Back in March of this year, I decided to take trip to Texas for the third time. But instead of flying, I wanted to drive to the Lone Star State, under the impression that if I were to move down there in the very near future, I would rather travel back home by car than by plane. Silly, I know, but I just happen to enjoy taking the scenic route while jamming along to whatever is on my iPod. So, I saved up all of my money between tips from my night job and any monetary gifts I might have received for Christmas and my birthday. And that was just for gas.
Saturday, June 7th, finally rolled around. My alarm clock was set for 4:30AM. I rinsed off, put the rest of my toiletries into my little tote bag, and loaded everything I needed for the trip into Mom’s car. Now, mind you, I would’ve taken mine except I had a little problem with the fuel pump the day after we put in a new serpentine belt, and I was advised to not drive it down to Texas. (I guess the heat and failing fuel pumps don’t mix.) Thankfully, Mom’s was still fairly young in car years with no problems whatsoever.
Driving around Indianapolis on I-465 a little bit after 6:30AM was no problem. Crossed the Indiana/Illinois state line about an hour later, even though I would gain another hour onto my trip thanks to the time zone change. Made a stop at Rend Lake to stretch out, use the facilities, and get my second chocolate fix for the morning (Yoo-hoo, of all drinks in the vending machine).
At that point, I had about 100 miles left to go before I reached the “E” on my gas gauge, and I thought that maybe there would be a gas station near the Illinois/Missouri state line, say about Cairo, IL. Well, I went ahead and drove on past Carbondale, the last Illinois city on Interstate 57. After that, it was small town after small town with no well-known (or if any) gas station at any of the remaining exits.
That was when I started to get into trouble. The “Low Fuel” warning light turned on, and because of my speed on the highway, I was going downhill rapidly. There was no way I was going to make it by Cairo. So, I did what any other ditzy driver would’ve done: I pulled over onto the shoulder near mile marker 11, flipped on the blinkers, and called my parents, who lived nearly 5 hours from my current location, for help.
Fortunately for me, my dad is a truck driver, and he has driven many routes over the years. Even better, he always has a road map on hand. He was able to get to the next exit (Mound City), and as I was approaching it at a painful slow speed (for the sake of the gas, mind you), I saw that the only gas station there was a truck stop. Well, I had no choice but to take it.
So, I swallowed my pride, pulled in with just 2 miles to spare, and found myself wondering if the place was even in business. It looked completely dilapidated, almost like it was out of business. But the gas pumps were there, just not credit card-friendly like other pumps, and they were full serve. And that brought another question to my mind: where was the gas attendant?
That was when I heard a door open, and a rugged man in either his late 50s or early 60s with a cane hobbled over and began to top off my tank. I was too nervous to make conversation with the man; he struck me as being a rough-around-the-edges kind of person. I didn’t know what to say to the guy.
Afterward, I followed him into the store. The inside wasn’t really all that bad: there was an area off to the side with a few booths and a countertop for coffee and other beverages. And there was even an ice chest full of ice cream novelties. It was definitely an independent truck stop. But what caught me off-guard was that this man had posted a sign with the 10 Commandments from the King James Bible. Now, I’ve been to plenty of truck stops in my life, whether it’d be a franchise or independent, but none of them would dare to hang something like this in their building. Heck, even on their property!
I think the man took notice of my surprised reaction because after he rang up the total cost ($49.50… good grief!), he made a comment about how he ran his business compared to most truck stops and tow companies: most places would charge an arm and a leg if someone got stranded on the side of the road, like how I almost did. But he charged his customers by how much they were willing to give to him as a free will offering. If they couldn’t afford it, he’d still do it, because Jesus Christ would’ve done the same.
I didn’t know whether or not this man was the answer to my desperate prayer back on Interstate 57, but hearing his testimony made me believe he was. He could’ve been closed and operated on a 5-day weekly schedule because Mound City was a small town; he could’ve been out of business too. But I got something out of that 10-minute pit-stop other than a lessoned learned. It was a short, but sweet sermon that I would’ve otherwise passed over if I had paid attention to the gas gauge.
And you know what? I’m glad I filled up when I did, because as I was approaching the exit for Cairo and I drove past the town, there wasn’t a single gas station within that 2-mile radius. If I had enough gas to barely get me there, I would’ve surely been on the side of the street.
The moral of the story: things are not always what they seem to be, even if they are nearly abandoned or lacking signs of life.
That and make sure you grab some gas before you leave Carbondale, Illinois.