Here, I pay tribute to my friend Robin Dadisman, who passed away in late 2013, with a story about phantom fuel and a red racing Mustang.
We set out for Central City one 1994 summer evening in Robin’s beloved red ’71 Mustang Mach 1. We were on a mission. A logo mission. He was doing graphics work for one of the town’s casinos and invited me along as he delivered some finished pieces.
When we arrived, we spent an hour listening to the din of slot machines and eating salty buffet food. According to Rob, it was essential fuel for creative inspiration.
The Mustang needed fuel, too. We’d used a bit coming up the mountain, so topping off seemed like a good idea before heading back to Boulder.
But the only gas station in town was dark.
These were the days before you could pay at the pump with a card. When the lights went out for the night, so did the pumps.
We calculated that we had enough fuel to get to the Conoco station in Coal Creek Canyon. It was about 30 miles away but open for another hour. We knew we’d never make it back to Boulder, though. Not with the Mach 1’s thirsty engine and more than a few steeps to negotiate on the way.
So, we lit out for the Conoco, with Grandmaster Flash throbbing from a jam box stuffed between the seats.
Writing this now, years later, I am still left to wonder: Where did half of a tank of fuel go?
We were approaching the first switchback when the big car’s gas gauge went awry. One moment it registered a half-tank; the next, nearly empty. And still ten miles and a dozen hairpins from the Conoco. We were coasting on fumes. It seemed grimly evident that we were going to run out of gas.
Robin floored the accelerator.
We rolled down the windows and howled into the wind, twisting our way up the mountain and waiting for the big red beast to cough and go dry. Grandmaster Flash kept the beat, and we felt like kids again.
9:59. Cresting the ridge, heaving into Coal Creek Canyon, gas pumps still a few miles distant, the needle on the gas gauge sinking out of sight.
The great car sputtered. We held our breath and waited for a 40-mile-per-hour stall and a long walk back to Boulder along a trail of broken payphones.
But the engine roared on. And so did we.
We lurched into the Conoco at 10:07. The lights were off. But we could see the attendant inside, counting money.
“I didn’t hear you pull up,” she said a few minutes later as we filled the tank and sipped fresh coffee. “I just looked up, and you were there.”
Rob and I laughed about it for years to come. But we also wondered about the gas gauge. When we finally reached the Conoco, it read 1/4 full.
We really were worried about running out of fuel in a lonely canyon 20 miles from home. But Robin Dadisman made it one of the best road trips ever.
We turned our desperate dash to a gas pump into a victory sprint.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.