Friday, November 11, 2011

I Might Have a Little Gas

Art Rosch
Regular readers of this blog will recall the first story by Art Rosch, "It's All Downhill From Here."  And if you do, you'll almost certainly be hankerin' for another "hit!"  And if you haven't read "All Downhill...",  I highly recommend that you click the link above and read it to prepare yourself for the next amazing installment from Art.  [Be forewarned: Reading both stories in rapid succession might be dangerous for your heart!"]

"I Might Have a Little Gas," is the adventuresome sequel--another nail-biting story of the under-funded travels of Art, Fox (his gifted wife), and Yertle--the"Little RV that Could!"

Photos are fantastic, and you'll not want this hilarious story to end.  At least not yet!

 "I Might Have a Little Gas" also appears in Art's book, Avoiding the Potholes.



Thanks for stopping here to see the latest post. I'd love to know what you think of the "Relentless Pursuit" series. If you enjoyed this week's tale, I would greatly appreciate it if you left a comment (at the end of the post) for our author. And please email me with your suggestions on what you'd like to see on this blog or anything else you'd like to share.

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If you have a story you would like to share on this theme, contact me. And be sure to take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you! Thanks again!


Michelle Alton


Yertle in the School Yard

I Might Have A Little Gas - by Art Rosch
  (Copyright 2011)

Highway 6 is a hot eerie stretch of rocky desert and bare crags that joins up with 395 at Bishop, California.  This lonely road takes a northeasterly diagonal the entire breadth of Nevada before vanishing into the parched flats of Utah’s Great Basin.  Take my word, there is NOTHIN' out there. A “Flying J” truck stop appears about a hundred miles across the state. After that, there is only the town of Ely (pronounced E-lee) just a few miles from the Utah border.  Highways  50, 6, 93 and 388 enter and leave the town in a few confusing blocks.  It's easy to take the wrong turn, drive forty miles towards Vegas, then turn around and go back to Ely. It's like a Keystone Kops version of travel; the same people in the same cars and RVs pass one another again and again as they struggle through the little town.  We wave to the same kids in the same back seats until finally we get onto the correct route.

We had survived a plunge down the eastern slope of the Sierras with a loose steering column.  When we made it to Bishop,  God only knows why, we wanted to get onto 6 and put another fifty miles on the odometer before stopping for the night.

Sierras Eastern Slope
Rule number one about driving an RV:  DON”T DRIVE AT NIGHT!  It’s hard enough to control a bulky machine without messing with highway fatigue and caffeine nerves.  I see things that aren't there.  Jackrabbits the size of elephants come boinking into my path, only to be pieces of drifting newspaper.

We pushed out of Bishop after stopping at a Super K-Mart, where Fox and I got separated and I couldn’t find her to save my life.  This was before we had cell phones. I was reduced to calling her pet name.  I stood in the middle of an aisle full of hosiery and started crying plaintively, “Boo Boo!  BoooooBoooo!”  Everyone was certain I was retarded.  I mean, come on, here's a grown man, almost weeping with frustration, calling with his considerable lung power the primal sound of "BooooBoooo!"

I was beyond embarrassment. Where the hell did she go?  One second she was right THERE, looking at skin cream, and the next, she had vaporized into the merchandise, wandered off like an un-tethered toddler. This store is so huge  I might never find her, or wander for two and a half years before fetching up at Customer Service.
At last we were re-united by my wailing “Boooboooo!” until Fox used her bat-sonar to home in on me.

In the gathering twilight we packed our cartons of milk, loaves of bread and cold cuts into the RV called Yertle . We could have stayed right there at the K-mart, perfectly legal.  There were half a dozen RVs huddled in the corner of a parking lot the size of Rhode Island.

Why did we continue driving?  We were impatient. We had some naïve hope of finding a campground within the hour.  As I turned onto Highway Six, Fox got out the Campground Guide and searched, but there were no listings before the town of Ely, all the way across Nevada.  As I navigated the final stoplights of Bishop, a nearby driver began honking and gesturing towards Yertle.  I pulled over and discovered that I had been driving with the steps still sticking out of the camper.  Keep a check list, RV rovers!

For Some Reason We Could Never Find ANYTHING in Yertle.
After fifty miles, we came to the only other town on Highway 6. It’s a one-store town called Tonopah.   Fortunately, the store was open.  A very large Native American man confirmed that there were no campgrounds before Ely.  He offered the use of the school parking lot for the night.  “Lots of people get stuck out here,” he said.  “It’s okay.  Just try to be gone before school starts in the morning.  Nobody will bother you.  I’ll tell the sheriff when he drops by, tell him you’re back there.  If he sees you before I do, tell him Bear said it was okay.”

This kindness was touching.  We began to realize that we had met kindness at every obstacle on this trip, and that kindness came in all sorts of disguises, in the most unlikely places.
In the morning there was snow on the tops of the mountains.  Nevada is a washboard, an undulating series of mountains and valleys, and the roads cut straight across this ancient seabed.  At the top of each peak, the view spreads down the road ahead, which goes in a straight line for miles until it disappears into the next rise of the landscape.  I had never expected Nevada to be so beautiful.  There were huge clouds casting shadows upon the vast valley floors.

Nevada Washboard

It was about eight thirty before we had cleaned up, had some oatmeal and hit the road.  It was to be an easy day’s drive: a hundred sixty miles to Ely, where we would join up with our old friend, Highway Fifty, the so-called "Loneliest  Highway In The U.S.A."  At least, that's what the souvenir T-shirts say.  I think Highway 6 has it beat.

It was October; bright, clear, and warm in the valleys, crisp on the peaks. Yertle ran well, but I continued to be apprehensive.  It’s one thing to drive a car.  It breaks down, you call a tow truck.  An RV is another matter.  We were carrying our lives in the thing.  The water tank held twenty gallons. We had food and propane. There was no shelter on Highway Six, no trees, no shops or stations.  If Yertle broke down, help would be a long time coming

Endless Highway 6

Every hour or so, we’d pass a car, going the other way.  Everyone was going the other way.

Gathering my nerve, I hit the accelerator, and the old Chevy 350 gurgled forth, up the highway, into the brightening day.  My gas tank had been filled in Bishop.  The truck seemed happy.  Yertle was whispering, “Don’t worry, young feller, I’ll get you to Arches, don’t worry.”

I can’t help but worry, Yertle, I responded mentally.  It’s my nature to worry.

This was southern Nevada, an uncompromising landscape.  Sandstone blocks tipped by ancient floods and earthquakes littered the northern side of the road. On the south was nothing but miles and miles of tumbleweed and creosote bush. The stuff gave off a goldish earthen odor.  We were skirting the northern fringe of Nellis Air Force Base, with its gunnery ranges and atomic test sites
At fifty miles an hour, the noise from Yertle’s engine and wheels made conversation impossible.  There was nothing to do but drive, and look at the landscape.  Occasionally a vulture would mark the sky like a comma on vast blue paper.

The highway curves gradually northward, with occasional slow winding through the Toyabe National Forest.  This isn’t a forest as one thinks of a forest.  It's a sparse collection of low bushes and stunted trees, where lizards, voles and rabbits compete for the scarce resources.  We pushed north and east, and everything seemed okay.  Then, about fifty miles out of Tonopah, I heard a high whining sound from the engine.  Yertle kept on going, so I said my prayers and continued to drive.
We had entered a wide valley.  It looked like thirty miles to the next ridge.

Nevada Washboard 2

I was brought to alertness by a loud bang, and a nasty smell of burning rubber.  Yertle was running, but I had to pull over.  I was afraid to turn the engine off; afraid she’d never start again.  I got out and pulled open the hood.  Pieces of fan belt were shredded all over the motor compartment.  I picked them out, saving the biggest piece for reference.  Fan belt for what, I wondered?  How I wish I understood cars!  Then, as I inspected the various parts of the motor, I saw a thumb-sized hole, right through the metal rectangle of the I-don’t-know-what.  Pieces of this metal were strewn about.  It looked like a bullet hole from a high caliber rifle.  In fact it was a case of metal fatigue.  This porous, cheap material, this aluminum casing for some part of our vehicle’s innards, had met its deadline.
The engine was still running fine.

"What the hell," I thought.  "Let’s go until we can’t go any more."

We kept driving, praying for Ely.  Seventy miles to go.  Come on, Ely, come on.  About half an hour later, I saw a convoy of vehicles in the distance.  Two highway patrol cars were parked at the side of the road.  The officers were waving us to stop.

I was glad to see a human being, a person of authority.  To make that statement, “I was glad to see a person of authority”, is indicative of how scared I was.  I don’t have anything against policemen.  I have a significant resentment of all authority figures, always have and always will.  I learned that there are times when one might be thrilled to see a person of authority, and this was one of those times.

We pulled out onto a wide margin.  A mile down the road, an immense truck was hauling a gargantuan pipe, long as a freight car and wider than the entire road.  I took a chance, and turned off the engine. I got out of Yertle and approached the officer.

“Sir”, I asked respectfully, “can you spare a moment to look at our truck?  Something broke a while ago, and I don’t know what’s going on.”

The policeman was half my age.  He was short and compact, and looked like he could tear three phone books in half with his bare hands.  He glanced under the hood, while the monstrous pipe rolled slowly past our place beside the road.

“That’s your air conditioner belt,” he informed us.  “And that hole, well that’s your air conditioner.  Looks like the belt shredded and then popped the AC unit right through the guts.  Good thing it wasn’t the fan belt, or you’d be stuck out here.”

Greatly relieved, I thanked our benefactor, started Yertle and proceeded down the lonely road.

Things happen to people. Events are events, but our interpretation of these events overshadows the events themselves.  For me, the most important thing is to view life as a process of gaining understanding.  It doesn’t matter whether good things or bad things happen.  The process is the same.

I didn’t fully understand this crazy trip.  All I knew was that it had churned up a barrel full of anxiety in my guts.  Whenever I reached a point of relaxation, some new threat stirred all the sediment of fear that had begun settling to the bottom of my emotional bucket.
I asked Fox, several times, "Do you want to turn back?”

Fox is made of stronger stuff than I.  “No,” she always said, “We’re supposed to go to Arches.”

View from Our Eventual Arches Campsite

This tree may be more than a thousand years old.
I felt like such a "wuss."  Men don’t enjoy feeling cowardly.  It’s not a good man-feeling.  It’s a feeling that lurks in some small fetid bathroom down in my soul, a bathroom with a naked bulb worked by a pull-string with a knot at the end, a bathroom with old squeaky faucets that give out brown water.  It has a frosted window that’s jammed shut, with a paint job where the streaky white paintbrush overswept right onto the window and the painter didn’t care enough to scrape it clean.  That’s what my cowardice feels like, it feels like that cheap hotel bathroom and it’s not fun at all.  I was going to have to brace up.  That’s what the wise old samurai said to the Toshiro Mifune character in “The Seven Samurai”.  It’s become an in-joke for Fox and me.  “Brace up, Kikuchiyo”, we tell one another.  “Brace up.”

And Yertle, in spite of her geriatric frailty, kept reassuring me.  “I’ll get you there, sonny,” she whispered, “Stop worrying so much. I may be old but I’ve got plenty of miles left in me.”

Never once did I wonder if I was completely nuts, talking to an RV.  I was simply being swept along by events.
The landscape began to rise, as we came into another range of the Humboldt-Toyabe Forest.  I looked at the gas gauge and with a shock realized that we were down to a quarter tank.  Where did the gas go?!  The tank was filled in Bishop, only a hundred twenty miles down the road.  I had badly overestimated the mileage of which Yertle was capable.  That, and a headwind, had drunk our gas, and I had been so preoccupied, I failed to fill her up at the one and only truck stop between Tonopah and Ely.  I began to wonder if we were going to run out of fuel on some tricky mountain curve without a shoulder.
Compulsively, I watched the gas gauge, then chastised myself and equally compulsively avoided watching the gas gauge.  I forced my eyes to bypass the little meter as it quivered ever downward toward EMPTY.  Why weren’t we carrying a gas can with five extra gallons?  Fox had vetoed the proposition:  she had some terrifying vision of gasoline spilling all over the place and roasting us to a crisp.  I always obey Fox’s intuitions, but this time I was vexed.  ALWAYS CARRY EXTRA FUEL!  Is that rule number two or three?  The fuel consumption of the most innocent looking RV is a ravening dragon, an elephant sucking up fluids faster than they can be replenished.  Motor homes LOVE fuel, the way kids love candy or the way addicts love dope.  Gimme some gas! they breathe, panting with appetite.  Gimme some gas!

Thirty miles to Ely.  Okay, steal a look at the gauge.  It’s hovering over the little line that says, EMERGENCY!  hurry up and get a fill!  I’m calculating. Let’s see, if we are getting ten miles to the gallon, and we have three gallons, we can just get to Ely.  But if we’re getting eight per gallon, we’re in big trouble. That’s assuming there are three gallons.  There might be five; or there might be two.  Does the gauge read short when we’re going uphill?  Does it look fuller when we’re tilted downward?

Naturally, the headwind grew more powerful and our route took to yet another interminable climb up into the Toyabe-Humboldt Forest.  The road was Nevada-smooth, paid for by gambling taxes, well maintained.  But here, on the undulant highway, there was no shoulder, just a line of white fence posts, protecting vehicles from plunging down a forty foot cliff.  There was no place to get off the road.  Run out of gas here, around a blind curve, and some truck can come whamming along and crunch us like an old Pepsi can.

I spent the next forty five minutes waiting for the engine to sputter and die. I watched the side of the road for potential escapes, and watched the rear view mirror for the following eighteen wheeler that spelled our doom, like the monster truck from that early Spielberg movie, “Duel”.  The forest grew thicker.  There were trees here, big trees.  We saw signs touting campgrounds and tourist sites, in the southern approach to Ely.  They were little comfort to me.  The gas gauge quivered and teased me as it sat on Empty.  My heart was beating in every pore of my skin.  Why so scared, I chided myself?  Everybody runs out of gas at least a couple of times.  Yes, I responded, BUT NOT HERE on a curvy road with no shoulder. The last vehicle we saw was a FedEx truck passing us, going uphill in a no pass zone, like we were standing still.  People drive crazy in Nevada on Highway Six.  They think the roads are empty.  Crazy.

We came to a crest of the mountain range, and I thought with relief, "It’s downhill from here!  We can coast, we won’t burn our precious bits of fuel climbing laboriously up every steep curve of the road."  Alas!  After going down for a bit, the road turned upward once again.  The gauge was a on EMPTY.  I played games with it.  If I look at it from the side, it kinda looks like there’s more gas in it.  I leaned right, leaned left, but I wasn’t fooling myself.  Yertle soldiered onward.  I was running out of gas on a road with no shoulder, I had a shredded air conditioner belt and a fist-sized hole in the engine.

Dragon's Jaws

The road sign said, “Ely—12mi”.  And there we were, at the real crest of the range.  I put Yertle in neutral, took my foot off the gas, and coasted down and around the mountain curves.  At last, the ominous white fencing beside the road vanished. A few houses appeared.  Billboards advertised motels and gift shops, gambling casinos, banks and auto body garages.  More houses.  Ely!  My eyes were pealed for a gas station.  I made a left onto Ely’s main drag and made a beeline for the first gas station I saw.  Yertle coasted over the curb, I put her in drive, lined her up to the pump, and then….and then...ptttptttptt, shooo!  Yertle ran out of gas.

I now truly believe that Yertle was inhabited by a Grandmother spirit.
My conversations weren't with the RV.  My conversations were with the Grandmother who had come along with us, who had put herself into Yertle to preside over our fates and protect us from disaster.

Driving from San Francisco to Moab, Utah is a trip of about 1500 miles.

No matter what route you take, sooner or later you're going to find yourself climbing up the Colorado Plateau.  It's a grueling ride, especially in an underpowered vehicle.  The climb goes on and on for about seventy miles.

Trucks expire along the side of the road, blown tires litter the highway like cracked black eggshells.  It's a monster of a climb.  At the top, you can go to the Vista Point and read about what you've just experienced.  From this point forward, you are in THE SOUTHWEST, and the whole nature of the landscape changes.  It's an amazing experience."

Fox Talks to the Grandmothers

-- 30 --

  All photography by Art Rosch

Bonus Shots by Art

A Classic View of Nevada
Approaching Tahoe
The Sky from Ely

"Chief Sleeping Giant" in center of picture
First Sight of the Badlands

Truckee River
There's a Man Up There In Those Huge Rocks

Art Rosch's Biographical Sketch

Art Rosch boomed with the other babies of his generation in St. Louis, Mo. He was drawn to music as a child and learned trumpet and drums. As he got older, he became enamored of modern jazz. At the age of sixteen he set out on a pilgrimage to New York City to study with his idol, avant garde musician Ornette Coleman. This adventure led Art to associations with many jazz musicians.

He spent two years as the house drummer at Detroit's Artist's Workshop. His interest in writing and photography also continued to grow. After winning Best Story Award from Playboy Magazine, Art signed with an agent and began working on novels. He is still working on novels, memoirs and essays.

His photography has been featured in Shutterbug Magazine, where he is a contributing writer. One image, Lone Tree In Utah, won an important award from the United Nations. Much of Art's photo work is done at night. He is a passionate amateur astronomer and likes to explore the potential of long exposure photography. He continues to work from Sonoma County, California.

Art's photography may be viewed on his website and many of his writings can be seen on his "Blogazine."


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Bob Cammarata said...

Terrific read Art!
Your descriptive words drew the perfect picture. I felt as if I were there in Yertle riding shotgun.
While I've never personally run out of gas on a road trip, I've learned to never underestimate the true value of "liquid assets".
...a tank-full of gas, a radiator full of coolant, and a Thermos-full of hot coffee.

Carolyn Fletcher said...

Oboy, you are NOT gonna believe this!! I once blew an air conditioner on that VERY SAME ROAD! My ex and I used to just drive around for vacations instead of having a destination and we did that Ely/Tonopah road a couple of times. Amazing story, Art..God Bless Yertle!

Gina Cormier said...

No wonder he won awards for writing. I was thinking what a gift he has throughout the story!! Great story and images!!!

Art Rosch said...

The things that happened on that journey convinced me that miracles do happen. We experienced at least five, things so weirdly inexplicable that they make the goose pimples rise. Thank you for reading.

Joe DiGilio said...

Art, I enjoyed your photos and this colorful tale. I especially like your interaction with places & things. You are exceptional as is your work.

Art Rosch said...

The book is now out and downloadale for free at It's called
(re-named) THE ROAD HAS EYES, A RELATIONSHIP, AN RV AND A WILD RIDE THROUGH INDIAN COUNTRY. Get it here, and please leave a comment!