I knelt on the hot tar in my skirt, head down, hair in my eyes, sweating and swearing, while I squinted under my glasses at the tiny cartoon on the “help” sticker on the metal diamond that was supposed to show how to use the metal loopy thing that might be a crank. I could do this. I didn’t want to wait the hour for AAA to send the help I paid for.*
Ten minutes earlier I’d crossed railroad tracks and a bridge over the river and wondered why I could hear the water whoosh so loudly. Turned out my tire was the whoosher.
I finally got the crank spinning pretty well (actually it was awkward and my left elbow made that creaking sound it makes when I knead bread dough) and the car was just rising up off the ground when a rattling pick-up truck slowed down. The tatooed and sunburned arm of the driver asked if I needed any help, ma’am.
Seriously, I did not look anything like a woman wanting to be called ma’am. There’s a special sarcastic twang to the m-word when it’s uttered slowly, in two full syllables to a sweating woman on her knees in a parking lot.
“No. I’m good. AAA is on the way.”
He drove away. Free. On four whole tires. He hadn’t actually stopped all the way.
A minute later a gray-haired man squatted beside me. “You got that?”
“Yes. Thanks.” I kept cranking.
“You know how to get those locks off the bolts?”
Crap in a hat. The bolts are locked? I stayed calm. I did not cry. I’d already done the math and knew I couldn’t get home tonight. Homesickness be damned, I had a tire to change and bolts to somehow unlock.
I looked up at the nice man and said, “I’ll get the book from the glovebox.” His smirk matched my doubt that the translated-from-Japanese/German guidebook would help. My knees cracked when I stood to get it.
I’m too old for so many things, but somehow I have not outgrown my stubborn. She rides on my shoulder and hisses in my ear, “Do it yourself, Laura.”
When I got back with the book, the nice man was cranking the jack up higher. I knelt back on the black tar and he read over my shoulder and nodded. We looked through the tools for the promised lock wrench. Nope.
I went to the trunk to search and when I came back, he said, “Look, they just pop off.” Wednesday Thursday Friday? Why are they called locked?
Then he uncranked two bolts and got stuck on the rest. He was older than I, which equates to way too old for this. He was also bleeding a little from a cut on his hand, caused by my tire, I guess. Nice people will bleed for me. But, despite the river of water dripping from his head, he couldn’t get the bolts off.
Stubborn-jerk-on-my-shoulder cheered, “Do it, Laura, doooooo it!”
So, based on the hundred stuck pickle jars opened by my tiny hands in the last half-century, I placed the wrench-thing on the bolt, parallel to the planet, and stood on it in my sandals. Two little hops–up, down, up, down–and the bolt let go and unwound. Ha! Gravity’s always on my side.
To make a long story short (as Gram C used to say to make her son-in-law roll his eyes), the tire got changed to the donut spare, I drove away from home, slowly, not crying, with angry drivers riding my bumper and my arm waving them by.
A day of clarity made me realize how lucky I was that the damn tire blew when I was driving 20 mph in a sleepy Southern town full of folks who are nice to grumpy women, instead of five minutes earlier when I was stock-car racing and playing chicken with Mack truck drivers on the freeway.
Thanks for your help, Joe.
*I hadn’t been quite as pleasant as I should’ve been to the operator lady and doubted anybody would show up. I think when she asked what year the car was, I said something like, “I’m in the trunk looking for a spare tire. The year of the car is on a little piece of paper in the glove box. Is it more important that you know the year than knowing whether I have a spare?” She was quiet for a beat before she said something nice back to me. Yeah.