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Running Out of Gas In Belgium

The Hollow Man     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

Gremlins first appeared in popular culture during World War II, where they were said to be responsible for causing mechanical problems on aircraft. Since that time, they have become mischievous and sometimes malevolent when it comes to all mechanical failures. Gremlins are weaselly, imaginary little creatures that haunt and frustrate many of us unmercifully. Especially when we’re in a hurry and assume everything we need is going to function properly.

While gremlin glitches have faded in other areas such as computers and software apps where we have discovered other reasons to blame malfunction, like Customer Service, today gremlins have gravitated to infecting automobiles in particular. Cars are fascinating to these little buggers and there is no end to their creative problem spawning; notably in matters of the gas tank.

I started my car one morning and checked the fuel level. The gauge registered an eighth of a tank, give or take, but I swore it was at least a quarter full when I shut the engine off the evening before. Who syphoned the blasted fuel? Okay, so I should still be able to drive to work from Brussels to Waterloo, a distance of maybe 20 kilometers via the Ring Road (RO). I should have heard the gremlins snickering from the trunk.

I ran out of gas somewhere in the Groenendael forests. The engine revved on a dying spasm and I just had enough time to pull off the highway out of traffic. As luck would have it, there was a disabled motorist kiosk about 20 meters in front of the car. I walked to it hoping to get some help. A five-foot pillar held up a hooded cover housing a 6 inch round red button. That was it; no instructions, just the red button with an inset microphone above it. I pressed the button and waited.

An accented voice answered, “Hallo” in Flemish.

“Do you speak English?” I asked. That was my second mistake of the day. I should have asked if he understood English.

“ Yes,” he replied.

I explained the situation and asked if he could send a truck with possibly 10 liters of unleaded gas. He told me to wait in the car until help arrived. An hour later, a small Yugo with police-sized flashing lights mounted on top pulled in front of me. I’m surprised the car didn’t tip over when it stopped. We got out at the same time and met between the cars. He said something in French that I didn’t understand. In fact, I had instantly forgotten every foreign language I knew.

“Do you speak English?” I asked.

“No, do you speak Flemish?” He offered.

“No, do you speak Spanish?” I returned.

“No, do you speak Portuguese?”

“No, do you speak Italian?”

“No, do you speak Danish?”

“No, do you speak German?”

We stared at each other. He shrugged. I grabbed his arm to guide him around to the gas tank and pointed.

“Ah, de l'essence.”

“Yes! Gasoline!”

“Avec ou sans plomb?” He asked, with or without lead.

My French was coming back. We slowly began to communicate through basic French and hand signals. He explained to me that we had a problem. He could give me all the leaded gas I wanted for free, but he could not provide unleaded gas unless I was a motor club member. The AAA lookalike cost over $300 USD (1200 French Francs) and was good for a year. I said I would only be in Belgium for a month longer so that wouldn’t work.

“You can give it away to someone else, a friend perhaps?” He said.

“Do I look like I have any friends? Listen, your backseat is filled with 5 gallon gas cans. I will pay double or triple for just a few liters.”

“I will tow you to a station and you can fill up there.”

The man went to the driver’s side door and pulled out a rope. He tied it to his back bumper and began attaching the other end to the front of my car.

“What are you doing?”

“It’s okay. Put you vehicle in neutral and steer for me. If you get too close to me, step on the brakes,” he answered.

I rode the brakes downhill on the highway and then dropped off the exit ramp to street level. The rope acted like a Yo-Yo on the way to the gas station. All the while I envisioned a Pinto type explosion because of the Yugo’s backseat full of gas cans. The rest was history. I got my gas, and the gremlins got away to pilfer another day.