It wasn't meant to be an adventure out of the ordinary, just a normal kind of adventure. We'd planned it for a few days but had been talking about it for weeks. Maybe even months.
Did you hear about the gas shortage in the southern states? Sometimes I forget I live in the south now, but then I'm reminded by the confederate flags spotting the landscape and the Trump bumper stickers (trumper stickers?) on every xth car, things I had never seen at all during my time living in the Pacific Northwest.
I have been very happy in Asheville. Everything has fallen into place beautifully, better than I even thought it could have if I would have been blessed with any fortune at all. I got a great job almost immediately. I got an apartment that is exactly what I wanted in a home. I live 5 minutes away from Joseph and see him almost every day.
But despite the good, it hasn't been an easy transition. Joseph is the only person I know here, and I work from home, so I can get a little lonely. For all the things that have gone right and gone well, I've had a series of frustrating and maddening things go wrong too. They're all little things. Nothing bad on its own, but all of them combined has added an enormous amount of stress I haven't handled well. But mostly, every good thing that happens to me is stained with the inability to share the news with my mom.
That has been the hardest part of this. Not having her. She isn't there to send pictures to, to FaceTime with and walk her through my new life here. I don't go for long rambling walks anymore just to spend an hour or two talking on the phone with her. I can't call her when something goes wrong, tell her about it, and get her unwavering emotional support that makes it all better again. Joseph does a wonderful job of supporting me in the ways I need it, but her absence continues to be the most difficult and unexpectedly devastating part of each day.
So we schemed up a plan to help with some of my sadness and stress, and his being on vacation this week made it the perfect week to pull it off.
We had to go down to Georgia.
We researched, we prepared, we went to many stores and bought things, and then we stayed up really late on Saturday night, excitement buzzing about Sunday morning. Our plan was to leave at 8:00 am and be back by 9:00 pm.
But late Saturday night we learned about the gas shortage. On his way home, long after midnight, Joseph went to get gas, and couldn't find any. Every station was closed, every pump covered. He texted me to tell me the bad news. Apparently everyone in Asheville heard that if everyone in Asheville rushed to the pumps and got gas they didn't actually need, we'd run out of gas a week before more gas could get to us, and if we ran out of gas, nobody would have any gas, so everyone should panic and get gas. Good job, guys.
We called off the trip.
Unable to sleep and fighting unexpected tears, I stayed up late wishing there was some way to fix the gas shortage from my bed by morning. It seemed I wouldn't be able to fix the problem, and the more I read about it, the more I realized it wasn't just Asheville. All the big cities were out of gas. Even if we could find gas somewhere along the way, we'd be stupid to risk the trip knowing that every big city in the south was in a state of emergency.
By 3:00am, I gave in to defeat only to have a friend of ours send me a screenshot of a conversation she had had moments before with someone in Greenville, South Carolina - an hour and a half south of us. There was gas there, she'd said. If we could get down off the mountain, we could get gas.
I told our friend that even if we did uncancel the trip, Joseph was probably already asleep and the later we pushed the uncanceled trip back, the riskier it became in any places where we could find gas. She insisted I get to Greenville.
"Are you still awake?"
"What are you doing?"
"Thinking about steak."
"What are you doing?"
"I have a crazy idea."
"Let's go to Georgia."
"Let's leave now. I have 3/4 tank of gas. That's more than enough to get to Greenville and back. If we get to Greenville and we can't find gas, we'll turn back. If we find gas, we move forward."
"Do you think that's a good idea?"
"It's worth the risk, don't you think?"
"Do you really want to do this?"
"We'll have to drive carefully and not use the AC to conserve as much gas as possible."
We left for Georgia at 4:23am, nearly 4 hours ahead of schedule from our previous plan and without a minute of sleep between the two of us. We were going to get to Georgia, and, more importantly, we were going to get back from Georgia. (We hoped.) I took my work computer just in case we did run out of gas and were stranded in the middle of nowhere for a week.
At 4:30am, we found gas. In Asheville. We pulled into the station a little unsure if we were just living in some weird vortex where only our neighborhood was out of gas.
"Since we found gas five minutes from home, can we turn the AC on?"
The drive from Asheville to Greenville/Spartanburg was eerily absent of other drivers on the road, even for so early in the morning. We stopped at a McDonalds for breakfast and the gas station next door had a weird assortment of men surrounding a pickup truck at one pump, but it had gas nonetheless, so we took a little and went on our way, wishing the sun would rise.
It rose, and we discovered that South Carolina is a little boring to look at.
Because the cities didn't have gas, we opted to take the back country highways, banking our hopes on the small town gas stations not having been hit by the big city panickers. We passed an actual plantation (we're in the south, it was bound to happen) and at least 100 creepy old gas stations that had long been abandoned and left to adamantly stand across the landscape of a region without gas.
Every gas station I found along the way that wasn't closed and covered up, I didn't trust to actually have gas, putting the nozzle in my tank with my breath held. Each time I did find real gas, I felt closer to reaching our goal, but the stress of the reality that we may not get back home again never eased.
Our friend who found us gas in Greenville stayed up all night and all day texting us her updates on where gas could be found and where it had run out, based on her wide social circle of people in every city everywhere that she was talking to about it. We drove accordingly.
We barely saw another car through all of South Carolina and most of Georgia. It wasn't until around 5pm that traffic began to act like gas was to be had in abundance (though it was getting less and less so). Until then, it was me and Joseph with Buck Owens singing through the speakers while we drove through small town after small town, getting a taste for what the apocalypse might feel like: empty and on empty.
We did, however, find a Circle K, with gas. Strange things were most definitely afoot.
The drive down was meant to take 6 hours. It took 9 with all the stops we had to make. The gas station we found in Swainsboro had gas and the most disgusting bathroom you could ever imagine. As we left, I said I would be happy to never use that bathroom again.
On the way back, several hours later, we counted the miles to that same gas station, knowing it had gas and a bathroom. Anything would be better than the gas station we found in Rhine, which had wasps swarming the pump, a bathroom that was out of order, a cloud of smoke filling the entire interior, wall to wall, and a pump that didn't stop when the tank was full, spraying gas everywhere in a time of need. When I commented to the lady behind the counter that the pump didn't stop, she said to me, completely amazed I didn't know already, "Well, yeah, that pump don't stop. You can't leave it."
"I... I didn't leave it. I was standing there with my hand on it the entire time, and now I'm covered in gas."
She had no comment, just suspicious derision. When I went in to prepay a few minutes before the incident (because the pump was so old fashioned it had no card reader) she didn't think to tell me that about the pump? Of course not, she was too busy being amazed that I thought I needed to prepay. Small towns. Man.
As I walked out of that gas station for the second and final time, covered in gas, smoke in my eyes, and carefully avoiding the wasps that flew all around me, I shook my head no at Joseph, who was waiting in the car for word about the state of the bathroom. He shook his head slowly to match, and I delicately slipped back into the car, leaving the wasps outside. I hoped.
"No. The bathroom is out of order. We'll stop in the next town. Or you know that gas station from earlier? Let's go there."
"When we left that gas station, you said you would be happy to never see it again."
"I cannot wait to go back to that gas station."
At one point in the drive, Joseph turned to me and said, "Promise me we'll never go to Georgia again."
"Promise." We shook on it.
But there was an important reason why we risked being stranded without gas for days on a back country road in Georgia. If we hadn't gone the day we did, the day we planned to, we would have never met this little guy and brought him home with us.
Meet Buckley. You can call him Buck.