Free French Fries

My last post was in honor of our 24th wedding anniversary. I tried to wax poetic about our life together and the lasting wisdom of our wedding vows. For better for worse. For richer for poorer. In sickness and in health.

But I’m not sure where in those vows to place my husband’s continuing propensity to run out of gas.

Some couples debate over the toothpaste tube or the toilet seat. Others about shoes on the floor or tools on the kitchen countertops. Sam and I have gone 10 rounds over the gas tank light in the car. This has been an issue since our engagement.

Shortly before our wedding, we were at a formal dance for my Detroit-based employer. Despite my repeated suggestions, we did not stop for gas on our way to the party. Nor on our way back. Then the obvious happened. We ran out of gas on Interstate 94. At 1:00am. In a not-so-great part of the city.

I sat in the car freezing cold in my formal gown praying for my safety and questioning my choice of life partner. Sam talked with the shady character driving the El Camino with fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror, the car windows foggy with cigarette smoke. El Camino man had pulled over when he saw our car and offered to help. For an exorbitant sum. I’m not making this up. It was straight out of the movies.

It wasn’t Sam’s greatest moment. Nor mine. But the wedding cake had been selected and my dress was lovely. And I never imagined that this could possibly happen again. Live and learn, right?


I can’t accurately report how many times Sam has run out of gas. I’m pretty sure he has stopped telling me. It once happened while he was driving with Greta and Angela to a robotics tournament. They prayed as the car coasted down a hill and into a gas station. I’m not sure that’s the best use of the Rosary. But they lucked out.

It happened while I was in the hospital with Becky. Sam didn’t tell me but I knew something was up when multiple kids contacted me via Google Hangouts. The image of my husband walking down I88 with a little red gas can was just the laugh I needed. NICU nurse Auntie Trudy enjoyed the moment as well.

And it happened again just this week.

I was finishing up Becky’s feeding when I glanced up and saw Michael sitting outside the door. He was holding his side and laughing hysterically. He told me that Dad had run out of gas. Sam had already called Greta and Angela looking for help. He would rather crawl home than call me. Apparently there was a good reason that this happened. Again.

Free french fries.

Yes, you read that correctly. My husband ran out of gas, for the umpteenth time, because he wanted to save $1.79 on a small fry at Steak and Shake.

Let’s review the evening’s events. Sam left work late knowing that his car needed gas. He saw that pesky light but thought he could make it closer to home. He pulled off the highway into the first gas station at the exit. But, when he saw the per gallon price, he decided to drive a little further up the road.

He was about to pull into a Delta Sonic gas station when he saw Steak and Shake. And the illuminated board promising free french fries. No purchase necessary. Like a beacon, it called to him. He assumed he would have enough gas to run through the drive thru for those crispy golden shoestring fries before filling up. He calculated wrong.

As the perky employee handed him the fries, Sam thanked her and rolled up the window. Then he depressed the gas pedal. But there was no response. Because the car was out of gas. At the takeout window of Steak and Shake, a line of hungry customers behind him.

So Sam got out of the car and pushed it across the snowy lot into a parking space. He then commenced calling his children of driving age, looking for rescue. 20 minutes later, Michael found him sitting in the cold car, his winter jacket pulled tightly around his face, an empty carton of fries on the seat next to him.

I hope you are laughing as hard as I am.

Please understand that the Steak and Shake and the Delta Sonic gas station are across the road from each other. It had been a hard day at work, the first after the long holiday break. And Sam had a hankering for fries. Which I totally get. It’s just the order in which he did things that baffles me.

My husband is an exceptionally intelligent human being. An undergraduate degree in Computer Science from the University of Notre Dame. A Masters in Computer Science from the University of Michigan. An MBA from the University of Texas. He speaks fluent French and coaches competitive high school robotics. During his 18 years at Motorola, he helped design some of the first GPS systems, smartphones, and fitness watches. He now works in the defense industry on infrared missile technology. His team’s work protects the Army’s Apache helicopters, keeping their crews safe from enemy fire.

So he should darn well know what to do when he sees an illuminated gas light.

When I see the low fuel light, it is an emergency and finding a gas station shoots to the top of the to-do list. I am budget conscious, so I will sometimes put in one or two gallons until I can find a station with a more reasonable per gallon cost. But it’s an emergent, pressing situation.

When Sam sees the light, it’s a suggestion. And a challenge. Just how much further can he push the car? Just how much more gas will the tank hold, above the amount listed in the user manual? It’s ridiculous.

A recent picture of Becky captures my feelings exactly.

That’s right, honey. We can’t fix stupid.

17 thoughts on “Free French Fries

  1. Kathleen, your stories always bring me to the moments with you, today I actually snorted while laughing at the last lines. Keep sharing, especially with pics, I just love it. Hugs to you all!


  2. This is sooo funny. I know how highly intelligent Sam is and how money conscious you have to be with your big family! But, Sam’s choice of fries over gas has me scratching my head. I’m glad you didn’t reconsider marrying him back in the day. Where would I get this much free entertainment? Much love! Becky is getting so big and her expression says it all.


  3. That is the laugh I have had for a while. I get close to the edge way too often and have run out of gas twice. The last time, A mini van pulled over to help me. I was driving a new car on Route 83,and didn’t know exactly how far it went on a tank. That also means that my friends didn’t recognize the car. Well, I was surprised to see my dear friend Lorna had stopped to help. She said to me that she had no idea who was in the van, but something told her she should stop to help. Do I have luck or divine intervention?


  4. I hope Sam will forgive his parents for laughing hysterically. I don’t think we were aware of this little marital secret. I am putting together a Christmas list for him for next year, and wonder what should be at the top of the list:
    a. Gift cards for ⛽️ gasoline?
    b. Gift cards for 🍟 French fries?
    c. A little red gas can for every one of your vehicles?
    Love and Happy Anniversary to a truly beautiful couple, whose love and life have brought us so much joy!


  5. Ohh Kathleen, I laughed so hard. Sam s such a great guy. Supersmart for sure-he hired me didn’t he😉. God bless you all! Sent from my iPad



  6. Becky’s little face 💕 so kissable. I like your Christmas decorations. Re: Sam: oh. My. Goodness. There is a certain amount of Rauch maleness that can be blamed. Or maybe just Rauchness? I have never actually run out but I do rely on Ryan to refill my car whenever he drives it and it’s below half a tank. No reason to even consider refilling until the warning light comes on and you’re watching the miles remaining countdown, in my opinion.


  7. This has made my day/week/month! Hilarious, made me laugh out loud!! I do hope he enjoyed those fries. Can’t imagine they stayed warm for too long in that car! Sometimes you just have to wonder about an XY chromosome mix, don’t you? Love the picture of Becky! Her hair is a hoot! She’s getting so big!


  8. Hilarious! Boy did I need to read your story tonight. Thanks for the laughs! Love Becky’s “au natural” look.



  9. […] In stop-and-go traffic, the girls were blissfully unaware of their pending situation. As traffic inched slowly forward, Josephine depressed the gas pedal but nothing happened. Veronica had the presence of mind to tell Josephine to put on the hazards. Angry drivers laid on horns to signal their frustration. A kind soul in a business suit pushed the car to the shoulder where the girls waited. For 2 hours. For our friends from Roadside Assistance. Apparently, Veronica began singing show tunes at one point, resulting in some happy honks and waves. When I spoke with Josephine later, she told me that she never even noticed the gas light. She also reminded me that she is a new driver and unlikely to make the same mistake twice. We can only hope. […]


  10. […] Meanwhile, back at the ski hill, temperatures continued to plummet as the predicted storm arrived in earnest. Sam sent me this screen shot in the evening. -8 degrees and falling. That’s cold. Probably too cold for skiing. I also noticed the “Distance to Empty” entry at the bottom and texted a gentle reminder to fill up the car before heading home. I couldn’t help myself. […]


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