My second daughter started her first sleep away camp today.
I'm surprised I survived. Because in true Air Force Family style, there was a bit of a bump in the road.
First, let me say that the camp that is 150 miles away is 200$ cheaper. So back when gas was still under 3$ a gallon, I made her camp reservations. I thought it would be a fun drive, and we could always get a hotel room. I paid in full to get their discount rate.
Yeah, so now the price of the gas kind of erases the ability to pay for the hotel room...
Anyway, we got there in one piece. We made good time even! The three youngest kids and I had started on our journey at 10 am, got gas, hit the road, and had time to get lunch before dropping #2 off. It went really well.
Because it felt like we were trying to walk through a sauna, I had the air conditioning on full blast the entire way (and it still didn't keep my Reese's Peanut Butter Cups from melting). The logical conclusion to this was to fill my car up again before leaving the town around the camp. It was just under half full, but I like to play it safe. And as it is a Sunday afternoon, people are driving from all directions back to the DC area and traffic is generally horrible.
I pulled off the road at the first gas station I saw and was thrilled at gas under 4$ a gallon. $3.95, to be exact. I felt like I was getting a bargain! I ran my card, grabbed the gas nozzle and...
My gas cap was locked. And I didn't have a key. In fact, the key was on Air Force Guy's key chain. And it just so happens that AFG was on a plane headed away from us.
Oh. My. God. You have got to be kidding me! I have 140 miles left and less than half a tank of gas and it will most definitely be rush hour traffic on the 95! And AFG can't jump in the van to come drive down and save us!
I had to put that mil-spouse brain into action and think of a plan. First to go was the air conditioning. The car started heating up inside quick. The eight year old and the five year old added their greenhouse contributions with vocal whining about the rising temperatures.
Second - I needed a plan of action. I figured I might have enough gas to make it to the vicinity of Semper Fi Wife, so I gave her a call and begged for mercy and a ride to an auto parts store. I got her voice mail, but if there is one thing you can count on with Semper Fi Wife is her absolute ability to be wherever there is a military person in distress. I figured that if I couldn't come up with anything else, at least I wouldn't be walking from Fredericksburg to DC while my poor dog Ike desperately tried to last the night without going potty.
On a whim I decided to take the exit that claimed to have a Pilot station open 24 hours (anyone with multiple PCS's under their belts knows to take road signs with a grain of salt). I figured that Pilots usually have basic car care items, and if nothing else someone there might know where I could go buy a key for my gas cap (at this point I was getting below 1/4 of a tank. AFG didn't tell me that the 1/2 marker in our car doesn't really mean 1/2 a tank. I'm not sure what it means, but there sure wasn't 1/2 a tank of gas left in there).
I pulled in and dragged my kids into the store, taking my place in line behind 4762 people returning home and buying Red Bull. When I got to the front of the line, I asked the cashier if she knew where I could get a gas cap key. The second cashier overheard my question and said in a great southern drawl, "Well, wait! Go on out to pump number five! My boyfriend is gassin' up there, and he's a mechanic!"
So the kids and I ran out to pump 5.
"Are you Andy?" I asked. "Your girlfriend said you might know where I could find a key for my gas cap."
"Well sure! I might have one right here. Let me check."
Andy pulled up to my car, hopped out, and pulled out a ring of keys. While he went to work matching the gas cap to his keys, he explained something about the whole process to me. And sure enough, he had the key that would fit. He opened the gas cap for me and sent me over to the pumps.
"Can you wait a minute?" I asked. "Let me go to the ATM - can I pay you for this?" And interspersed among it all were profuse thanks.
But he just waved it off, "It was nothing," he said.
There's always a crisis when you're a mil-spouse. One thing or another comes up, just when you're least equipped to deal with it. And while I am proud of my ability to think on my feet, I also have to count my blessings. There has always been someone to help me out somehow when I needed it. And quite often it is someone I have never met, a complete stranger who feels moved to step in where I need it even though they have no obligation to do so. That doesn't mean they bail me out or do all the work for me. But they are quite often the missing puzzle piece that makes it possible for me to do whatever it is I have to do and was unable to do in the first place.
I think this is why so many mil-spouses are optimists. Life isn't perfect; and irritating, stupid, dumb, annoying, tragic things happen. A lot.
But I sure am grateful for those people who step in to help a stranger. They make things look better, don' t they?
Oh, and about Semper Fi Wife... I called and left her another message saying that I was fine and had found a kind person who opened the gas cap for me. She immediately called me back to make sure I didn't need her to call out the troops and stage a rescue. Just to check and make sure!
You know - I just love my military family. :)