Growing up, there are times when we feel the urge to test the rules set before us. It does not matter whether it is a parent, teacher, or authority setting standards to adhere by. When we are told do to something, we instinctively want to do the opposite of what we are told. It is part of human nature. Rules and restrictions are things that our primitive instincts tell us to bend and break. For the most part, we are able to control these urges. We know that there are consequences involved with breaking rules. But every once in a while, we decide to test our luck. We think that we can get away without abiding by what we have been taught. First we must muster up some courage and confidence, and then when the time is right, we cross the line between what is “right” and what is “wrong”. There is a certain excitement or euphoria felt when we do something we are not supposed to do. This thrill of breaking rules overcomes us and we feel invincible. There is nothing that can stop us. With careful planning, it is possible to get away with breaking rules unscathed, but then there are times when we are caught red handed. There are not many feelings worse than when we are found out. We go straight from an extreme high to a complete low. The spotlight shines on us and there is nothing we can do to escape punishment. Though we know how bad it feels to be caught doing wrong, we keep testing limits because of the excitement we get. It is a very thin line we walk, but we keep walking on that thin line. I like the poem “Running on Empty” by Robert Phillips because it does such a good job at portraying this risk taking attitude.
In the poem, a teenager wants to take his father’s car out for a joyride. The father decides to let him borrow the car, but the teenager is to make sure the car’s gas tank is always half full. The son agrees, but when the fuel gauge reaches below half full, he keeps driving. He is overcome with an excitement of defiance against his father. He feels an adrenaline rush from going against what he is told. The car is still running, so he feels like he could drive forever. He and the car are invincible, nothing can stop them. The teenager’s high is only momentary as the car suddenly runs out of gas and he is stranded in the middle of nowhere at night time. He is in a state of a shock that the car actually stopped. He had run on empty for so long and his father seemed wrong about needing to keep the gas tank half full. In the morning he is able to refill the car and go home.
The poem does an excellent job of relaying the emotion felt by the teenager. Lines 4 though 16 are written as one long sentence describing the teenager driving. The sentence builds up to the moment when he runs out of gas. This creates an image to the reader of the car speeding down the highway, going and going until it abruptly stops. There is also repetition of some words in this sentence, which portrays the excitement and intensity felt by the teenager. Line 5, “The fuel gauge dipping, dipping…”, and line 9, “…mile after mile, faster and faster…”, show the intensity felt by the teenager. The repetition almost seems like his heartbeat rising. In lines 15-16, “…the wind screaming past like the Furies,” a simile is used. This also gives the reader an idea of how fast and exhilarating the experience of driving the car must have been. Lines 17-22 are short sentences, which contrast the long sentence describing the driving. Phillips does this in order to portray the shock felt by the teenager.
When I read this poem, I can almost feel the teenager’s exhilaration of breaking his father’s advice. I have had times in my life similar to that of the teenager in the poem where I did not listen to my parents and regretted not listening to them in the end. I have felt his same thrill of defiance, but then also his same feeling of shock when caught in the act of rebellion. The one long sentence with repetition of words really makes me feel like I am in that car with my heart racing. I can also feel the teenager’s shock and disbelief when the car runs out of gas. I can relate to this poem all too well, and that is why I like it so much.