In my mind all is cozy and warm with happy excited kids looking outside through classic snowflake covered windows, while mums and dads sit in front of a roaring log fire with a richly decorated Christmas tree in the corner standing guard over a huge mound of brightly wrapped presents.
Yes, yes I know I've been taken in by Hollywood again and that the reality of Christmas for many people is as far removed from that scene as I am right now but they're MY images in MY mind so let me have them for a while. Then I'll look outside at the sunshine and palm trees and remember that it was my decision to be here and that apart from these few days, I'm very happy that I made it.
Before I close off the chapter of my life that was last week, there is one story to tell. The story of how we made our return flight from Flint airport thanks to Deb being a very resourceful woman, the 911 service around Flint being full of Christmas cheer, the Michigan state police doing their bit for international fellowship and the lady in a Speedway gas station for being a lady in a Speedway gas station.
Of course as with any good story, there has to be a villain and the villain in this case is a Chevrolet Aveo, the biggest load of metalic crap since AC/DC.
We rented this four wheeled disaster with a full tank of gas and for once, we took the deal where you bring it back empty as prices were unusually high around Flint. Now we weren't anal enough to deliberately drive around so that we returned the car with only fumes in the tank but as we approached our Flint hotel on Tuesday afternoon, the fuel gauge was reading very close to the empty line. I got out the owners manual and read about the low fuel light and was comforted to find that once it came on, we'd have 1.7 gallons of fuel left, and even with an American car that should've given us 20-30 miles of driving.
As we pulled into the hotel car park, we were 6 miles from the airport and the low fuel light still hadn't come on. We had our evening meal at a restaurant next to the hotel so never even used the car again that evening.
So yesterday morning we worked backwards from our flight time of 5:18am and left the hotel just before 4am for the short drive. Flint is a small regional airport with only a few counters and gates so we know we had plenty of time leaving at 3:50am. HA !!!
A mile or so from the hotel on I-75 the engine coughed. What ? We put it down to it being very cold. We drove on and suddenly the low fuel light came on which actually cheered us up as we were beginning to think this model didn't have one as the fuel dial was past the word "EMPTY' by this time. Seconds later we passed the mile marker for the airport exit ramp and the engine coughed again and there was no power at all.
WE WERE OUT OF GAS !!!!!!!!
Deb, who was driving, got us across to the side of the interstate and from the glow of the hazard lights, we could clearly see the exit sign showing it was 3/4 mile ahead. So close and yet.....
Once we'd recovered from a mild case of meltdown in the form of cursing Chevrolet and all it's products, Deb got out her cell phone and made a call. From the passenger side I just heard her saying it wasn't really an emergency but we were out of gas on the interstate and only an hour before our flight. She was blubbering like a well practised soap star and I felt really bad for her and hoped that the recovery company would sort us out.
When she came off the phone and her voice immediately returned to normal, I discovered she'd not rung the recovery company as she's not in one and in fact had dialled 911 and thanks to our location AND her perceived distraught condition, a patrol car was on it's way.
We weren't out of the woods of course as we still didn't know what would happen. Do cops carry cans of gas here ? Would the officer request a tow truck for us ? What were the chances of making our flight ? Things were not looking good.
Within 5 minutes we were blinded by a state trooper's car lights behind us and an officer who looked like he'd just finished high school appeared at my window. Having watched enough cop shows to know they're not keen on sudden movements when they approach vehicles, I made a grand show of opening the window.
He listened to our tale of woe, said they don't carry cans of gas and so wasn't sure how he could help. He returned to his patrol car for advice. He came back and said he would drive one of us to the nearby gas station in the hopes they sold empty cans.
And so it was that after 57 years of keeping my nose clean (and never being caught), I finally got to ride in the back of a police car. I don't recommend it for long journeys. The seat was basically a hard plastic bench and I now know why officers help 'passengers' in by putting their hands on their heads to guide them in. You cannot get in without going ass first and ducking down. Once in you get to know what a battery hen feels like. With my knees touching my nose, I tried to chat with this 12 yr old cop who was asking all about my accent and if I'd had a good time in Michigan !!
Minutes later we reached the gas station and joy unbounded, it sold gas cans. I decided on a one gallon red model with black fittings. I didn't spend long making my choice and even less time filling it. Then it was off like a rocket again back to our car. We didn't go through any red lights that I could see but by God that car could accelerate. Cop Jr. actually fuelled the car, asked my name and shook my hand as we parted and I'd say all this, from the spluttering of the engine to us setting off again, had taken only 25 minutes. Amazing.
At the airport, Deb sorted out returning the car while I sorted out getting our one case checked at the Delta desk. We met on the way to the gate (Gate 1 of course) and only had a few minutes to wait until we started boarding the flight to Atlanta. Phew !!
As a finale to this story, Deb later called Alamo to complain about the car's low fuel light being as much use as a chocolate fire guard and they offered to refund us the cost of a full tank of fuel, about $30. The can had cost me $5.99 and the gallon of gas cost $2.54 and so even though the cost in terms of soaring blood pressure and stress could not be quantified, we happily accepted this offer !
So a huge thanks goes out to the Flint state police dept and if I had his name, I'd be mentioning the officer too. I feel bad now that I never noticed it on his uniform or asked for it.
And the moral(s) of all this..........always take the deal that returns a rental car with a full tank, never trust that a low fuel light means you have any fuel left at all, always travel with a menopausal (or pregnant) woman in the car and if you see a Flint state trooper stopping a vehicle on the highway, give him a wave using all your fingers and not just one of them !
You never know when you might need his help.