The mystery of the missing gas cap - solved

I had set out early that morning, heading for an important appointment with just enough time to buy gasoline.

But when I reached out to twist off the gas cap, it wasn't there. I glanced over my shoulder to see if anyone had noticed how silly I felt, and I looked again to make sure I wasn't mistaken. I couldn't explain the cap's sudden absence.

My thoughts flashed back to my California homeland, to the early '80s. Gasoline was relatively expensive then, too, and gas siphoning was not uncommon. People would help themselves to someone's tank of gas with the aid of a short length of garden hose.

I wondered if someone had helped himself to my tank and mistakenly shoved my cap into his pocket. Yet I had kept close track of my fuel usage. I would know if gas was missing.

The attendant inside the convenience store thoroughly searched the counter for a stray cap, but found none. Nor were there any new caps for sale in the garage. Meanwhile, the attendant cautioned me not to put more than $5 or $10 of fuel into the tank, or gas would slosh out.

Great, I thought, compromising with $7 and praying I would reach my destination.

I jumped back into my car, my loyal companion for seven years. I was determined we wouldn't fail each other now.

No one had pilfered my gas. No one had discovered an orphaned cap at the pumps. As I pulled out of the station I came to the obvious conclusion: I had left the cap on top of my car at this very spot three days before.

No doubt it had rolled off the trunk and plopped onto the fresh snow somewhere between here and a friend's home, 15 miles away.

But by now the snow had almost disappeared, and the first likely targets I spotted along the road turned out to be chunks of asphalt, mercilessly kicked up by snowplows. I didn't have time for this.

Then, farther up the street, I spied another hopeful candidate on the curb.

To a bystander, it probably looked strange to see a woman suddenly pull to the side of the road, jump out of her car - dressed to the hilt, run several yards in black heels, and then exclaim "yes!" while snatching up a dirty round object.

But I grinned with deep satisfaction as I turned it two cranks to the right and heard that wonderfully familiar clicking sound. My car and I were whole once again.

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