A Night to Forget

When I contracted for a round-trip ride to/from Poughkeepsie with a fellow student driver (who was not from our class, and who shall remain nameless), I did not contemplate that it might culminate in a near-death experience. No, it wasn’t the date at Vassar, but the ride back in the depths of winter.

The first indication of trouble came when the driver decided that, although his sports car was a bit low on gas for the return trip to school, we should bypass the gas station just outside of town and find an all-night station later on the Taconic Parkway, some distance to the north. (Yes, the Taconic still had stations then, and one or more did stay open all night. But where was it?) Of course, as the gas gauge dropped lower, with no station in sight, even the driver started to register some anxiety (and I can assure you I was experiencing considerably more).

Eventually we approached the exit for Red Hook, NY. The driver decided that we would drive into town and look for a station still open there. No luck. Then he inquired at the fire station, where a late night practice drill seemed to be underway, about buying gasoline directly from them. No deal (not surprisingly, since they were not in the retail business-and besides, they probably had mostly/only diesel fuel for the trucks.)

Back on the road, the wind had now kicked up, and was blowing around the light coating of snow on the road, limiting our visibility. We had to conserve fuel by reducing the heater output (which at best was none too great anyway in the sports car), and the outside temperature was now hovering near zero; it was not much warmer inside the car. Fearing frostbite or worse, the driver decided to stop and knock on the door of a nearby house and ask if we could spend the night sleeping on the front porch; the woman inside, who shouted at us from above, screamed at us to go away.

A personal observation here: When I entered Williams, I never contemplated that I might eventually become wolf carrion, despite the mountainous location, but the future looked bleak at this particular moment.

Once again on the road with negligible gas left, the driver became panicky and decided to flag down the first passing car by running across the road and waving his arms about in distress. At this hour-now about 2:30 am-few were to be seen. Eventually a police car did stop by, and after chastising the driver for endangering himself by being nearly invisible in the road, called a garage owner, and he came out with a five-gallon can of gas-for an added service fee of $5. Saved!

The sports car turned out to be a gas guzzler, however. Although we then had fewer than 70 miles left to go on our ill-fated trip, we almost ran out of fuel again about 15 miles from college, just as the sun was starting to struggle above the horizon. Fortunately, Lady Luck was with us at last, and we safely arrived, bleary-eyed, near dawn on Sunday morning.

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