40 Lessons in 40 Years: Entry 15

Make sure there’s gas in the car before you steal it.

I first began taking my mom’s car out for joyrides around the age of 12 or so. It didn’t matter whether it was her mini-van before it broke down, the little Chevy she borrowed from Uncle Pat for a while, or the next mini-van she got–I knew that she left her keys in the vehicle(s) every night, so a few times a week, I would sneak out to the car around 11pm or so and go for a spin. Sometimes I would make arrangements to pick up one of my friends to cruise the country roads with me, other times I would roll solo. We occasionally took down road signs as trophies to store in the basement; Mom never asked where they came from. Once, when joy-riding through Dogtown with a handful of friends, I hit a deer, leaving a huge dent in the front quarter panel. Mom thought someone had hit her car in the parking lot at work.

One night, as my friend Ben and I returned to Paxton on a back road from Champaign County, the engine started to sputter. I had never been at the wheel of a car that ran out of gas before, so I wasn’t even sure what was happening. The car came to a stop at the side of the road, and we tried to get it started again–no success. Finally, we agreed that we needed to go up to the farm house 50 yards or so up the road and ask if they had a gas can.

“No gas can, but don’t worry–I already called the sheriff to come help you out.”

Ben and I hid behind the second and third row seats of the minivan while the sheriff took down the plate numbers and looked through the front windows. Just before he was probably going to drive off, we realized we would be missing our chance for assistance if we took advantage if we were successful in hiding… We reluctantly got out of the vehicle, realizing that we would be facing the consequences sooner or later, anyway. Now’s as good a time as any.

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