In our family, when you’re driving around and the gas tank is low, there are three gradations to worry about. There’s low, there’s low with a light and then there’s “Daddy Low.”
Ordinary “low” is when you look at your mileage and start trying to calculate (or remember) where the nearest gas station will be.
When you reach “low with a light,” that’s when you turn off the air conditioning (and even sometimes the radio) and start praying that you’ll reach that gas station.
But all bets are off when you reach “Daddy Low.”
Like so many stories, this one started on a family car trip. We were driving to visit my mother in Maryland, and my husband had calculated that, with a top-up at a rest stop in New Jersey, we would have more than enough fuel to reach my mom’s residence.
But — as we turned off the Beltway for the last stretch of miles — he happened to glance at the fuel gauge.
“Oh,” he said.
Then he shut up.
Of course, I wanted to know what it was that he wasn’t saying, so I took a peek at the gas gauge for myself.
But at least — I told myself — it wasn’t low with a light.
And just at that moment, the light came on.
“Oh dear,” I said to him, trying to keep my voice calm for the sake of our two little boys in the back seat. “Do you think we’ll make it to my mom’s?”
“I’m sure we will,” he replied. He had a tone in his voice I had never heard before: Slightly sing-song, with the highest note on “sure.” When I looked over at him, he seemed to have a smile crinkling at the corner of his eye, but I couldn’t be certain.
The road took gentle turns, with slight uphills and slighter downhills. I noticed that he was taking his foot off the gas for every downhill.
“Never mind getting to my mom’s place — do you think we’ll make it to the next gas station?”
“I’m sure we’ll make it,” he said. There was that higher pitch, again. But instead of making me worried, somehow it had the perverse effect of making me laugh. Against my will!
“How can you be so sure?” I asked him.
“I’m sure we have enough gas” was his cryptic reply.
With each hill, I grew more and more concerned, and the kids started asking questions, too. But every time he answered, their father’s voice was the same:
“Of course we’re going to make it!”
“I’m certain we won’t have a problem!”
“I’m sure we have enough!”
“I don’t even see a gas station,” I complained.
“There’s one, right over there,” he said, gesturing a quarter of a mile ahead at the next visible traffic light.
I saw what he meant and started to relax. Until I noticed there was something odd about it. We were now in that twilight time, between day and night — but there were no lights on, at the gas station. And there seemed to be a line of cars doing nothing.
Did I mention there had been a huge thunderstorm, sweeping through the area just before we got there? So that until our car’s gas light came on, I had thought our biggest problem might be trees or branches down in the road. But the roads were clear.
I heaved a huge sigh of relief as we finally pulled in at the end of the line of cars.
But nothing was happening.
“What’s the problem?” I asked my husband.
He rolled down the window to ask someone.
“No power!” somebody yelled at us.
“That’s OK,” I thought. We didn’t need the ATM. We didn’t need the soda machine. All we needed was to pump some gas into our tank. And we were prepared to pay all in cash.
That’s when somebody added, “The pumps don’t work when there’s no power.”
“Don’t worry,” said my husband. “I’m sure the power will come back any minute.”
“How can you be so sure?” I said, between clenched teeth. This was not supposed to be the difficult part of the trip.
“I’m sure everything’s going to be fine.”
Just then, as if to spite me, the lights came on, and the gas pumps started working.
Sure enough, everything was fine.
But now we have a new phrase for our family vocabulary. When we’re checking the gas gauge, there’s low, there’s low with a light and there’s “Daddy Low”!