Last Thursday, I got up at 4:50am (okay, 4:56) and got dressed and drove to bootcamp. I didn't take my phone or my wallet because, really, who was I going to call? What was I going to buy? I suppose Starbucks would be open ... but who needs caffeine after an invigorating workout?
In case you can't tell where this is heading, I was only halfway to the workout place when the empty light on the gas gauge pinged on. I can't stand driving with the gas light on. No matter how many times Keith tells me that I still have a good 20-30 miles to go, and it's only 5 miles to the workout place .... I don't really believe. I may logically understand it's true, but I spend the entire time in the car gripping the steering wheel, imagining all the horrible things that will happen when I run out of gas and get stranded.
So I did manage to make myself drive to the bootcamp and deal with it afterwards. But I wasn't sure how I was going to deal with it, exactly. I had no wallet and no phone. What are my options? Am I brave enough to risk driving all the way home? Even if I were, Eleanor had a check-up at 9:10am and then I needed to leave for work at 10:45am. Lately, getting Eleanor out the door has been difficult, to say the least. If I didn't get gas on the way home, what were the chances that we would be late to her appointment or I'd be late to work?
My brain couldn't handle it. I had to get gas ASAP or my head was going to explode from the anxiety and fear. I remembered I had a few bucks in the glove compartment. So after bootcamp I hurried out to the car and checked.
I had $3 in bills and one more dollar in quarters. So that would be enough for just over a gallon of gas. I'd feel stupid buying $4 of gas with change, but it was better than not getting any gas at all.
I went out of my way to go to the gas station closest to the bootcamp. I pulled up to a pump wit a sigh of relief. I had made it! The world wasn't going to end!
I went inside to pay my measly $4 to get the pump turned on. Some irate woman was leaving as I was entering and she said something about having difficulties paying. I said I had cash instead of a card, and figured it wasn't a problem. I went in, paid my cash, and went back out to the pump.
It didn't work.
The cashier came out and yelled something to me that I couldn't hear so I went back in. He handed me back my cash and said the pumps weren't working. I stared at him.
"BUT I NEED GAS." I stated, slowly and clearly. "This is all of the money I have and I'm out of gas."
The young man shrugged apathetically. "All I can tell you is that I'm pressing the buttons and they're not working."
I walked out, my $4 in hand. What now? Surely the car was going to run out of gas now; it seemed destined. I just kept thinking, "What the F#@k?!?"
(Digression: Keith and I don't swear much at all. Honest! Which is especially important now that Eleanor repeats everything we say. Like that time we were in the car and Eleanor kept telling us to "Strap Up!" instead of "Buckle up!" or "Strap in!" and I told Keith, "It sounds like we're a bunch of trannies!" and Eleanor happily chatted about being trannies all the way to the Botanical Gardens. So I'd never drop the F-bomb at home, but it seemed warranted in this situation.)
I mean, really. How does this happen? The gas station DOESN'T WORK?!? Who does this happen to? It was one of those moments when it feels like the entire world is part of a conspiracy to drive me insane.
But, no matter how much I overreacted, the world didn't end. I drove to another gas station and got gas there. I was nervous when I pulled up because the car at the pump ahead of me was running, its owner was standing by the pump. Just standing—not pumping gas or doing much of anything. I paid my $4 (again) and went back out to the pump to hear him talking to a woman who had just pulled up, explaining how his keys got locked inside. Whew! Not my problem.
My $4 got me to a quarter tank of gas, and the rest of the day passed uneventfully.
Once I calmed down, I kept thinking more and more about how the morning only became such a disaster because I was unprepared. I had known for the past week that I needed to get gas, but I kept putting it off because I felt like I really didn't have enough time to stop. I consciously decided to leave the house that morning with neither cell phone nor wallet, because I thought I wouldn't need them. My WTF moment was completely of my own making.
And it reminded me again of an article I had read almost 3 years ago over at a personal finance website called The Simple Dollar. The article was actually a book review about Margin by Richard Swenson. I had even blogged about it in "3 Jobs Too Many" when I first read it.
At that time, I said:
My understanding of the concept is that people function best when they have margin in their lives—space and time that is unaccounted for. This way, when something takes more of your time and effort than you had expected, you have some leeway in which to deal with it. Minor catastrophes and time-sucks can be dealt with.It drives me crazy that I still feel the same way. I absolutely think that I would be calmer and happier if I had margin, but it is still a foreign notion to me. I'd like to blame it on being the parent of a toddler, but the reality check is that I originally wrote it in March 2008—several months before Eleanor was even born.
On the other hand, many people today schedule their lives without any margin at all. (Can you see me raising my hand?) No margin in time, so I'm always racing from one activity to the next. And no margin in mental tasks, so I get worn down because I'm constantly thinking and evaluating and planning something else. When you're living with no margin, the smallest glitch can cause a ripple effect and suddenly it feels like you've completely lost control.
What's it going to take to get a little bit of breathing room in my life? So I'm not stuck at the gas station at 6:30am with $4 in my hand, no gas in the tank, and a rock of anxiety and fear in my chest?
I might need to actually read the book.