Something went whump on the bottom of the car and a half-mile later the left rear tire was flat. It was raining and we were northbound out of Nashville, less than one hour into what was supposed to be a 12-hour trip home.
We nursed the car up the off-ramp to a truck stop. After years of working ambulance calls alongside the interstate I have no interest in preserving the state of my wheel rim only to take a short-lived ride as someone’s hood ornament and wind up a cross stuck in the grass.
The good news was, this was a family trip, and among the unfinished business of parenting, I had neglected to instruct my 18-year-old daughter in the changing of tires, so I put class directly in session, first showing her how to find the necessary information in the vehicle owner’s manual. The snag here was that car manufacturers don’t update manuals as often as they update car models — for instance there was much careful instruction about clips and latches that it turns out no longer exist and in fact had been replaced by a single industrial zipper. Sometimes, I told her, you just gotta figure stuff out by yourself.
Which was ironic, because I then crawled around on the wet asphalt looking for the spare tire under the frame and then beneath the cargo mat only to discover that our spare tire is mounted on the rear of the vehicle in full view and I was quite literally bumping into it as I wallered around. It is possible this scenario undermined my tone of authority.
After assembling the jack, I told her you should always chock the wheels before you raise the vehicle, but because we had nothing chock-worthy I settled for setting the emergency brake. At which point a trucker materialized and said, “Whoa, whoa, don’t jack that up yet!” and threw his own set of chocks under the front tire, simultaneously demonstrating to my daughter that I knew what I was talking about while making me feel dumb I hadn’t done it.
The trucker hung around to provide play-by-play until I had the tire swapped out, but he was a good-natured, gregarious fellow, and we enjoyed his company, and his chocks. As we pulled out of the lot headed for the nearest tire repair station, I jotted down his truck number and this week a thank-you will be enroute.
The tire repair station was well off the interstate and quite literally a hole-in-the-wall joint where only half the vehicle would fit inside and out of the rain, but they did the plug-and-patch in a trice, and charged $5 cash. As we pointed the car north to resume our trip, I subjected the family to an extemporaneous lecture on the subject of comparative value, specifically what $5 will get you at the coffee shop versus a tire repair that gets you out of the rain, back on the road, and will sustain speeds upward of 73 mph all day long and into the night, when you arrive home to your own bed in Wisconsin at 1 a.m., roughly three hours late but grateful in the knowledge that all in all, things really rolled your way.