Oh, Dear: You Lookin' at Me?
The dashboard on the Pontiac cheerfully showed us it was 02.35 am and that we had 97 miles left in the gas tank.
The rather less cheery sign in the Everglades National Park told us not to deviate from our lane, beware of alligators, and that the next gas station was in a hundred miles!
We struggled through Alligator Alley with a teaspoon of petrol to spare, glowing red E cheerfully beeping on the dash.
Choices, choices: breakdown on the way to the airport and hope the recovery service gets to us before our flight leaves, or deviate from our plotted course to find a gas station open at this hour, then find our way back to the freeway before we miss the plane.
Kids sleeping on the back seats, wife nodding in the passenger seat, I made the call and hit the next off ramp; 'Little Havana' sounded cheerfully quaint, anyway.
What could possibly go wrong?
Oh dear, not a nice-looking place. The Pontiac was chugging now, starved of petrol, so there was no chance of turning back.
I turned off the air con, saving precious fuel. The humidity smacked me in the face as I wound the window down. Dressed only in shorts and a vest, I still felt like I was wearing a sleeping bag in a nice hot bath.
Bright yellow cheerful signs!
A blessed petrol station. The engine died and I coasted onto the forecourt, dodging the winos and the pregnant lady pushing a shopping trolley full of rubbish...strange time of day to be doing the recycling?
At the pump, the cheery sign told me to pay up front for gas. Several Liverpool service stations do the same of a nighttime, so nothing new there.
I fished for a ten-dollar bill, wary that the winos were eyeing up my few remaining American notes. Pregnant lady holding out a coffee cup asking for change. Oh, dear.
I woke my wife, gave her the keys and told her, any trouble, drive off and don't look back. We were definitely not in a nice place, then remembered the car was totally fuel starved and they wouldn't be going anywhere in a hurry!
The central locking clunked cheerfully, and I tried a nonchalant wave to my wife, just as a huge 4x4 pickup pulled up at the next pump, four equally huge guys unfolded themselves from the vehicle and headed into the station.
The obviously bulletproof glass that cocooned the attendant, cheerfully etched with "the tellers are always armed," did little to ease my unease.
Standing in shorts and vest, I felt a little underdressed. The four giants breathing down my neck didn't help.
A touch on my arm.
"Where you belong, man?"
Gold teeth, oh dear!
A jab at one of my tattoos.
"Said, where you belong?"
The penny dropped, Gangland. Which gang did my ink link me to?
A white English biker with Spanish tattoos in Cuban Miami gangland, another Oh Dear moment.
"Just passing through, mate, on the way to the airport." Golden smiles at my accent.
"Limey ink? Wolf's head likely get you in trouble here, boy!"
I decided that I really, really needed to buy some potato chips and chewing gum and gestured for the gold-toothed quartet to go ahead of me.
"Tu es muy amable!"
As they bent low to push their cash through the bulletproof window's glass hatch, two of their shirts lifted, revealing rather nasty-looking firearms tucked into the back of their cheerfully baggy pants.
They paid, I paid, and followed them out at a distance.
My heart sank as I saw the four pistol-packing gangstas leaning against their truck, arms folded, staring into our car.
On the back seat, face pressed against the glass, giving his best Paddington hard stare, my nine-year-old son, facing up to bullies as I'd always told him, protecting his mum and sisters, as I'd always hoped he would, and now scaring the bejesus out of his dad like I never thought he would.
That was the longest ten dollars of fuel I've ever pumped, telling my wife to drive off if things got nasty and hissing at my boy to sit the hell down.
Goldy thought he was cool, though. Two-barrelled finger salute to my boy and a nod to me.
"Badass kid, Jefe!"
"Little bugger!" I couldn't help smiling.
"Have a safe trip homes, airport's East!"
Are all Americans fitted with an internal bloody compass?
Needless to say, I didn't stop to ask.