Jess and I began our drive about two hours behind schedule. For those of you who know us, a two hour delay in our departure is as close to being on-time as we’ll probably ever get (I’m not proud of that point but I’m just stating the facts). The first four or five hours of our drive were fairly uneventful - the most significant occurrence was my discovery that since moving to Austin, Jess had apparently acquired the bladder of a five-year-old. She made me pull over every hour like clockwork. Each time we resumed our drive, she almost immediately guzzled another Diet Snapple, so I finally began policing her beverage intake. This bought me an extra thirty minutes between stops, but I was still left wondering whether my travel companion was a blessing or a hindrance.
Like I said, the first few hours of our drive were rather boring, but that all changed when we merged onto I-10 N, which I will now only refer to as Hell’s Highway. When I lived in Indianapolis, IN, I used to swear that the 122 miles that I had to drive on US-31 to visit my parents in South Bend, IN, was the dullest stretch of highway in America. But as we drove through our first 300 miles on Hell’s Highway (only 883 more miles until our exit), I longed for the cornfields of US-31. Whichever direction you looked on Hell’s Highway, all that you could see was bleak terrain. Our cell phones had absolutely no service, and my car’s GPS kept dropping our Pin. We had just passed the first gas station that we had seen in miles when I noticed the gas light on the car turn on. My sister reviewed the GPS and we noticed that there was another gas station approximately thirty miles away, so we elected to continue on with our drive.
As the car puttered into the gas station, we noticed that the station had been boarded up. We had seen a structure that resembled a gas station a few miles back, but it had not appeared on our GPS and there were no road signs indicating that a gas station was located at that exit. Since we were out of options, we decided to turn around and investigate the suspect station. Unfortunately, our car was not on the same page, and we ran out of gas about 1.5 miles away from it. Jess suggested walking to the station, but it was already getting dark outside, cars were zipping by us at a rate of 95+ mph, and I was convinced that drug lords and human traffickers would intercept us on the walk. Jessica accused me of watching too many Dateline specials (which is probably true), but I stood my ground.
Instead, we decided to call AAA, and when they asked us for our location, we struggled to clearly identify it. When I say that we were in the middle of nowhere, I mean it in the most literal sense of that phrase. Jess and I knew that we were 0.9 miles from Exit 181 on Hell’s Highway, but AAA couldn’t tell us exactly what city that meant we were in. Regardless, they assured us that they would arrive at 7:30pm to save the day. At 7:25pm, they extended their ETA to 8:10pm. At 8:15pm, Jess and I called AAA, who said that they had sent the driver to the wrong city and would call us back. At 8:35pm, Jess and I called AAA, who then said that they were struggling to find a new driver to assist us. At 9:00pm, AAA said that they would try to get someone to us in 90 minutes. Throughout this time, cars continued to speed by us, and the darker it got outside, the closer the other cars got to plowing into us. To make matters more challenging, Jess’ phone was the only one getting any internet service, but her battery life was down to 15%, and mine was barely hanging on at 35%.
Starting to fear for the worst (e.g. that we’d fall asleep in our car and wake up on the other side of the border), we decided to call the local police to seek assistance. Tracking down the “local police” proved to be more difficult than expected, as all of the police stations that I phoned claimed that this unidentifiable land was not within their jurisdiction. Eventually, a kind operator put me in touch with Deputy Robert Moore, who said that he was about an hour away from our location. He assured me that he was the closest emergency responder, and he told us to sit tight. He confirmed that the building within two miles was, indeed, a working gas station, but when I asked if we should try to walk to it, he responded, “No! Just wait for me to get there.”
Over the next hour, I began to hallucinate, thinking that I saw “cop lights” every time a car approached. I hadn’t eaten anything since we left Austin, and Jess had drunk the last of our beverages several hours earlier. We had all but given up hope when Deputy Moore finally arrived on the scene. My first impression of Deputy Moore was that he was the real-life Deputy Dewey from Scream, but slightly less experienced. Deputy Moore told me his plans to one day work for Border Patrol, and I appreciated that, like me, he had dreams. Presently, he drove an unmarked Tahoe, and his uniform consisted of blue jeans and an Under Armour baseball cap. Since Notre Dame had just signed a new contract with Under Armour, I concluded that he was a standup guy who could be trusted. Also, I had been sitting in a stationary car for four hours and wasn’t in a position to be too fussy about my rescue team, so into the Tahoe we went.
As Deputy Moore escorted us in his Tahoe, he regaled us with the history of the gas station. He explained that the gas station was the only operating business within thirty miles and that it was “owned by a convicted felon who only employs ex-convicts.” He was sent to investigate the station just last week, and the investigation resulted in two arrests. Jess asked about the woods that bordered the highway, and he said that he was fairly certain that drifters were living in them. At that point, Jess turned and thanked me for refusing to accompany her on a moonlit stroll along Hell’s Highway to the gas station.
When I entered the gas station, the ex-con working behind the counter was wearing a baseball cap that read “Security.” It might have just been an ironic cap, but I was convinced that it played a greater role in whatever illegal activities were going on right before our arrival. The “security guard” seemed less than pleased to see Deputy Moore invading his turf, and apart from a few uncomfortable glances, we barely interacted. As I filled up my gas, Deputy Moore told Jess how several of the cars in the parking lot had been sitting there for multiple years. I took this opportunity to tell him the ending of the film Prisoners , in which (SPOLER ALERT!) it’s revealed that the missing children were being imprisoned in a trench that was hidden underneath an abandoned car. Maybe this tip could help Deputy Moore crack a missing person’s case, which could escalate him to the head of the line for border patrol? He didn’t seem to take my “tip” too seriously, but I believe I was “paying it forward.” After Deputy Moore brought us back to the car, we: a) had a tearful goodbye and exchanged email addresses; or b) took off like a bat out of hell and never looked back? I’ll let you figure that one out on your own, but we are now safely checked in at the Hilton Garden Inn in Phoenix.
I’d like to take this chance to share a valuable life lesson with everyone. My parents always taught me that if I maintained a sense of optimism, then things would almost always work themselves out in the end. I’ve rarely applied this lesson to my daily life, but when I have, it’s usually paid off. However, I now feel like there was one exception to this philosophy that they failed to mention, and that is to NEVER view your gas tank as half full but to always see it as half empty. I am, however, optimistic that tomorrow’s travels will be MUCH better than today’s!
Click here to see the progression of our night through photos.