Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Shenandoah Odyssey: Act 2

So where were we?  Ah yes, epic adventure through southeastern Ohio, to land in Parkersburg, WV and the set of the next George Romero masterpiece, the historic Blennerhassett Hotel, in a blackout.

I woke the next morning (very early, since the vacation gods dictate that you can't sleep in when you're allowed to) with the certain knowledge that the problem hasn't been solved while we slept.  The lack of any sort of air conditioning happening from the wall unit told me so before I even opened my eyes.  A quick look out the window to the patio below revealed a chef preparing to boil a massive pot of water on a gas grill.  This seemed like an unlikely normal routine for Saturdays at the Blennerhassett.

June 30th, 2012:  Happy 11th Anniversary, baby!

Showered and dressed, we met another of the army of bellmen stationed in every dark corridor to guide guests around who gave us the rundown:  still no power in the city, except for the hospital circuit just down the road.  The big problem that had already presented itself was fuel.  There were only two functional gas stations that he knew about, and they were already lined up 45 minutes deep (this was at about 8:00 AM).  We continued downstairs to breakfast (the enormous pot of water had transformed into an enormous pot of oatmeal) and to plan our next move, sans coffee, which apparently takes electricity to create. 

Fuel hadn't really occurred to us to this point, as we were in my wife's Prius, which tends to make one forget about gas gauges.  We were sitting on about a quarter tank, which would have been no trouble at all under normal circumstances...117 miles of road left there, per the HAL9000-grade computer system onboard.  But the next major spot of ink on the map was Clarksburg, WV, a good 60 miles down the road, and then not a lot beyond.  Reports we'd gleaned from other travelers and local news suggested the outages were more widespread than we'd even thought:  from as far north as Columbus all the way to Charleston, WV in the south, some 80 miles away, and even as far as Beckley, WV another 50 beyond that.  The odds of happening across a country gas station with juice to run the pumps was slim, and well beyond even my sense of adventure. 

So we checked out, filled our water bottles, got some directions to 7-11, and went to join the fray.

Traffic stopped in the right lane of a busy thoroughfare about a quarter mile from the station.  Riding shotgun, I got out to reconnoiter the situation (pretending to be on a spec-ops mission sometimes helps my frame of mind in stressful situations...don't judge me).  Basically, we were a Sam's Club parking lot away from the station, with a solid line of cars approaching from all directions.  Conversations with a few people waiting closer to the pumps revealed that they'd only been in line 15 minutes or so, which sounded like good news.  I went back to the car, and we settled in to wait.

And wait.

Aaaaaand wait some more.

As we waited, we noticed a lot of people walking up to the station with gas cans to stand in line, which was not a plan most of the motorists in line were particularly happy with.  Adding problems, it's a pre-pay cash system, so anyone without a credit or debit card had to go queue up inside to pay first, which added a layer of inefficiency frosting to the top of the catastrophe cake (and some shouting sprinkles for a little bit of "sparkle").  A very frazzled woman in a 7-11 smock was doing her level best to impose order on the situation, but was clearly exhausted and only barely holding things together.  Hats off to her for not just pulling the plug and pleading power loss.

One of the people we noticed walking the sidewalk up and down the line was a portly red headed kid of about 12, who first drew our notice because he was wearing shower shoes, and scuffing his feet with every step.  This being a pet peeve of ours (independently gained before we met...we were made for each other!), we remembered him...and then felt really guilty when he came back along the line of cars with a box of Chips Ahoy cookies from the 7-11, offering them to anyone who wanted a pick-me-up.  God, what a perfectly nice little gentleman...but pick up your feet anyway.  Oh, and the same goes for every teenage girl who owns a pair of Uggs.

Shortly after we assuaged our guilt with a chocolate chip cookie, and as we approached the turn into the actual station (this is about 2 hours into the wait, for reference), I noticed a guy carrying a case of Natural Ice on his shoulder and jokingly asked if he was passing those out like the kid with the cookies.  This caused him to seriously answer "no," and to volunteer the information that the tanks were almost empty, and the attendants inside were about to shut off the pumps.  Thanks, buddy.  Enjoy your diarrhea beer.

My indomitable spouse, who to this point had been pretty well focused on the mission at hand--Step 1) 7 gallons of gas; Step 2) get the hell out of Parkersburg--absorbed this information, and almost immediately began to have an episode of what over the years I've come to think of as "The Frets."  They'd popped up briefly and with justification as the storm was chasing us down the previous day, but had really not emerged again since.  Now as we entered the wild west of the station lot, it became a very important game of "choose the correct checkout line."  Avoid the ones with trucks, count the cars in line, etc.  We made our choice, and after a few minutes it looked like maybe the wrong one.  The Frets intensified.  Suddenly she said "You drive, I'm going to the bathroom."  And she was gone. 

This, as it turned out, was what she needed.  She didn't actually get back in the car.  On her way back from the station only minutes later (for some reason the bathrooms were the ONLY thing about the 7-11 that day that no one wanted), she just stopped by the pump and started to make friends.  She chatted with the people in line ahead of us, helped with guiding traffic out, and struck up a conversation with the man behind us in line, who'd actually grown up in Wapakoneta, OH (birthplace of Neil Armstrong and one "So You Think You Can Dance" contestant!  Choose the fact that's most important to you!), relatively close to our childhood homes.  That natural ability to relate to people saved our day.  And like most disaster-related rumors, this one was not as bad as it sounded.  We filled up a lot faster than most, owing to the tiny tank on a Prius and the lack of multiple gas cans, and left the station with an enormous sense of relief.  And convenience.  People are just rainbows and unicorn farts when you're trying to weave a path OUT of a crowded gas station. 

But I'm thinking that place was going to start looking like the river-crossing scene in War of the Worlds a few minutes after we left (Tom Cruise fighting aliens?  Seems like a natural fit!).

Our trip to fuel up had taken just shy of 3 hrs.  After fighting a city-full of drivers with a breathtaking ignorance of 4-way stop etiquette, we made it back to U.S. 50 and on to more Americana.  That story comes with a few pictures, and a beautiful destination.  Besides, I just wrote 1300 words about getting gas, what more do you want from me?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for entertaining me during my delay on the Tarmac in New York. My ass is numb, but my face is laughing ( as not to provoke my fellow pissed off passengers into engaging in an Air Marshall-type situation). Also, my iPad wrote 'Tanks' instead of ''Thanks' up there. Who knew it liked puns so much?