Diesel, Drive-bys and Dome Lights

When the snow begins to fall, I head straight for the mountains to indulge my love for telemarking. This years first turns were in Tateyama in Toyama Prefecture where early rainstorms created icy conditions for my annual snow baptism. Driving is a necessity for this trip, and my vehicle, or rather compatriot, on ski adventures is my trusty Mitsubishi Delica van filled with gas stoves, food, water, mountains of beer and memories of bluebird skies and champagne powder.

Some of the memories would best be forgotten, such as the time I pulled into a gas station to fill up, handed the attendant my credit card and communicated to him I wanted a full tank. As I began straightening up around the driver’s seat, the attendant seemed to being saying something but, without really checking, I simply waved him off, neglecting to have him write down any questions.

There my troubles began, as he promptly began to fill up my diesel tank with high-octane regular gasoline. One look at my van and it’s obvious it’s not a “high octane” rig, but the word “diesel” written clearly on the gas cap should have clued him in.

Actually, this wasn’t the first, or even second time this happened. Normally, I would have them change the gas before starting the engine, but this time I pulled out of the station before noticing. Before long the wheel suddenly become heavy, and the engine began to sputter to an eventual halt. The repairs normally would have cost ¥100,000 to replace the entire gas tank but, as luck would have it, there was a recall on the Delica and everything was fixed for free.

The experience spurred me to begin filling up at self-service stands, as well as place a bamboo pen holder near the driver’s seat—always within reach for emergency conversations. It’s also proven to be a good way to ask the locals, “Is there a decent restaurant nearby?”

Incidentally, some people have asked, “How do you sign with someone while driving?” Basically, you grip the wheel with your right hand and talk with your left, keeping your right eye on the road and your left on the passenger seat. It helps to have great peripheral vision. Hands really start flying when driving a stick shift.

If you’re with your significant other, you have to choose between holding hands and talking, and when night falls you need to keep the dome light on to talk. Although talking on cell phones while driving is now illegal, should you happen to see a flurry of hands in a dome-lit car, please just look the other way.