I think of Kramer on Seinfeld driving as far as he can once the gas gauge is on empty, the farther he goes the greater the excitement, the high peaking just before the car stalls and rolls to a stop in the middle of nowhere.
I remember that feeling. Not the high. But the rolling to the stop. In the middle of farmland. Having gotten off the last ferry of the night on Lake Champlain’s Grand Isle, we returned to our car parked on the landing to drive home to Burlington. Not far along, the car rolled to a halt. The tank was far below empty when we knew it had been full when we left.
We saw a light in the distance. A farmhouse. It could be the type in those creepy tales, or it could be the Waltons. It wasn’t quite either. The family was accommodating enough. Their kitchen smelled of cow manure which I suppose was normal on that type of farm. There were children of all ages everywhere, disheveled, with blank expressions. The wife tended to the dishes. The husband got us a pail of gas that he put in the tank for us city folks who had no idea, period.
“Oh, yeah. Those hooligans siphon off gas from those cars at the ferry landing all the time. Can’t tell you how many folks stop here.”
We offered to pay him and he said ten would be plenty. This was when gas was cheap. Was it our imagination, or did the two oldest sons snicker?
“They’re poor,” my boyfriend said. “We can afford it.”
“We can’t,” I said. “We’re both unemployed. They own land. They get farm subsidies. They get subsidized for those kids.”
These were the days before the term political correctness was invented. I was a bitter woman.
Anyway, we had to travel across the lake regularly to job-hunt, as it was uncool to work there and there seemed to be more prospects than on the cool Vermont side. But we couldn’t afford to take our car on the boat every day and got a ride on the other side from a friend.
We got siphoned three more times.
Finally, I asked the farmer.
“How about if we hire your boys to guard our car from the hooligans, say, for two bucks a trip. If the gas is stolen, you give us the gas for free.”
Everyone looked at everyone. It was a deal.
published 4 September 2013