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April 2012 Dr. Vern

Posted in Features on April 1, 2012
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Contributors: Dr. Vern

Ah, there’s nothing like a brisk walk to refresh your mind. Walking along, you can’t help but ponder the big questions we all ask ourselves: What is the meaning of life? How big is the universe? Why didn’t I check the fuel level before driving home last night?

As you might have surmised, I recently ran out of gas. I should clarify that it was my ’63 Willys wagon that ran out of gas, not me personally. Of course, there’s that brief period of confusion when the engine first sputters. The engine typically bucks a few times, and then runs smoothly for a little bit until the chugging returns. If you’re smart and observant—a handy combination—you might quickly figure out what’s happening and pull over to safety before the engine dies completely. Or in my case, you wonder what’s happening and then coast to a stop when it’s the only remaining option.

This is where I’ll admit I never did get around to fixing that pesky gas gauge, but don’t worry, I’ve got somebody to blame. This is America, and I don’t have to take personal responsibility for anything, thank you. I’ve occasionally mentioned the previous chain of owners of my ’63 wagon. Somewhere in that string was at least one guy who really liked to modify things. The stock fuel tank wasn’t good enough for him, so a mystery junkyard tank was swapped in its place. The oddball tank sender and the stock Willys gauge weren’t about to play nice, so this rig has never had a functioning fuel gauge as long as I’ve owned it. I’m not afraid of electrical things, and in fact I rather like the challenge, but I’ve never been able to figure out how to make the two mismatched components work together. Believe me, I’ve tried. I even thought of rigging up an ohmmeter as a substitute fuel gauge. I put that idea on the back burner once I found a good stock tank and sender to reinstall, but doing so would require me to make the difficult transition from thinking about it to actually doing something. In the meantime, I’ve simply been keeping track of how far I’d driven after filling up.

Imagine my surprise to run out of fuel approximately 50 miles after filling the tank the previous day. Short of a hole in the tank or a sudden, massive increase in fuel consumption, somebody must have siphoned the tank nearly dry. I’m not overly diligent about checking my mirrors for blind spots, but I don’t remember anybody driving suspiciously close to me for any length of time. The theft probably didn’t happen at home, as I live in a decent, respectable neighborhood with no magazine editors nearby (it’s in the property covenants). It must have happened while parked at work.

This isn’t the first time gas has gone missing from my wagon’s tank, although the amount was much smaller when it happened the first time. One day my wagon wouldn’t start and I found the pump wasn’t drawing fuel due to a leak in the rubber line that ran across the top of the tank. I discovered a good-sized mouse nest in the gap between the tank and the floor above, with plenty of tiny teeth marks on the fuel line passing through the middle.

I’m not sure what goes through a mouse’s mind, but I can’t imagine rubber fuel hose tastes all that good. I’ve never tried the stuff and don’t plan on it, but I bet it would make anything taste good by comparison, even brussel sprouts, which is no small task. As if rubber hose by itself wasn’t bad enough, try adding gasoline flavor. Because of that, I suspect these weren’t normal mice. I think they were hippie mice. It’s not like I found little protest signs or tiny tie-dye T-shirts. It’s because they kept chewing even after running into all those potent vapors. The little miscreants chewed clear through the hose for at least a foot or so. With so many mind-altering fumes in a small, confined space, it must have been the equivalent of a college dorm room. The mice were gone when I dropped the tank, but I think they probably had the munchies and had stepped out for snacks.

Speaking of snacks, I had worked up an appetite on my recent stroll to the gas station. While this little Stop ’n Rob store had both fuel and food, it’s hard to act nonchalant when buying a gas can. These establishments might be called convenience stores, but the gas cans are inconveniently located, prominently displayed for all to see. If you can buy porn in a plain brown wrapper, why can’t you do the same with gas cans? Everybody there knows the only reason you’re buying a gas can is because you were dumb enough to run out of fuel. When you show up on foot in the middle of the night, good luck trying to pretend you’re buying a gas can to fill up your lawn mower.

Wounded pride aside, I was able to fill my spiffy new gas can and knew I’d have the wagon running again shortly. Things were looking up and I even remembered the cigar in my coat pocket. What better way to enjoy the long walk back than with a fine stogie? For some odd reason, the clerk recoiled in horror when I asked for a book of matches. He must have been one of those anti-smoking zealots….

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