Monday morning I deposited a paycheck from mon emploiyeur but kept enough cash to visit J.C. Penney Saturday afternoon to obtain at least two of three things I havent purchased since 2005: a shirt, business trousers, and a pair of shoes. Don’t tell me about Wal-Mart and Goodwill. I’ll eat crunchy peanut butter and grapes three times a week to avoid Wal-Mart and Goodwill. I have. With the prospect of continued writing for Springfield Business Journal and Illinois Times as promising they’ve been since Lisa Rigoni and Pete Sherman, I knew I was due for a wardrobe “spree,” and with the weather improving, looked forward to a sunny Saturday go of it . . . . . . last Monday.
Not even the minor trauma of shelling out $54.95 at Lauterback Tire and Auto Wednesday, to have them diagnose a CHECK ENGINE light and tell me the catalytic converter is becoming a DOGalytic converter dampened my anticipation. I had resolved to get it checked because though I had hitched a ride with friends to Jacksonville for a poetry presentation Monday, I H double-A D to drive myself back to “Elm City” for a Springfield Business Journal article I was writing. If the guys told me the truck was safe, I’d go. If they didn’t, I’d interview over the phone. Luck was with me.
Friday afternoon at 1:05 I departed AeroKnow Museum for Jacksonville. The fuel gauge indicated I had less than a quarter tank, but it was hard to see how much lees. To save time and fuel and avoid heavy traffic on Wabash, I opted to drive Old Jacksonville Road, two-lane asphalt, almost no traffic, a breeze with a great view of the countryside. There were fuel stations a plenty on Wabash, but I didn’t want the aggravation of probably 15 stoplights between the airport and Interstate 72 or the old Illinois Route 36, which I prefer when I’m approaching from home.
About a minute after driving past the Cantrall water tower, less than 10 miles west of Springfield, the LOW FUEL warning light came on. This was not a big deal. Anyone who’s driven old Route 36 knows there are probably five small towns with fuel stations (If I want “gas” I eat onions and cauliflower.) and I was confident that if memory served, “Old Jack’” was about the same.
Memory did not serve. The road began to remind me of Kansas westbound to Denver. My patience was rewarded when I saw the city limit sign for Berlin, but as I breezed through I saw mo station or any other business. NERTS!
Just a few hundred yards west of Berlin was a road sign pointing due south, indicating New Berlin. As I drove by the junction, I could clearly see a larger tuft of civilization probably three miles away — it IS the home of the Sangamon County Fair, you know — but I didn’t want to divert from STRAIGHT AHEAD.
The voyage into the pucker zone intensified. My hands were gripping the steering wheel like it was a life boat and I was in deep . . . . distress, which of course I was. What had seemed like driving through Kansas was beginning to feel like driving through Wyoming, only flatter. The beige SUV I had been a respectable quarter mile behind since the water tower disappeared into the distance as I reluctantly reduced my cruise from about 60 to 50 mph to save fuel. I began thinking about stopping at a farm and trying to buy five gallons or even one to carry me to the next station. I could not spare the time. I had an appointment to meet with a news source.
The helplessness was akin, I imagine, to being bound to a chair and gagged. My cell phone was back at the airport. My transgressions from the recent past passed through my braain like a parade in reverie of “would haves,” “should haves,” and “could haves,” resolutions to walk away from so-and-so and spend more time with such-and-such IF . . . . . . . I . . . . could . . . . . only . . . . . . make it . . . . . . to the . . . . . . 2:00 . . . . . . INTERVIEWS! No action I could take would get me through this any faster than the action I was taking at that moment. THIS is my course to deliverance and I would be TRUE to it!
Where the beJEEBERS were all the small fuel oases? Or if you live in central Illinois, OASISES? My pucker capacity could have crushed a loaf of French bread! and I was at least 15 miles from Jacksonville! Turned off the radio! CHEESESwhoneeds that JABber?
Down to 45 miles per hour and I’m shifting into neutral and taking my foot off the clutch when going down hills. Maybe I SHOULD stop and knock on a farmhouse! Wait! What if they’ve heard me singing at a library or coffeehouse? Better play it safe and keep moving! Pucker factor would allow me to crush any walnut that happened to be caught in the pucker zone!
Then . . . . . . . . . . the equivalent of a seagull appears on my left: Jacksonville’s radio station and tower, WJBC or something like that. I remember encountering that when I was commuting to MacMurray College in J’ville in ’68 or so. Just a few more miles . . . . . . . ANOTHER harbinger of hope: SPEED LIMIT 45 M.P.H. . . . . . I’m still coasting down every hill . . . . . . . then SPEED LIMIT 30 M.P.H.!
Houses next door to each other. Vaguely familiar turf! I have not entered the town this way in at least a decade, and I can’t even remember where the closest fuel station was. With my luck it’s on the west side or a few miles south on Morton, and I am NOT going to deviate from westbound on what has become College Street! Better the territory I semi-remember than the territory I don’t know at all . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
SALVATION! A Casey’s convenience store! I’m almost shaking as I exit the truck and begin pumping fuel. Double-checking the right pocket finds the J.C. Penney cash. TERRIFIC! I fill the frikking tank to the frikking BRIM and explain to the counter people what I’ve just experienced coming over from Springfield! We have a great laugh. filling up is my GIFT to these people for being who and where they are.
For gallons transferred at pump one at Casey’s General Store on College Avenue in Jacksonville: $61.42. I am almost giddy. I have not had $60 in my pocket (until last Monday) since last summer at least! I laugh; tell them “This is more than I spent last Christmas, and I am happy to pay it! Thank you for being here!” And with a wave I bid them goodbye.
I drive past the old duplex where I lived during my last days as a Jacksonville resident. Still there. Bless that place. Bless the whole TOWN.
I know exactly where I’m going with a fresh tank of 87 Octane, and seven minutes after departing Casey’s, I walk through the door of The Three-Legged Dog restaurant to see four smiling faces standing by a booth who turn in my direction and know they are looking at a freelance writer from Springfield. Luck is with me. The time is 2:03.
Live long . . . . . . . and proper.
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