A year out of college, I was finding it impossible to land a job in the journalistic profession for which I’d spent four years preparing. There were two newspapers in Salt Lake City, where I was living at the time, and neither the Tribune nor the Deseret News was interested in my unproven reportorial prowess.

So, after a winter as a ski bum, I took an entry-level job at the city’s American Red Cross Center, driving the Bloodmobile. My college girlfriend had landed a job there as an administrative assistant and put in a good word for me with the center’s director. The basic job qualifications were a valid driver’s license and no criminal record. At least nothing too serious.

A noble, if unglamorous, job, that kept the wolf from my door.

The job mostly entailed following the ARC’s nurses around town to help them collect, store and transport blood at various blood draws held in schools, businesses and churches. And a couple times a month we would venture – me in the Bloodmobile, the nurses in a separate car – into the Utah hinterlands to collect blood from our rural citizens. This meant driving hundreds of miles to tiny, isolated Mormon hamlets with wonderful names like Eureka, Ticaboo and Mexican Hat.

If you haven’t been out West, you can’t appreciate the differences there in distance, time and geography. We’re talking miles and miles of just miles and miles, especially in desert country, which makes up a good deal of Utah. You can drive for hours and see nothing more than sand, mesquite and cottonwood under an immense canopy of sky. Awesome in its stark beauty, with stark being the operative word.

I’d come to enjoy these little work getaways, which gave me a deeper appreciation of the state’s hardy rural population, who once followed Brigham Young in Conestoga wagons across the continent to transform a desert wilderness into an agrarian paradise. I must have been contemplating this the morning I set out for the two-day trip, because I forgot to check the truck’s gas tank before I left.

About four hours into the trip, just as I was cresting a large hill, the engine coughed, sputtered and died. Out of gas. In the middle of nowhere. Decades before cell phones. In my mind’s eye I pictured my fate: a pile of dry bleached bones, picked clean by vultures. A victim of unforgiveable laziness and inattention. An idiot, really. If someone ever found my remains and placed a grave marker there, the inscription would read: “Here lies Stupid. Ran out of gas – literally and figuratively.”

And then the miracle happened. As I came over the rise, the truck now coasting, I saw what had to be a mirage, but unlike any mirage I’d ever seen. This wasn’t an oasis shimmering on the horizon, this was a Sinclair gas station, with the green dinosaur logo.

I was saved! I never converted to Mormonism, but I do think someone out there answered my prayers.

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