Sarah Goes No Places – the kindness found in flat tires

On the way to a performance last night I drove past the scene of a very recent accident less than a mile from my office. Traffic was moving slowly as drivers gawked, police freshly arrived. I moved into the left lane to give them space and dodge the debris strewn across the road.

With the next slow revolution of my tires I heard a click and a dragging sound – like perhaps something had caught onto my undercarriage and was being pulled along with me. My tire pressure light wasn’t on so I figured my tires were fine and I’d just remove the debris after I turned onto the next side street where there was a place I could pull off.

The sound turned into a cyclical slapping sound. I turned off the radio, rolled down the window, and could hear the air hissing forcefully out of my left rear tire every time I heard the click. I turned onto the road and pulled into the large empty driveway of a landscaping company. I had one hour to get 45 minutes east to my performance and weighed my options. With the Jeep in park I got out and my suspicions were confirmed: there was a 4″ bolt straight through the middle of my tire.

There was no patching that up.

I called my coworkers since I’d left early for the gig.

“Any of you boys know how to change a tire?” It’s not that I didn’t KNOW how to change a tire, it’s that, despite my gym-going, I’m still not as strong as I’d like to be, and I know tires are usually air-blasted on.

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“Hey Camp, you know how to change a tire?” John called to our other coworker. “Nah, none of us have really changed a tire,” he came back to me. “Do you have roadside assistance? Give them a call.”

Thanks to smartphones I pulled up my insurance app and they were able to use my GPS location to find me and send roadside assistance. My estimated wait time was an hour…meaning I’d be incredibly late to my performance.

I called Joe, the owner of the shop. I’ve been performing there for 3.5 years and haven’t canceled a single show. I didn’t want this to be the time.

“You’re not going to believe this, but I have a flat tire, and it’s going to be about an hour before roadside assistance gets here.”

“Okay, do what you can, we’ll figure it out. Get there when you can.” I heard his daughters calling to him in the background and remembered he wasn’t working that night and was probably in the middle of a family event. Oops.

On the walk out to my car I’d passed my friend Clay’s car in the parking lot. You know the feeling you get when you see something you always see, but think about it it in a different way, and shortly afterward you realize it was your gut trying to tell you something? Earlier in the week I’d marveled at how I’d gotten 50k miles out of my tires, and last night, walking by Clay’s car, knowing he was leaving it for the weekend, I thought to myself, “I wonder if he left a spare key here.”

I called him but didn’t get an answer, so I sent a text joking that I wished he had a spare key because I could use a car with tires on it.

To my surprise, he texted back immediately that a spare was on his desk if I could get into the office. I decided to get my spare tire on, then go get his car to get to the gig 30 miles away instead of driving on the donut. Decision made, I opened the back hatch, tuned my guitar, and started singing to myself to pass the time.

I was so involved in a new strum pattern I was working on I didn’t hear the truck door shut.

“This is no place for a gig.” Bob, another coworker who’s kind of a fatherly figure but imposing at about 6’3″ stood looking at me, curled up in the back of the Jeep.

“Oh, um….I’m waiting for roadside assistance. I’m late for a gig.” Bob had saved my ass once last summer the first time I rode my bike to work. I’d adjusted the seat recently but hadn’t tightened it properly and he saw it in the hallway, then disappeared wordlessly. He’d reappeared with a wrench and tightened the seat, and lectured me on the importance of having my own bike tools with the bike for such a long commute (oops).

“You got a spare? And tools?”

“I’m sitting on them.” I hopped out, put my bags and guitar down on the dusty ground, and lifted up the plastic flooring that covered the spare.

He got the wrench and went to town on the bolts (“Why do they make these damn things so goddamn tight”) and told me I could cancel roadside assistance while I stood helplessly by.

“Where do I need to put this jack?”

“I’ll check the manual.” Thanks to my grandfather, I always kept the manual handy. I flipped over to the “emergencies” section where it showed a diagram for the jack and showed it to Bob. He cranked the car up and I got a phone call from roadside, confirming they didn’t need to come out.

“Where do you get your tires?”

“I get all my work done at the transmission shop…”

“No, you need to go to All Weather Tires on Pulaski. Do you know them? By the train station.” Between tightening bolts he gave me directions and I vaguely recalled a massive, gray, windowless building I’d passed countless times. Yes, he told me, that one.

“Clay said I can take his car for the gig tonight though so I’m okay.”

“Don’t drag your feet getting the new one. I know they’re open tomorrow but not Sunday. Go tomorrow morning.” I picked up the flat tire and tucked it under the plastic in the back while he tightened the last bolt. “I would have done that for you.”

“But I go to the gym!” I protested.

“Right, right…” he mumbled, trailing off. We’re both racing in an upcoming triathlon, but I think his dad instincts kick in with me sometimes. He has a young daughter who is probably not much smaller than I am, although I’m about 20 years her senior. “Well you’re all set now. Go to your gig and make your money.” He strode off toward his truck without so much as a handshake nor a hug, and barely giving me time to thank him for bailing me out.

I carefully drove back to the office, flew into Clay’s office and found his key, and ran back out to the parking lot, where I transferred all of my gig gear over to his car. Luckily I’d driven it before when we’d gone to lunch, so it wouldn’t be a totally new vehicle, and that took some stress out. I hoped my car wouldn’t be locked in by the time I returned the following day and started the long drive to my gig.

The good thing about the delay was there was no longer any commuter traffic and I arrived less than an hour late. The parking lot was full but a couple walking toward their vehicle pointed at me, then used their key fob to show me which car was theirs, and had me follow them over to take their spot. I managed to start my performance just an hour late, and I played for an extra half hour, taking no breaks. I apologized for being late and mentioned tips would all go toward my new tire.

This morning I went to get my car, and it was not locked in. I got in and drove to the tire shop where an attractive, athletic young man met me, took one look at the tire, asked me to wait, and went to get a price. I know this Jeep takes special tires so I was ready for some damage. He came back, quoted me a price on the most reasonable of the three he had that would fit, and said to drive into the first bay.

“Right now?”

“Yes, right now. Follow me.” I put it in park when he signaled me to stop and I wasn’t even out of the car before they’d jacked the back end up. He recommended two tires so they matched. I got out and waited in the office, surrounded by older men, sitting, standing, wearing chapeaus, in gym clothes, speaking English or Spanish.

The kind lady at the desk answered phone call after phone call without taking a breath and lined all the men and me up to ensure orderly service. She ran my card between phone calls (I don’t know how) and thanked me for my business, pointing me toward a large box in the corner. “Take a shirt or a hat. See you next time.” The men next to the box reached large hands in, looking for a shirt that would fit me, but they only had large and extra-large.

“Wash it a lot.” A stout, balding man with sparkling blue eyes grinned at me.

“Don’t you want a hat too?” An older black gentleman sporting one himself asked.

“I don’t much wear hats. I have a lot of hair, it gets in the way…” they laughed and handed me a large t-shirt, telling me to wear it for a nightshirt.

“You’re all set!” One of the men outside by my car called to me. The time it just took me to write this, and the time it took for you to read it, is actually how much time I spent there. I have never been in and out of any type of car-repair facility so quickly and efficiently. He guided me out and back to avoid a car that had inconveniently parked across the entrance, and I was on my way, two brand-new tires on, bank account sufficiently lowered.

I messaged Clay again to thank him for letting me borrow the car, and let him know it would be waiting for him Monday morning.  Bob’s help and recommendation had saved me so much time and energy. I see the most kindness in people anytime I have flat tires – remember the Camaro in Arizona? 

I’m now finally relaxing in my hammock in my backyard for the first afternoon this spring, and catching up on the writing I haven’t been writing while I’ve been busy doing.

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