itinerary: stop at the liquor store for the poison of choice (cognac, at that time, I believe), drive by the place I work out and decide if the motivation is sufficient to overcome the freezing temperature, and then home for continued merriment and frolics.
No clouds blanket the earth; the February sky is a pale unforgiving blue. Add fierce winds from the East courtesy of the Columbia Gorge: a geological wind machine that makes it the worldwide mecca for windsurfers in the Spring and Summer, but a purgatory for East Portland in the Winter. The gusts are buffeting my dauntless little Tercel as I gaze down at the dashboard.
I can't recall how far below E the needle can go before it actually runs out of gas. In fact, I'd had the car for about 2 years at this point and it was unique in that I hadn't completely emptied the tank yet. O.k. I'll just stop at the liquor store, get my booze, maybe a lottery ticket (I often find it's more efficient to combine sins in one stop) and then I'll stop about 12 blocks up to fill the tank. That should work. Incorrect assumption #2.
Damn, it's cold! In spite of a long wool hounds tooth coat my woman had picked up for me at a second hand shop, the icy wind cut right through me as I dashed back to the car with my loot. Turn the ignition -- phew! She starts right up. I'm in business. I pull out. The gas gauge is far below E but in less than a minute I'll reach the Mobil station... And the car slows until the engine dies. I glide to the side of this road that cuts through a working class neighborhood and immediately try to re-start the car knowing that I pushed my luck too far.
I get out and start my little trek to the petrol supply when I am nearly knocked off my feet by a blast of arctic air that feels like a thousand tiny knives. Each step takes me straight into it and within moments my ears ache and my hands tingle. This is not good. Check options. Knock on one of these doors and ask to use the phone. Call for help. "Uh, I'm here just off of Fremont and I ran out of gas and I can't get my own gas because it's too cold for my little fingers..." No, I don't think so. Option 2: Be a man. Get your own damn gas. It's your fault you ran out anyway.
I keep walking.
With great relief I step into the deliciously warm glassed-in office of the service station. Two workers and a customer are amiably chatting as I enter. One of them turns to me and says something brilliant like, "hey, pretty cold out there, huh?" I look down at my right hand. I can't move it. It scares the hell out of me but I'm not going to say anything.
I warm myself. Movement is restored. I pay for the gas and the deposit on the can and head back to the car. The sun has nearly set and the Fury from the East, if anything, has picked up. The roads are oddly deserted lending an eery Robert Service-like mood to my little man against nature struggle.
I'm back to the little grey 2-door, but not before plummeting to the dangerously cold state I was in just a short time ago. I try to open the gas tank door with the key but find that my frozen hands aren't up to the task. Oh shit. I clumsily pull the key out of the gas tank door. I've got to get inside the car and get my hands warm or something really bad is going to happen. My heart is pounding. My imagination provides an ill-timed animated GIF of me slipping and fracturing my femur in an impossibly acrobatic fashion that would normally be laughable, yet now seems quite disturbing. Pathetically laid out in the street, slowly freezing to death; a classic Lassie scenario sans the collie.
I can't move my fingers. I line the key up with both palms thinking of nothing else but how this mundane ritual that I have performed thousands of times is the difference between a powerfully embarrassing plea to a stranger, at the least, on up to my cerebrum's worst case scenario: freezing to death in the middle of the city from playing chicken with a gas gauge needle -- the ultimate stupid demise.
Phew! It's in. I move my whole body to twist the key between my palms. There is friction. I can't tell if it's the lock that has frozen or if my grip is slipping. I twist harder. Yes! I get into the car and gently place the frigid digits under my thighs.
Five minutes later I'm out there again. Some of the gasoline is splashing out the sides onto my car, onto my hand and sleeve, but most of it is getting into the tank. I have to seek shelter in the Tercel once more before emptying the can.
O.k., everything is going to be alright now. I depress the accelerator and turn the key. Nothing. This is not happening to me, this is not happening to me... Again and again I crank the ignition, occasionally giving it more gas. Just as I am about to admit defeat, it catches for a second and dies. Three more times and I'm back in business.
Stopping back at the service station to return the can, they're all oblivious to my contest with the elements. I'm on way home as I glance down at the brown paper bag with the squat green bottle inside, knowing I would never again mis-prioritize my fun and my fuel. I find out later that the wind chill factor was -40 degrees Farenheit.
I wonder what they
would have said if I had turned up on the news later that
night...dead. "Hey, Frank! There's that
stupid guy who never brought the gas can back!"
more stupider: naked norwegian...nuked.