Running on Empty To Wichita

Running on Empty To Wichita

I took a trip from Kansas City to Wichita Sunday afternoon to cover the Tea Party Express rally with Senate candidate Milton Wolf for Breitbart.com. 

While I’m importing pictures, and uploading videos, I thought I’d tell you about my bizarre travails on the road – because that is a story in and of itself, let me tell you.

The rally was scheduled to start at 5:00 Sunday afternoon in Wichita, and according to my GPS as I set off from Kansas City, I would be arriving at around a quarter til. I figured I could shave off some of that time with my heavy right foot. 

I gassed up in Gardner KS, on I-35 right outside the metropolitan area – thinking I had filled it up, but seeing when I started my Yukon, it was only 3/4 full. That was weird, but I figured it would get me there and most of the way back, so no biggie. 

How wrong I was. A little over an hour into my three hour trip, I looked down at my gas gauge, and saw that I was down to about an eighth of a tank. Now, I had just gotten onto the Kansas turnpike in Emporia, and I wasn’t sure when the next rest stop would be – but it needed to be soon, because I was burning gas at a startling rate. I didn’t know if my gas gauge was busted, I was leaking gas (unlikely as I didn’t smell gas), or it was the powerful headwinds I was facing – but as I drove on through that vast Kansas prairie, I knew I had to find a gas station and quickly because the gauge was almost on empty. 

But there were still no exits for miles and miles. 

My nervousness turned to white knuckled terror when the empty gas light went on – because still –  there were no signs of civilization for miles. Just cows –  lots and lots of cows.

I began to resign myself to the very real possibility that I would run out out of gas on that stretch of road, and I would spend the evening stranded on the 35 turnpike in Kansas, instead of at the tea party in Wichita. I wondered if I should just call AAA right then, or wait until the car died. 

I opted to drive on for what felt like twenty more miles. At one point, I noticed a  couple of  cows had broken through the fence and were heading straight for the highway – just to add to the surrealness of my predicament.

Finally, I saw the sign for the turnpike food and gas rest area. All I could think as I turned into the exit was that I would run out of gas before I got to the gas station. But I made it – thank God. 

Here’s where we enter the Twilight Zone, okay? “A land of both shadow and substance….”

EVERY pump at the gas station had an “out of order” sign on it.  Every. Single. One. I kept circling the pumps, going surely not?! WTF?!

Inside the gas station a lot of bewildered drivers were milling around. The clerk was telling them that everything was out of order. They couldn’t sell us anything – food, gas, or merchandise – because “the system was down.”

I said, “no, no, no – you don’t understand. I am completely out of gas – I’ve been running on fumes for the past 20 miles. I don’t think my car will even start, now.”

“Sorry,” the clerk said. “The system is down. There’s another rest area thirty miles down the road.”

Um, no dude. That’s not going to work.

The manager was bustling about, pushing keys on the cash registers to get them back on “the system.” At one point they thought they had fixed it so we could buy stuff if we paid in cash. No prob, I whipped out all I had – $35.00. That would at least get me to Wichita, I thought.

But no – “Sorry,” the clerk smiled weakly. “It’s taking it for merchandise, but not gas.”

I kid you not.

The guy next to me, who was also out of gas, piped up: “Are we gonna be able to get gas here, or not?” 

The clerk answered, “not.” He said there was an exit at the next town, five miles down the road. The guy turned to me and said, “come on. If one of us runs out of gas on the way there, we’ll help help each other out.”

I was dubious. I was willing to stay a little longer and take my chances at the turnpike gas station. The manager didn’t seem as brainless as the clerk. He was at least working on a solution. And I really didn’t think my Yukon could go another five miles. But against my better judgement, I followed the nice fellow in his PT Cruiser, got off at the podunk town, and drove to their little ramshackle country store/gas station. Somehow, through the grace of God, we both made it. Other people from the turnpike were turning in there, to gas up, as well. They were probably getting more business that day, than they get in a week.

The same thing happened there as happened in Gardner – I thought I had filled up – but it turned out to be only 3/4 full when I turned the car on. Good enough to get me to Wichita. Someone at the station said the turnpike station had been having problems with their system, lately. Apparently, that wasn’t the first time that had happened. Which makes you wonder what the heck we’re paying to use the road for, if we can’t even rely on the pit-stops to provide gas? 

Luckily, after all that – it was smooth sailing and I only ended up a few minutes late for the tea party – which was in full swing when I got there.


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