The Blankenship’s 1980 Easter vacation trip to Florida

Written by Tom Blankenship on Good Friday in 2012

Dedicated to the best daughters a dad could ever want
and fond memories of their loving mom

What better time than on a Good Friday for me to recall the 1980 family Easter vacation trip to Florida? My wife, Ruth, my two daughters, Laura and Gayle, and I had planned to leave from our home in Silver Spring, Maryland in the morning on Good Friday.

I'll begin our journey by telling you how thoroughly I prepared for the trip by cleaning my Volkswagen Sirocco, our vacation travel car, as if it were going to be on display in a concours car show. As a nonsmoker, this included removal of a variety of small junk items I kept in the console ashtray.

On Thursday evening, we all went to bed early so that we would be well rested for an early start in the morning on Good Friday. I had remembered to fill the Sirocco's gas tank to the top so that we could travel the greatest number of miles without having to make a stop to refill it.

By 8:00 AM we were on the road. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny spring day in Maryland, ideal traveling whether for vacationers. Traffic was reasonably light, even more so as we travelled south of Washington, DC into rural Virginia. It was understood that I would do all of the driving because dad's car had a macho 5-speed stick shift transmission and God only gave his wife, Ruth, the ability to drive a car equipped with a fully automatic transmission.

We were making very good time, practically flying through the state of Virginia and entering North Carolina well before noon time. Even though the Sirocco's gas tank only had an 11.5 gallon capacity, the fact that it always got 37 miles per gallon on the highway meant that we could easily travel 350 miles on a single tank.

It was probably 11:30 AM when I glanced at my gasoline gauge and noticed it was approaching the ¼ full mark. A couple of miles ahead was an exit with a gas station. I asked the ladies if they would like to stop there to use the rest room while I filled the car with gasoline. We all agreed that would be a good plan, so I pulled into the gasoline station and stopped at one of the pumps. The ladies exited the car, headed to the rest room.

At the same time as the ladies were exiting the car, I was overcome with anxiety. Was it at all possible that in my process of meticulously preparing the Sirocco for the vacation trip that I had also mistakenly removed the key to the locking gas cap from the ash tray where I kept it along with all of the junk? I make note that a locking gas cap was standard equipment on the 1979 Sirocco. Sure enough, just as you must have guessed, the ashtray was completely empty. Not only was the key missing from the ash tray, it was also not to be found on the floor nor anywhere else in the car. It was safely residing in a box at home in Silver Spring, Maryland awaiting my return.

I could only hope that Ruth and the girls needed to do everything females could possibly need to do in a rest room, because I needed to buy as much time as possible to come up with a solution to this predicament.

I decided to go inside the gas station to see if someone there might offer a simple solution. I knew I was grasping at straws, because they had no suggestions. Then I asked if they knew how to contact a local locksmith. They did not. I also knew a locksmith would be very expensive and consume a lot of time. Scratch that idea. My next idea was to find the closest Volkswagen dealer. Someone told me there was a VW dealership in Fayetteville, just off of interstate 95, perhaps 50 miles south of where we were currently located. Fortunately for us, that was the same direction we had been headed.

When the ladies returned to the car and I broke the news, instantaneously that carefree atmosphere we had enjoyed to this point turned into complete silence. Nobody wanted to irritate dad, even if he was entirely the one to blame.

As we continued on our journey traveling south on interstate 95, I felt reasonably certain that we had enough gasoline to reach the Volkswagen dealership. Then the thought occurred to me that we were in the south, the bible belt, and this was Good Friday. Would the Volkswagen dealership be closed for the holiday? I tried to file that thought in the back of my mind, preferring to concentrate on covering as much highway as I could, as fast as was reasonable.

Each time we came upon a new exit sign I expected it to display "Fayetteville". In fact, each time we came upon a new exit sign, it displayed other locations. As we continued to drive, the traffic was becoming more congested, a sign that we were getting closer to Fayetteville, the largest city in that region. By now the luxury of ¼ of a tank of gasoline had dwindled and the gauge was pointing dangerously close to the reserve tank mark. If you guessed that I kept this fact to myself, you would be correct.

Finally we reached the Fayetteville exit. The person I had spoken to at the gasoline station said that the Volkswagen dealership was not too far from the interstate 95 exit. As we drove on the local road we passed several restaurants. By now it was a little past noon, but nobody in the car was hungry, or at least they're weren't saying so.

I now noticed that the needle on the gas gauge was pointing perilously close to the bottom of the reserve tank mark. Translated, that would mean we were almost out of gasoline! I began to wonder if someone had called ahead to alert the Volkswagen dealer that the Blankenships were in desperate need of their help and that they had physically moved the dealership farther away by some nefariously magical means just to cause us more grief.

There it was in front of us, the Fayetteville Volkswagen dealership. As I drove into the parking lot my gasoline gauge indicated the likelihood that nothing more than fumes remained in the tank.

A salesman came from the showroom to greet us. It should be no surprise to you that on this Good Friday in the south, we were the only customers. I wish I could remember his name, because the salesman was truly a caring southern gentleman. As soon as he learned about our situation, he wanted to help us. I asked him how to get to the parts department, where I hoped to find an inventory of locking gas caps so that I could try using the keys to solve my problem. When I got there, of course, none were in stock, so that idea was out.

By the time I return to my car, the salesman had found five gas cap keys from cars which were in the dealership's inventory. One by one, as he tried to unlock my gas cap, each of the keys failed to do the trick. Meanwhile, another customer arrived and had also taken note of our plight. This gentleman had a humongous key ring with a zillion keys of almost every size and configuration imaginable, assuring us that one would fit, but none did.

I asked the salesman if I could also try out the Volkswagen gas cap keys he had used. He gladly handed them to me. The first one I tried did not work; neither did the second key nor the third one, fourth one or the fifth one. I felt this sinking feeling inside. I decided to try them once again, but this time I gave each of the keys that extra Good Friday jiggle. Magically, key number 5 unlocked the gas cap. Not only was the gas cap unlocked now, but the way the lock was designed it could be left in that unlocked position, the way it was destined to remain for the rest of our trip. As suddenly as it had arrived, the 10,000-lb monkey was off of my back. Whew!

We all thanked the Volkswagen salesman and kind customer who had assisted us. Then, with another stroke of good luck, we were on our way to the gasoline station located just across the street. I didn't care how much the gasoline cost, I just wanted to make it to a pump so that I could fill the Sirocco's tank, which is exactly what I did. It took 11.4 gallons of gasoline to fill the tank. We had truly been very close to running on fumes.

On the drive back to the interstate we stopped to have lunch and relax a bit. Soon, everything was back to normal and we were back into our traveling groove.

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