So I am cranking down I-15 south out of Las Vegas, heading for Palm Springs, California, a few years back. I‘d just given a lousy speech about the growth in telematics in commercial trucking and now aimed to cover the Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA) annual meeting. I‘d called ahead to my hotel in Palm Springs to get directions and they‘d given me a tip all travelers like to hear: a short cut.
You see, instead of taking I-15 in a big half circle from Barstow to San Bernardino and then on into Palm Springs via I-10, I could cut through the Mojave Desert via Route 247 from Barstow to Yucca Valley and then drop down into Palm Springs - shaving maybe an hour to an hour and a half off my travel time. Since I‘d be driving into nighttime hours, this shortcut seemed a clear no-brainer.
Except, of course, for one important caveat that my ever-so-helpful guide on the other end of the phone forgot to give me: Fill up with gas in Barstow before you enter the desert. She forgot to give me that small detail but, frankly, I should‘ve known better. I‘d never driven from Las Vegas to Palm Springs before in my life. It‘s also a cardinal rule of business travel that you keep the fuel gauge reading above half a tank as you never know when a traffic jam or misdirection will put you on the side of the road on empty.
(The Buick Cenutry: my trusty steed during my almost ill-fated Mojave Desert crossing.)
So, here I am, barreling south in a silver Buick Century sedan, admiring the emptiness all around me. Truly gorgeous scenery of rocks, sand, and shimmering haze ... each vista so very different from the last. I also noticed (more casually than I should‘ve) how weak the cell phone coverage was out here. That small detail should‘ve raised a warning flag or two in my mind.
(Desert vistas are big and beautiful ... but oh so empty.)
I hit Barstow with less than half a tank and kept going, watching the sky slip slowly from dusk to dark. I hung a left at the one-horse town of Lucerne Valley and kept going, watching the light fate out into total night. Aside from a wan piece of moon, nothing glimmered outside of my headlights - a home‘s faded porch light or two, but little else.
Utter darkness. And my fuel gauge needle dropping below the quarter tank mark. That‘s when I recalled Davy Crockett‘s famous last words at The Alamo: “Uh oh.”
So I sat there, the empty miles stretched out in front of me for lord knows how long, and figuratively kicked myself for a while. How could I be so freaking DUMB to overlook so simple a task as filling up the tank when the opportunity presented itself? Sure, the mileage doesn‘t LOOK all that much on the map, but then again ... a small, simple detail I‘d overlooked, sure, but one that pretty soon might put me smack dab in the middle of a Stephen King novel for all I knew. Add to that no cell phone coverage and it began looking like I might spend a very long night out here.
A while later, though, rescue popped up out of the dark sands in the form of a weathered country store with a well-worn fuel island out front. You could have heard my sigh of relief back in Las Vegas I think. I gassed up, used the lavatory, and asked the guy behind the counter how much farther it would be before I hit Yucca Valley.
“Left Barstow without filling up, did you?” he told me. I sheepishly nodded my head in the affirmative.
“You got lucky,” he said. “It‘s a long walk out here at night. There are a couple of coyotes around here, too. Makes a walk in the dark unpleasant.”
(Palm Springs is also known as one of the wind farm capitals of the world, with big turbines like these generating lots of electricity for the surrounding area.)
He might have been putting me over, pulling the leg of yet another unprepared traveler, but no matter. I just should‘ve known better: ignoring a small detail that quite nearly left me stranded on the side of the road. Fortunately for me, at least this one time, the dice didn‘t come up snake eyes for my oversight.