(The following originally was published in the Sunday edition of The News Herald, October 16, 2005.)
I remember a time of chaos, ruined dreams, this wasted land. Most of all, I remember the man we called Max, the road warrior.
Here, the signs stripped of numbers, the bags over the nozzles. There, cars backed up 10 deep and into the street with a police officer directing the lines and watching for drive-offs as the last drops are drained of premium.
And finally, cars following a tanker as it drives from the Chevron terminal on St. Andrew Bay to deliver thousands of gallons to a station on U.S. 231. There, the lines form again, and only hours later the underground tanks again are dry.
There's desperation in the eyes of those who sat at the ends of the lines, those who did not get a taste of the golden juice, those whose needles rest on the red "E."
Without fuel they were nothing. They'd built a house of straw. Suddenly their machines sputtered and stopped. Their leaders talked and talked and talked, but nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled.
I was one of the lucky ones during the recent shortage who found gasoline — enough to make a trip out of town — and there I found gasoline enough to make it back home again. It was a worrisome thing to do.
You become afraid to travel. If you give any thought to the ready availability of fuel, then you do. Can you get from here to there? And if you make it one way, can you get back home again?
Traveling last weekend, we passed any number of gas stations with empty signs and bagged nozzles in Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia counties. We paid more to travel one way to the old homestead and back again than it would have cost to drive three times that far a year ago.
Abandoned cars sat on roadsides, more than I've ever seen on that journey, and I wondered how many of them simply were out of petrol.
We'd been making Road Warrior jokes for weeks around the office because of the shortage, and now I was facing the images for real and wondering: Where was Lord Humungus? Where was the lawman, Max? How far were we from feral children roaming the wasteland with boomerangs?
To understand who he was we have to go back to the other time. When the world was powered by the black fuel, and the desert sprung great cities of pipe and steel. Gone now, swept away.
Strangely enough, AMC's "A One and A Two" (in which the cable network plays a movie and its sequel as a double feature) on Wednesday night showed Max Max followed by The Road Warrior.
And Thursday, the prices on the convenience store signs began to fall. I wondered if there was some karmic connection.
"You want to get out of here? You talk to me."
Here he would learn, amid the dark wreckage, that the fire which burns in the heart of man, will endure. Hope survives.