Maybe I hear the “thwap thwap thwap” from loose concrete slabs under my vehicle. Or maybe it feels like my car is pulling to one side. Or for some reason the front left corner of the car seems as if it is riding lower than the rest of the car. Whatever it is that convinces me that I have a flat tire, I pull over to the nearest parking lot or even on the side of the Interstate if I worry the next exit is too far away. I jump out of my car and check each tire, sure that one of the rims will be twice as close to the ground as it should with the black rubber slumped against the pavement. But it’s not. I get back in my car and forget about it for a time or, if I feel particularly unnerved for some reason (maybe I’m alone and far from home), I’ll pull into a gas station and add a little more air to my tires. (But not too much. I was with a girlfriend once when she was pumping air into her bike’s tire and she overdid it, exploding the tire with a bang that reverberated through the whole town and nearly popped my eardrums and stopped my heart.)
My fear of flat tires didn’t begin until after I had my first flat tire. I was on the highway, not far from town, but suddenly the car made that telltale “whump whump whump” sound and was most definitely lower on one side. I pulled off the road immediately because I’d seen what can happen to cars that try to push it. A broken axle was not worth trying to make it to the closest business.
I was a freshman in college at the time and my boyfriend was in the car with me. We were coming home from a date, the details of which I can no longer recall. This was in the days before cell phones (yes, I’m that old), so we had no choice but to walk to the closest farm house.
After locking the doors to the car I’d borrowed from my parents, we walked a few yards to the driveway of a little brick ranch that looked exactly like the little brick ranch just next door to it. Fields stretched all around the houses, but we were not alone, as hundreds of cars kept screaming by us on the busy highway.
We walked past a sign in the yard protesting highway’s upcoming expansion into four lanes and rang the doorbell. After a brief wait, an old man answered the door. We explained the situation and he let us inside to use his phone. I called my dad and he said he would be right out to help us. Then we stood in the middle of the nice man’s living room and made small talk while we waited. The man lived there alone, but one of his relatives lived in the matching house next door. We told him who we were and who our older relatives were, and he said he knew my grandma. Everyone in town knows my grandma. She has lived there since she was a young girl and has always been a social butterfly. At the time of the flat she was still pretty active, checking in on her friends and dutifully delivering meals on wheels in town.
The only thing I remember about the inside of the man’s house is that there were two large, oval-framed pictures on the wall of his living room: one of Jesus and one of Mary. I told my boyfriend later that when I saw them I immediately relaxed, thinking that at least this stranger wasn’t going to kill us. My boyfriend told me he had the exact opposite thought.
We listened to the old man rant a while about the busy highway and his opposition to the four lanes. (Why he didn’t want more lanes to make the busy highway safer he was never able to express clearly. Something about how most of those people out there weren’t from town anyway, just passing through. I guess he thought they’d eventually go away? Also, I’m glad I was town folk.) Soon my father pulled up and helped us put the spare tire on and we thanked him and were off. Overall not that traumatic an experience, but certainly not a very comfortable one either.
The only other distinct memory I have of having a flat tire was in Orlando with my husband. We were still relatively newlyweds, and we were exploring the amusement parks together for the first time. We had just taken advantage of the profusion of restaurants available in this tourist mecca by eating at the Olive Garden, and then we left to go back to our hotel and get some sleep so we could get an early start at Epcot the next morning. I was driving (again — is that a sign that I’m a bit of a control freak or that the person with me, who was the same in both stories, is a bit of a freeloader?) when I felt the distinctive lunge of the car to one side. The roads in Orlando were jam packed and all I could do was look around for the nearest side road so I could pull over. I found an exit off the main road, not really paying attention to what it was, and pulled over to the curb. Unfortunately it was a two lane road with no cushion on the sides, so we were basically blocking a lane. To make it worse, it was one of the entrances to all the Disney hotel properties. There was no hotel or driveway within sight, however, and my husband wouldn’t let me move the car at all for fear that we would do more damage, so we just got out of the car and I stood in the grass and tried to motion for people to go around us while he ran back to the nearest phone to call AAA. We got going relatively quickly and only spent part of our next morning at the local Walmart tire center instead of Epcot center.
There probably isn’t an ideal situation in which to get a flat tire, but the two that I have experienced have made me a bit jumpy on the whole subject. If any of you are in the market for a gift for me, one of those cans of air that can temporarily mend your flat tire until you get to the nearest gas station would be nice. And while you’re at it, I’d also like one of those seatbelt cutter/window hammer combination tools for escaping my car when it goes off a bridge. Come to think of it, maybe I should go back to biking.
Does my tire look flat to you? Maybe just a little?