Hi. My name is Neil, and I have a gambling problem.
Oh, I may not blow the month’s rent at the races or spend my kid’s allowance at some video lottery terminal — I’m way too cheap for that — but it’s still a problem.
Like most of these things, it started innocently enough.
As a junior reporter in Fort St. James, I lived from paycheque to chamber of commerce dinner and I could just about make ends meet if I didn’t have to deal with transportation - but of course I did. The Courier was the Fort St. James paper but it was produced in Vanderhoof, so every week I would fill up my latest wreck with just enough gas to make it to the ‘Hoof.
My editor, a great guy named Gord Smedley, was quite happy to let me sleep on his couch Saturday nights and I would often borrow just enough money from him to gas up for the return trip.
I got pretty good at estimating the absolute bare minimum amount of gas I could buy while still leaving enough for a cup of coffee or two. Not only did I never lose, but — on two separate occasions — I coasted to a gentle stop right at the gas pump in Fort St. James.
Impressive I know, and it’s a tale I’ve reveled in many times over the years.
It got to be a habit, this gastank roulette, and before I even knew what was happening I was hooked. I needed that adrenaline hit again and again and again.
Life’s not like that of course. Just as with any addiction, that early, ecstatic high is never repeated. Oh I’ve coasted to a gentle stop all right, but never at the gas pump. Not even close.
I’m not alone though. There’s at least one other similarly afflicted soul out there.
“I lost,” (I’ll call her Bev) said. “I ran out of gas right in the intersection. This car was behind me, so I got out and told the guy he should go around me.”
Instead of an angry huff, squeal of tires and pedal to the metal, the guy opened his door and got out.
“I swear, he was the biggest man I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said. “He was huge! His legs were like tree trunks. Enormous! He said he would push my car to the side of the road for me and I thought, why don’t you just pick it up and carry it?”
It didn’t hurt of course that he was extremely good looking. And charming. And funny.
She accepted his offer of a ride and it wasn’t long before she placed his accent as Kiwi. When Bev asked her roadside rescuer what he did for a living, he replied that he was a member of New Zealand’s national rugby team.
The All Blacks. She was saved by a member of the All Blacks.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said and laughed. “I guess it really says something about your day when the best part of it involves running out of gas in an intersection.”
It put my glory story to shame. There’s no way I’ll ever top that payout, no matter how well my luck holds.
It won’t change anything though. I’ll still play. After all, I’m an addict — hooked hard — and I know the next time I’m driving I’ll look at my gas gauge and think yeah … I can make it … probably.
Don’t worry about it if you see me hiking a can of gas along the side of the highway. It’s entirely my own fault and I deserve what I get.
Don’t even bother offering me a ride — unless, say, you are Britney Spears, Christy Clark, or you happen to be Swedish and part of a bikini team.
Neil Horner is the assistant editor of the Parksville Qualicum Beach News and a regular columnist. He always carries a gas can.