Pack Your Bag, We’re Going Out

Courtesy Fortepan, CC 3.0



Driving through the piney woods of the Georgia Piedmont this week, I was sure I knew where I was going so I turned off Maps. I was wrong, and by the time I discovered my mistake I was nearly out of gas. There was nothing around.

Roadside service companies do not always require membership now, but what if there was no cell coverage, or they did not have a franchise in the area? It does not seem probable anymore that the nearest house will have a gallon of gas to spare, the way it might have in the old days. You remember the old days, when you would have walked up to a secluded farm house for help, and they would have given you a gallon of gas or let you call someone to come for you?

I mentioned my carelessness to a friend, and we discussed what we carry when we go out, in case we get stuck one way or another. I have jumper cables and an emergency battery starter in the car, along with an umbrella, ice scraper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and, it goes without saying, a small emergency library in case of boredom. The backpack I carry usually has my laptop, charger, phone charger, digital recorder, knife, flashlight, pill bottle, pens, three notebooks, flash drive, a hat, another book, and bottle opener. If I expected to be outdoors I would add a couple of protein bars, water, a rain jacket.

Larry has different work and lives in a different biome. He began to list what he carries in his car: 20-pack of water, four kinds of food, a pile of blankets, changes of clothing, an emergency battery jumper, paper towels and napkins, extra Covid masks, eyeglasses for day and night, and an external hard drive filled with hundreds of hours of entertainment that he said he might want if stranded in his car in Georgia.

“I have a kernel of the prepper in me,” he admitted. He went on:

EpiPen, headache meds, several extra bottles of pills, Tums, Dayquil, NyQuil, a sewing kit, a converter rig that steps up the cigarette lighter to a three-prong plug, ear plugs, ear buds, flossers, mints, Band-Aids, safety pins, a foil blanket.

Scissors, tape, jeweler’s loupe (for emergency business needs).

An electric tire pump. A drill.

“What’s the drill for?” I said. He seemed surprised to be called out on it and said it was part of a tool kit, the rest of which had gone missing over the years.

Ziplocs, those twist ties that come in sheets, surgical gloves.

“Surgical gloves?” I said. “What the hell?”

“I do sound a little like a murderer,” he said sheepishly.

We agreed backup supplies should fit the lives we live, and that neither of us had hit the right combination, but it was fun to plan. These things are like talismans to defend us from harm in the world; they are meant to expand our powers. As someone who intends to walk the earth like Caine in Kung Fu, I enjoy thinking about the perfect minimum to carry in my bag, which is more fun than the need for gas in the tank.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.