Running on Empty

Sydney Korlishin

I skipped swim practice because I was too emotionally drained from fighting with my dad all week. My friend Izzy did not skip swim practice so I picked her up at around 9pm. Since school started we had created a routine: almost every Friday and Saturday evening I would drive from my apartment in Montclair to Caldwell to pick up either Izzy, Jackie, or Alexa, or all three usually with no plans for the rest of the night. Sometimes we went to the diner, sometimes for ice cream or just back to Izzy’s house. That night, I only picked up Izzy. It was later than usual and we had plans to go see one of Izzy’s friends, Kacey, who lived in Oak Ridge, which is about 40 minutes away from Izzy’s house. Izzy got in my car and showed me an address of a diner in Jefferson near Kacey’s house. I did not know how long it would take to get there; I just saw that it was 17 miles away. Considering my love for highway driving, I was more than willing to take Izzy to see Kacey and her friends for an hour or two. I looked down at my gas gauge and saw I only had 30 miles left, enough to get us there but not home. I did not feel like stopping on the way there, so I planned to stop for gas on the way home. I called my mom first to make sure she was okay with me driving so far at 9pm, and she told me to be home by curfew at 11 o’clock. Looking back, she was definitely too tired to realize that I should not have made the drive. 

We left Izzy’s and started the drive to see Kacey. By the time we exited onto Route 15,  it was pitch black outside and impossible to see the curvature of the road without the help of another car in front of me. From what I know about the geography of New Jersey, the further north you go, the less street lights there are. Because it was so dark out, I missed the exit for the diner but my GPS rerouted and instructed me to get off at the next exit but I missed that too. Then the GPS  began having a hard time connecting due to the poor cell service in the area so I kept driving further on Route 15 until I saw the “Welcome to Sparta” sign.  I immediately knew that we had gone too far from home, and I took the next exit and did an illegal u-turn to get back on Route 15 south to head back in the opposite direction. At this point, Izzy and I were getting a bit nervous because we hadn’t seen another car since missing the first exit for the diner. Izzy was texting Kacey and taking videos of the seemingly funny situation for her snap chat story. Up to this point we had seen this impulsive drive as a fun adventure we probably would not even remember. After a few minutes, the diner was in view, and I followed some signs into its parking lot. 

We stepped out of my Toyota Corolla and were immediately frightened by a disheveled woman sitting in the car right next to us. Turning around, we looked up at the 50s themed diner covered in bright lights with an even brighter sign that said “Jefferson Diner.” Attached to the diner was a tavern called “Jefferson Tavern.”  The proximity of the two restaurants and the similar names led me to believe they shared an owner. From the outside, both restaurants seemed empty. As we cautiously walked up the diner’s front door, Izzy texted Kacey and said we had arrived. Upon entering, we spotted Kacey and her two friends, Johnny and Jules, sitting in a round booth against the back wall. We slid past the hostess and the wait staff and sat in the red booth. We talked about whatever came to mind for what felt like an hour, but I’m not sure how long it actually was. The only food on the table was a plate of half eaten pancakes that Johnny ordered long before Izzy and I arrived. We talked about driving to a baseball field or to Kacey’s house but no concrete plan was made. We left the dinner and went into the parking lot and all got into Kacey’s Honda CR-V to listen to music and talk about how messy the car was. We sat on Mount St. Dominic crew necks and stepped on hangers. After a few minutes, I finally looked at my phone for the first time since we arrived and saw that it was 10:30. That meant I needed to drive Izzy home and make it back to Montclair in a half hour because my curfew was 11:00. There was no way that would be possible. I immediately thought about all the trouble I was about to be in with my mom and my heart started beating out of my chest.

I pulled Izzy out of Kacey’s car and we sped out of the parking lot and onto the highway. I had already known I screwed up, but then a blinking light on my dashboard caught my attention. I only had 20 miles left… I immediately called my mom and told her what was happening. She was mad, but she just told me to get home as soon as possible. I pulled up my navigation app and hit the gas station button to give me a route to the nearest gas station. On the way, I calmly explained my plan to Izzy in order to reassure myself that everything would be okay. As we approached the Raceway gas station, we realized it was closed, so I plugged in the next closest. Thank God I thought as I pulled into the next Raceway, it was open. When I put the car in park and turned it off next to a gas pump, a man came out of the vestibule and motioned for me to leave. He was trying to tell me they were closed. I was so desperate; I started making a praying motion but he kept shaking his head. I opened my car door and put one foot on the ground and said,

 “Please, I have 15 miles and I live a half hour away!” 

He said “Sorry, it’s the law,” and turned the lights off in the vestibule. I defeatedly fell back into my car and turned the key in the ignition. I called my mom again while I drove out of the gas station lot. This time she was not understanding; she was tired and mad. She didn’t say anything to help me; instead, she just said “ I don’t know what you want me to do” and hung up the phone. I was now in a foreign town at almost 11 o’clock at night, a half hour away from my house with my best friend, an almost empty tank of gas, and no open gas stations. Before I even got back on the road I felt my eyes fill up with tears and Izzy tried to comfort me and asked if I wanted her to drive. Izzy hates driving, that’s when I knew I had to get it together and come up with a plan. All I knew was that we needed to get out of whatever town we were in, it was too quaint to have 24 hour gas stations. 

I got back onto the highway and drove until I saw a sign for a familiar town. I exited into Parsippany and began another hunt for a gas station. As I drove through yet another forgein town, we saw a few police cars stationed at numerous corners. For a second I tried to imagine what would happen if I pulled over next to the police officer and told him about my situation. Would he help us find an open gas station? Would he give me a ticket for being out past my curfew? Would he just wish me good luck? We approached at least three gas stations just to see that they were closed. Finally, I decided that I was wasting too much of my remaining gas and got back onto the highway. 

Izzy and I had devised a new plan, I would drive straight to Izzy’s and we would walk to get gas in the morning, even though we did not know how we ask a gas station attendant for the gas then fill it up ourselves. Once my GPS told me to get onto route 46 I was a bit relieved,  that route back into Caldwell would bring us past gas stations. Instead of taking the usual Montclair, Caldwells, Bloomfeild exit my GPS instructed me to get onto 280 then to the Eisenhower parkway and into Roseland. I have a horrible sense of direction so I trusted my phone but cringed as I drove past Caldwell’s exit. Once we were off of the highway I began to calm down and so did Izzy. For most of the drive I had been talking to myself like a crazy person and completely forgot how to interact with my best friend who sat in the passenger seat. We arrived at Izzy’s house with one mile left. 

After eating a substantial amount of pepperoni bread leftover from Christmas we passed out. The next morning we mapped out the closest gas station to be only one mile from her house. Although I’m not religious or superstitious, I prayed the entire way there. When we approached the traffic light a block away from the gas station it turned red. I put the car in park and turned it off completely so I wouldn’t waste anymore gas. My car gave me a travel summary that showed I had driven .9 miles, that meant I only had .1 miles to get to the gas station. 

Izzy and I held our breath for the remaining distance. I pulled into the large gas station on the end of Roseland Avenue and parked next to the closest gas pump and turned my car off. When the attendant came up to my window to take my credit card all I could think was he has no idea what we have been through.