Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 3, 2013

Garret Leiva: Roulette at the gas pump

Local columnist

— I recently committed a crime. My misdeed did not involve a felony, misdemeanor or even a civil infraction.

Instead, I’m guilty of a gas gauge trip into the E.

I grew up in a half-full-gas-tank family. Since turning my first ignition key, I’ve faithfully followed my dad’s fuel creed: Don’t bring a car home on fumes.

Simply put, you keep the vehicle’s gas gauge above half — without fail in winter.

You can be forgiven for putting the car into a ditch on an icy road. To allow condensation in the fuel lines — that is an automotive sin.

Whether you are a half-full of half-empty driver, the automobile gas tank is an interesting personality gauge.

Type F people dutifully keep out of the E despite bad weather, hectic schedules and hefty gas prices. F drivers can rattle off their car’s miles per gallon; the more obsessive keep a little MPG black book in the glove compartment.

Even in light of Armageddon, the Type F driver would go out with a full tank.

On the other side of the pump is the Type E person. For these folks, a car gets you from point A to point B.

However, life is never a straight line. It is a convoluted path of frequent trips to work, school, the grocery store and right into the low-fuel light zone.

Busy Type E drivers can’t be accused of coasting through life — only into the nearest gas station.

I fall around the halfway mark. I’m the type who would drive his car into the E searching for a penny cheaper gas to make an F-tank road trip.

It is this F-E paradox that nearly made me run out of gas — at a gas station grand opening.

Ludicrous as it sounds, I burned up 30 minutes (and countless hydrocarbons) waiting in line for 99-cent gas. In today’s gasoline market, that price would cause a free-for-all.

A smarter man would have sought fuel elsewhere, but it was a matter of cents — not sense.

Unfortunately, the grand opening petrol price had a time limit. As the final minutes ticked down, a Ford freighter blocked the three gas pumps in front of me. The absent owner must have been inside the store scratching off lottery tickets with his tongue.

By the time I reached the 87 octane, the sale ran dry. I pumped just enough gas to get me to the next full-price station.

Despite my solid Type F upbringing, I can’t deny the E spot endorphin rush. You haven’t lived until you’ve stared down a low fuel light at midnight on a desolate road; the only sounds car tire hum and strains of “Dueling Banjos” off in the woods.

It is basic human nature — fight or flight to the nearest 24-hour gas station.

The average gallon of gas is up 47 cents since mid-January.

Experts predict higher prices this spring. While not criminal, $4-a-gallon gas means more trips into the E — or dusting off that guilt-free bicycle.

Garret Leiva lives in Traverse City. He can be reached at