The Tale of the Flat Tire

In the back of my Jeep is the blown out (and I mean BLOWN out) tire that used to be attached to the back on the driver’s side. I ran over some construction junk driving northbound on Route 28 out of Pittsburgh yesterday and ended up pulling over just before exit 14, stuck between New Kensington and Tarentum in rush hour traffic.

I probably should have pulled over sooner, like when I smelled the burning rubber and thought every car passing me had a muffler problem. I had no idea it was all coming from my Jeep until some chick in a late model gold Chevy Impala stuck her head out her window and gave a very strange look to the back of my SUV. Well, that and the fact that I had the gas pedal to the floor and was losing power. I was a little slow on the uptake.

I pulled over, cussed a little, and turned on the flashers. I was especially pissed since I was listening to the Jay Thomas Show on Sirius and laughing my ass off having a good time. Deep breath. My cell phone was fully charged, a rare thing for me, so I dug out my Triple A card and dialed the emergency number.

“I have a flat tire,” I yelled through the phone to the nice lady who answered. The traffic was loud. I assumed since I could barely hear her, she could barely hear me.

“Where are you, ma’am?” she asked. Good question. Shit. Where was I?  I was sitting in the passenger’s seat backwards, facing the oncoming traffic. I turned around and looked out the windshield and saw a big green highway sign that said “Lower Burrel Exit 14.”

“I’m between exits 13 and 14,” I said.

“You’re on a four-lane, right?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll make this a priority call and get someone out there right away.”

Priority? I liked the sound of that, but crap. Was I in danger? Did drivers on this road typically crash into motorists stranded on the shoulder? I got a little nervous. I took comfort in her sing-songy reassuring voice, hung up, and thought about how to entertain myself for the next 30-60 minutes.

Good thing I’d shopped at Trader Joe’s an hour earlier. After calling my husband and dragging him out of a boring meeting to tell him where I was, I popped the hatch, opened the cooler and dug out the salsa. In the back seat was the bag containing corn tortilla crackers. I popped the plastic on the salsa with a key and had me a little snack in the back seat as I waited for the Triple A truck.

Cars sped past. Vrooom, vrooom…..I was bored and started counting them. I got to 20 and stopped. I was having a “short-attention-span” moment. It occurred to me that I’d logged nearly 3,000 miles in the Subaru without incident on my trip to Minnesota a few weeks ago. I go to Pittsburgh in my trusty Jeep and all hell breaks loose. I guess that’s better than breaking down on I-80 through south Chicago where cars and trucks take up six lanes of traffic and travel much faster than 55 mph.

I put away the salsa and decided to make myself useful and free the spare tire. I took off the cover and unscrewed the bolt holding the tire to the inside of the hatch. It never occurred to me to change the tire on my own because I had no idea where the jack was (I’ve owned this vehicle for 10 years) and even if I did, I wasn’t interested in learning how to use it. That’s why I pay Triple A $50 a year. Let’s just say that it’s paid for itself more than once.

With the bolt off, I was free to move the tire off the large screw that held it in place. I tugged at it a bit, got mad because it didn’t move, and then pulled really hard, grunting and everything, until it loosened and the tire flew off and smacked me on the side of the head. “Smooth move, Haraldson,” I said out loud. That’s all I needed, to be passed out on the blacktop when the Triple A guy arrived. (For the record, I have a little bruise on my face and I had an annoying headache all the way home. Tires are heavy solid suckers, let me tell ya.)

I went back to the passenger’s seat and thought about the tip. I always tip the Triple A people. I carry very little cash these days and I’d used my only 5 to buy ice for the cooler. I was left with three ones and eight quarters. I was embarrassed I didn’t have more, but short of giving the guy my debit card, there was little else I could do. I tucked the money in my pocket and stared out the back window again.

“Do you need some help?” a voice asked to my left.

I jumped and my heart leapt into my throat. A middle-aged balding man in a Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt was standing next to the Jeep. A thousand cars had driven past me and I never thought anyone would stop to help me. I know I wouldn’t have.

“Are you from Triple A?” I asked him.

“No. I just saw you had a flat and thought I’d stop to see if you needed help.”

“Well, the Triple A guy should be here soon, but do you wanna see what I did to my tire?” I asked him, laughing.

He smiled and followed me to the back tire and I showed him the big old hole and the rim resting on the blacktop.

“When I run over something, I really run over it,” I said.

He laughed. I told him I appreciated him stopping and said I’d thought a cop would have wandered over by now. He said they were all sitting in their cars where the southbound lanes turned to one lane due to the construction about a mile away in the other direction. Good point, I told him. He asked if I needed anything and I said no, I’d be fine. It was nice to have the company for a few minutes.

Fifteen minutes later, a tow truck with flashing lights pulled up behind my Jeep and a nice looking fellow with a crew cut and a tattoo with the name Charlotte was emblazoned on his left arm got out and walked to my car, tire iron and jack in tow. He greeted me with a smile and I told him I was glad to see him. He just smiled and laid down on the ground, positioning the jack. He had on tight jeans, a blue t-shirt and brown work boots. I stood there in the grass looking around like an idiot, uncomfortable with doing nothing. He quietly changed the tire, took down the jack and smiled again at me. I took out my three ones and eight quarters and told him I wished it was more, but to take what I had and he said no, it wasn’t necessary. Keep it, he said.

I got in my Jeep. I was shaking a bit. He got in his tow truck and waited until traffic was clear and waved me to merge ahead of him. He took good care of me. I liked that feeling. He turned off at exit 14 and I waved to him. My stomach was in a knot for the next 20 miles and I drove 55 in a 65. I had to trust my spare and process the events of the last hour.

No worse for wear, I arrived home safe and sound an hour later.

Don’t you just love flat-tire kinds of interruptions? Sure, they can make you mad at first, but flat tires offer you time away from your planned activities. It’s a chance to think on your feet and be a little primitive, be a little out of your comfort zone. Not a bad way, Zen speaking, to spend an hour.

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