Today my front right tire blew out. We’re not talking puncture wound here. No nails to be found. I mean, I heard it pop. Then felt the slight bounce, followed by pained screeching and the wheel seeming to command itself to the right shoulder of the road. I found myself on the uphill side of someone’s gravel driveway on the right hand side of CraftSchool Road.
Immediately, I recognized that conditions couldn’t have been better. I even smiled. Sunny and sixty-five degrees. Safely off the road in an area that I know well. I locked the car and turned to walk to the nearest gas station, about half a mile down the road back to the main highway. (This was truly a blessing, seeing as how you can easily drive ten miles without a gas station around here.) But as I turned to cross the road, a woman about my age pulled into the driveway.
“Can I help you with something?” she said sweetly. She was Southern, casually dress, with soft brown eyes and matching hair. There was not an ounce a skepticism in her tone; I could tell she was willing to help.
“I’ve got a flat. Do you know if the BP down the road has a payphone?” I asked.
“Oh get on in,” She said and unlocked her door. “I live here, I”ll just take you up to use my phone.”
She inched past my car, which almost blocked her driveway, then drove up the gravel road for a half-mile or so, winding around to a lovely modern home atop the hill. I called my boss first, explaining I’d be late.
Then I called dad.
Dad. It wasn’t like I was about to ask him to drive 17 miles to come change a flat for me. But still, there was something about the necessity of this call. It’s me. I’m ok, but. I’m here, and. Dads just have to know these things, in real time if at all possible. And so I told him, then went back down the driveway determined to change the flat myself.
I’ve changed a flat tire once before, but that was in a shop with a level floor and all the best tools readily accessible. It was also just for fun and practice. Now the pressure was on, the ssun was getting hotter, and I was later by the minute for my coffeehouse shift. Not to mention the fact that the right front tire was on the uphill side of an awkward driveway, just near the upslope of a hill.
I could tell you that there was not an ounce of doubt in my mind and boyd when I began my work with the jack. I could tell you I did not break a sweat. I could tell you I didn’t occasionally digress and hope someone would pull over and offer to do the job for me. But all of that would not be true.
What is true is that I knew I had to prove that I could do this, for some reason, and so I plunged onto the ground willingly, caring not for my work clothes, eager to come out on the other side of things successfully. I must have reset the jack at least three times to be sure. Again, the hillside did not make it easy. Succeeding with this, I popped the hubcap and got to work on what I knew would be the hardest part – removing the lug nuts.
By now I was sweating and stripped to my undershirt – a tight shelf bra tank I had not planned on baring to the world. I jostled with the lug nuts for quite some time, on more than on occasion balancing all my weight onto the handle and heaving like a rugby player as I bore down on the metal. After five minutes, one loosened. Four more to go.
I took fifteen minutes to get the next three off, but by then I had developed a rhythm. I kept one eye on the edge of the jack beneath the car, careful that it wasn’t slopping. I kept my toes clear of the body of the car in case it did go down. And I double-checked the parking break to make sure the car couldn’t roll even if it wanted to. Again, the hillside.
Just when I could taste victory, the fifth lug nut refused to give. I worked so hard at it, in fact, that I began to strip the metal. I heaved and hawed and tried to “get all Buddhist about it” and then I tried to “get all Incredible Hulk about it” but nothing seemed to work. Just as I was bouncing up and down in a ferocious last attempt, my tank top slipping ominously lower down my chest, a truck pulled to the side of the road.
Miller’s Painting and Company. Two men stepped out and I popped my head up from my work, inadvertently exposing inches of cleavage and my disheveled breasts.
I reached to adjust myself, when the first man said: “Can I help you?” Not with that, I thought to myself. Then, Oh.
“Yes, please. Yeah, thanks. It’s the last lug nut, that’s all. “ I tried to sound like a pro. “I can’t seem to get it. Can one of y’all give it a yank?”
Then younger man stepped forward, finishing the job with one jerk-umph motion. Quickly, I finished lossened the lug not and yanked the tire off with as much officiality as I could muster. I was going to do this, I had to do it, there was suddenly something to prove. I carried the tire, lifting it high off the ground and slapping it into the trunk with authority. Then I rolled the full-sized spare over to the front right wheel with all the swiftness I had seen the Les Schwab boys do back in Portland.
The men stood and watched, and it hit me that I knew they would finish the job for me if I wanted. All I had to do was say the word. Our eyes met in silence. Another truck drove by, slowed, then moved on ahead. The painters seemed so patient, so kind, so ready to help on a moment’s notice. And I felt so grateful – but – I had to turn the other way.
Squatting down to the ground and hoisting the spare tire up to the wheel, I spoke again. “Thanks a bunch, guys, really. That was great timing. I’ll just finish this up here, no problem.”
They remained at my side, and I began sweating a little under the imagined pressure. Who was I proving something too, anyway? Myself, I guess. Which meant their presence shouldn’t have mattered either way but still, they represented temptation. Or something bigger, perhaps. Maybe they represented, in the kindest way possible, that regime of women or that time and place for women when the work I was doing wasn’t proper for a woman in the first place.
“Really,” I said, lifting the tire again, struggling to get it lined up properly. “I’ve got it from here. Thanks so much.” This time I turned to make eye contact, smiled my big assured smile, and offered the Southern chin nod I’ve been working on for the last four years.
It was the last move that seemed to do the trick and they both looked at each other, smiled, and headed on their way. I like to think they were impressed with my persistence but oh ego, hold on a bit – without them I don’t know that I could have finished the job