Gas in the Tank

Empty Gas GaugeOne of the questions you are asked when renting a car is whether or not you want to prepay for gas or if you’d rather fill it up right before you return it.  Over the years,  I’ve settled for the first option: paying in advance and then returning with the tank mostly empty.  Sure, gas at the pump is likely to be a little cheaper than what the rental company will charge, but what ultimately constitutes a “full tank of gas”?  Then you have to figure in what time of day you are likely heading to the airport.  When traveling back to Hawaii, I often leave way before dawn, so I prefer not stopping at a gas station.  So pre-paid it is.

This last trip, I predicted gas for the return trip almost too well.  I mostly stayed around the homestead this trip.  Aside from one day-trip to Kentucky, I didn’t make any long drives.  So I filled it up a little, but tried to add just enough to the tank to get me to the airport.

So about a fourth of the way to the airport that morning, the gas light came on.  By my calculations, I should still have been able to make it to the airport with a bit to spare.  But at some point (relatively early on), the gas gauge just flashes a dash instead of giving you a predicted remaining mileage.  Which was a little unnerving to me.  Once you get down the ridge towards Nashville, there aren’t that many easy exits for obvious gas stations.  But I pressed on in hopes that I could make it the whole way.

And I did.  Which was great.  But I wasn’t expecting the nervousness of calling it so close.  I imagine next time I’ll allow for a little bit more buffer. We’ll see.

Either way, a great analogy for living and transitions in life.  On some level, it’s understandable to push until you’ve got nothing left in the tank.  On another, though, that idea is ludicrous.  Because even if there’s not another leg in the same direction, there still might be a return journey.  Life isn’t always a rental car situation: it’s a pit stop, not a terminal stop.

Last week I started my self-declared last semester with my “temporary vocational stretch.”  These last two weeks have been crazy.  The temptation is to just do enough to survive the moment, the meeting, the week in question.  But the road is longer that, and more gas is likely necessary.  And that’s okay.  Maybe it’s not always the best thing to “finish the trip” with as little in the tank as possible.  Maybe sometimes it’s more appropriate to always have more in the tank than you think is necessary.

(image from

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