Running on Fumes

At about 3am last Saturday morning, I fell asleep in the backseat of my car in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Williamsburg, Kentucky. There ­­­was a motel just across the highway, but we only had time for an hour-long nap. As we slept, gasoline fumes percolated up into the car, and we awoke to find the fuel gauge reading empty and a puddle forming beneath the car.

A few weeks before, I had volunteered myself and my car for a team competing in the 2009 University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt, or “Scav” for short, a venerable tradition often called the world’s largest scavenger hunt. Every year Scav comes up with 277 new and challenging items, which this year included everything from “real octopus butter” to building a working vending machine. Forty or fifty of those items are scattered along a path leading out from Chicago in one direction, which four costumed players from each team must travel. This year the road trip went south to Kentucky and Tennessee, which is why I found myself in that parking lot somewhere between Lexington and Knoxville.

Imagine how hard it is to get a replacement gas tank for a Volkswagen at 4am in the middle of nowhere, Kentucky. It’s harder than that. We managed to refuel and decided to get back on the road again; there was a dealership in Knoxville, and one item required us to be there at dawn anyway to perform a sun salute wearing sunglasses, drinking Sunkist, and singing “Here Comes the Sun” in front of the Sunsphere, a relic of the 1982 World’s Fair. We made it in time for dawn, stopping to refuel when necessary and leaving a trail of gasoline down I-75. Because nothing in life is easy, the dealership’s service department turned out to be closed on Saturdays, leaving us with little choice but to continue on to Nashville. The drive took almost three hours, and by the end some of us were nauseous from gas fumes. In a Nashville suburb we managed to leave the car at a dealership and pick up a rental car, allowing us to continue the hunt. Scav ended last Sunday–we didn’t win–but my own personal hunt continues this weekend, when I return to Nashville for my car.