Rough Ride


Any time you drive a car in a foreign country, it’s a gamble. It can either be easy, straightforward and enjoyable, or absolutely disastrous.

On this last trip to the Spanish Coast, we definitely experienced the latter.

It was a beach day – two couples: my fiancé and me, my close friend who lives in Barcelona and her husband, and my five-year-old son. We had the car seat in hand, we’d spent half an hour on the Metro to arrive at the car rental and we were ready to enjoy sand, sea and sangria.

In a world of manual transmissions, I’d managed to reserve an automatic car and we quickly signed the paperwork and piled into the small vehicle. Declined the extra insurance, waved away the pre-paid gas but, on a whim, agreed to the $8 roadside assistance. We buckled up, revved up and were on our way.

The roads twisted and winded as we got out of the city and the buildings gave way to trees and panoramas and vistas of valleys and peekaboos of the sea along the road.

The beach was lovely, topless women and squealing children, colorful blankets and umbrellas and cool, salty water. Lunch was fresh seafood and cold cava sangria and lots of good Spanglish conversation. We hiked through the village, had cocktails, leapt from rocks into the waves. All in all, an absolutely glorious day that warrants its own article. As the sun headed toward the horizon, we walked back to our car, sandy haired and salty skinned.

We drove back to Barcelona, sun-drenched and satisfied. Traffic was medium-heavy and we were tired, everyone ready for a shower and a bite to eat. And then, the car stopped.

The car stopped. Stopped. We had just enough juice to roll over to the side of the road and pitifully putter out. We all looked at each other, confused. There had been no warning light, no “ding” of caution to herald this present calamity. We weren’t certain what was wrong and for my fiancé and me, this was an “I guess we need to walk to the closest gas station” moment. But, we were immediately disabused of that notion by our Spanish hosts. Apparently, running out of fuel on the expressway in Spain is punishable by an excessive fine – a fine in the thousands of dollars. And even if we walked to the nearest gas station, we wouldn’t be able to purchase fuel because they do not sell containers for it.

But, aha! The $8 roadside assistance! My Spanish friend quickly snatched up the phone and dialed the roadside emergency number and in rapid fire Spanish ordered the tow truck out to our location. When it finally arrived, all five of us squished into the front cab seat of the wrecker, and we made the quick drive up the freeway to the gas station.

And what had stopped our tiny European car? It was out of fuel. No one could explain the lack of an indicator light or warning, but the car had been rented to us with less than a third of a tank of gas, so we were lucky to have gotten as far as we did.

So, after a fill-up and a few minutes to calm a scared and crying boy (a few gas station toys may have helped with that), we were back on our way to downtown Barcelona, only a few hours later than we’d planned.

Our beautiful beach day was almost a catastrophe, but thanks to an $8 investment, most of the heartache was avoided. Driving abroad is always a gamble, but this time it seems we had luck on our side.


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