So I’m one of those optimists who can normally find positivity in most undesirable situations. “There’s a reason for everything,” is one of the brushes I regularly employ to paint in that silver lining. Yesterday the paint brush came out again.
My petrol is pretty much on empty. I’m approaching junction 8 on the M20. The distance between Junction 8 and 9 is about 15 miles. It’s the longest section of the motorway I use daily between work and home. There’s a petrol station at both junctions. At Junction 9 there’s a reasonably priced supermarket fuel garage. At Junction 8 there’s an overpriced Texaco service station. One of the bi-products of driving my daily 160 mile commute is my new found patience behind the wheel. Another is my almost geeky obsession with fuel efficiency and prices, so as I approached Junction 8, I look at the petrol gauge, accompanied by its flashing yellow warning message on my dashboard, think for a moment and decide to go for the cheaper fuel at Junction 9. About 12 miles in, I run out of fuel. I curse my thriftiness and my fuel efficient (but not efficient enough) car. I turn the key once and then turn it again, hoping the petrol fairy has deposited a few litres in the interim. She’s clearly busy. I consider calling my recovery company, but figure they’ll take too long to come and I’ll be bored as hell. I get out, lock the car and start on the first leg of my 6(ish) mile trek.
Lesson 1. There are still some nice people left in this world. – I’m walking away from the car clutching, my petrol can, still cursing my bad decision, which is waving to me and pulling faces some 12 miles behind. I hear the sound of a lorry’s horn and see a small red car screech into the hard shoulder some 60 metres ahead. I (not even for a minute considering someone would stop for me) stroll on, already questioning the logic of my decision to walk. As I approach the parked car, the passenger door swings open and I am invited in. The driver insists that he’ll take me to the fuel garage, but won’t be able to take me back. He explains that he ran out of fuel a few weeks ago, and promised himself he’d pick someone up if he was in a position to in the future. I thank him and thank him some more and offer him money, that I know he will refuse. We talk about work, the Olympics and driving before, without fanfare he drops me to the garage and drives off. I could kiss this guy right now. I go to the pump and fill my can, which like all petrol containers isn’t made for the power of a petrol pump. I probably spill around a pound’s worth of fuel on my jeans, hands and floor. I pay the cashier, who asks where I’ve broken down. I tell her. She wishes me well adding ‘I hope it doesn’t rain.’ I haven’t thought of that until now. I’m worried!
I walk away, over a footbridge, and back to the side of the motorway where somewhere in the distant horizon my car sits with blinking hazard lights. I’m here walking and praying on its behalf that it doesn’t get rear ended by a lorry. Cars can’t pray.
Lesson 2. Motorways are scary when not in a car. – I head down the motorway. I squint at the dust filled gusts bouncing off the front of huge lorries and cars all driving past me anywhere between 60 and 80mph. I look on the hard shoulder I walk upon and notice skid marks, crash debris and chunks of tyre rubber. I suddenly realise how dangerous this stroll is. The information that had burrowed beneath my determination to refuel and get home, has decided to show itself, proud like a road killed peacock. If a driver were to be texting his wife, lose control and swing into my path, I’d be killed. If a lorry were to have a blowout and swerve into the hard shoulder I’d be crushed…oh yeah and killed. I hear my mind push out all these mortal facts. Now I’m not trying to compare the M20 to the Nairobi desert, or some other epiphany ladened landscape, but I do experience a minor light bulb moment. ‘Just walk!’. I tell myself. ‘There’s no alternative right now. You can’t can’t change this, so just walk.’. So I do.
Lesson 3. There are wild snakes in Kent. – I keep walking and notice a long thin snake moving along the road in that unmistakable snake like way. It is only about 8 inches long and black, but it is definitely a snake. I stop, forgetting where I am and watch it sliver into the high grass on the steep banking that rises quickly away from the road. I keep walking. I’m now getting impatient. I’ve been walking for about half an hour and I still see no sign of the car. I start to fear that it’s been crashed into, and towed away. I pick up my pace. I see a plume of smoke rising in the distance. My mind tells me it’s my car. I walk faster. I notice the severed head of what I think was a fox. It’s lower teeth splay out like toppled dominoes. It looks like it is smiling at me. I imagine it leaping up and handing me a wet sponge and a cup of cold water. ‘You can do it man!’ I smile back appreciatively and keep going. I turn a bend and there she is! She isn’t crumpled or scratched. She’s just as she was when I started this quest. Her hazard lights seem to quicken, like a dog’s tail upon its owner’s returns. I refuel. I climb in. Turn the key and become a fickle driver; oblivious to the safari I’ve just survived and now blurs past me. Thinking only of home.