Archive for Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Samaritan’s good deed eases flat-tire dilemma

June 25, 2008

Not many things will so impress upon you the notion of your own mortality as changing a tire on a busy interstate highway.

The car teeters on the flimsy jack that you've fished out of some obscure corner in the trunk, shuddering every time a big truck passes. There are a lot of trucks, so this happens fairly often, usually when some part of your anatomy (like your head, for example) is underneath the car.

Automobile owner's manuals always seem to assume that, when you blow a tire, you're going to have some nice level spot on which to park the car to jack it up. Now there's a laugh. Not a chance. Consider yourself lucky if all four wheels are on pavement and if it isn't raining too hard.

And speaking of owner's manuals, if you happen to drive a car made in the Far East you may have to contend with, shall we say, unusual turns of phrase. Usually it's not too bad, and sometimes it can even be funny. The whole enterprise can go off the rails, however, when they're trying to describe an action that you're supposed to take say, to release the spare tire, which is fastened to the underside of the car with a steel cable that you must loosen by inserting a steel rod through a hole above the bumper and poking around in there until you engage a slot that you obviously cannot see.

I think they assume we will have these flat tires in supermarket parking lots and will be able to calmly guide the vehicle into a parking space once the tire blows. It's a little different when it occurs near the junction of two intersecting highways. The choice in that situation is Hobson's you take whatever's available and try to get as far off the road a possible.

The jacks, as it happens, seem to be designed to raise the vehicle about a quarter-inch more than will be required to mount the spare that is, if you find a patch of level ground, like a parking lot, to do this. If you're off on the shoulder, it's a different story.

If by this time you're getting the idea that these musings are something other than academic observations that is, that they're based on actual, maybe even recent, experience well you're right.

Over the weekend just past we traveled to Omaha, Neb., for a wedding. The ceremony was in a charming place called the Willow Creek Glass Chapel, a small wedding chapel with impressive views of the surrounding prairie about 30 miles east of Omaha near Shelby, Iowa.

We were on our way from the chapel to the reception, which was in a hotel in Omaha, when the tire blew.

Despite all the difficulties, we did get the tire changed and got on our way. I'm not sure we would have made it, though, without the help of a roadside Samaritan who stopped on her way back to the city from a weekend at the lake. This young woman offered not only moral support, which was appreciated, but two articles that helped greatly in the process a beach towel that I was able to place on the ground to avoid completely ruining my suit and a second jack that we had to use to raise the car a little higher so that we could mount the spare, as mentioned a few paragraphs previously. I don't think we could have done it without her, and am forever grateful.

In the end, we got away with few scrapes other than a nick on my finger that I got from handling the ruined tire. It just about filled up the time between the end of the ceremony and the start of the reception. Gave us something to do, I guess you could say.

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