Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hope & 'Change'

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Friday, November 11, 2011, 5:40pm...
I leave work as I normally do, 30+ minutes after everyone else has left the building.  Is it because I'm more dedicated than everyone else I work with?  No.  It's just my normal wind-down to the week, spending a few minutes to see if any one's read what I've posted here, check my e-mail one last time, shut down the laptop, and lastly, meander out to the parking lot wondering where the preceding week went.

I arrive to find that the parking lot the same as always. The split and crumbling black top provides a welcome refuge to hundreds of dark puddles.  They lie well-concealed in the anemic haze thrown down by those yellowish street lights.  Halogen lights?  No, those lights are at least 'white'.  These lights are the color of burning straw and cast off about the same amount of light as eleven matches lit simultaneously while held 20 feet in the air.  I find the car, scratch the paint trying to find the hidden spot which houses the keyslot, open the door, and voila' I'm 'mobile' once again... 

Next stop?  WalMart!  I can be there by 5:50, get my groceries by 6:10, swipe the debit card, jump back onto 17W and be home by 6:30 - sweet, there's nothing like having a plan.  A guy told me once, "If you fail to plan - you plan to fail."  So me?  Yes, Siree Bob, I ALWAYS have a plan.    

Then?  What was it 6:15?  Yeah, I was out of WalMart walking to the car when my cell phone gave that little buzz that lets me know that I have a call.  The call, it turns out is from my wife.  She's stopped in the parking lot at Lowe's reporting unnatural noises from the rear of the car.  "Could it be a flat tire?" she asks. 

"I don't know, you're in the car, I'm walking out of WalMart...  Perhaps if we (a.k.a.:  'you') actually 'looked' at a tire, we'd know for sure?", the words came out by their own volition.  I wanted to take them back, but, there they were, unleashed, and through the phone as the wind picked up and the rain began to fall.  "Okay, I'll be there in ten minutes."

I arrive ten minutes later to find my wife sitting in the car and the passenger-side rear tire a bit 'shorter' than the driver's side twin.  Since they used to be identical twins (neither being pancake-ish on the bottom) I can only assume that something 'bad' has happened to Mr. Cooper's offspring.  I do what every guy does at 6:30 on a Friday night while looking at something he doesn't want to do while wearing a suit:  I stalled.  "Yeah, it looks a little bit 'low' compared to the other tire," I called to my wife as she sat in the car.  "There's a gas station across the street, let's go see if we can pump this bad boy up and get it home so I don't have to change the tire (in my suit) in the rain."

"Okay, but why don't you drive the car over there for me?" my wife asked.

"Just out of curiousity, how long was the tire making noise before you got here?" I asked.

"A while, but I didn't want to stop on I-81, it's dark, it's starting to rain, and everyone drives about 75MPH.  I didn't want you to have to change the tire there - it'd be dangerous." she said.

She was right, of course.  Changing a tire on the side of I-81 in the rain, in the dark, on a Friday night is like daring God to 'take you out' (no, I'm not talking about 'to dinner', I'm talking about 'for eternity', i.e.: angels, harps, the whole nine yards).  "Okay, hop out, I'll take our friend here across the street and see if we can pump some air into him."

The car, once rolling, made a 'Squish, squish, thump' noise as it limped it through the intersection and into the Hess Station parking lot.  As I rolled tentatively up to the air pump, I feared that I had lost a friend - this tire had seen its last mile.  I opened the door into the wind-driven rain and found that at this particular gas station 'Air' was not free.  I walked into the store, handed the lady a $1 and received four shiny quarters which I dutifully fed into the machine for the next three minutes of air-pumping excitement.  The tire did not go up.  It sat there, rim low to the ground, taunting me.  "Okay, you're outta there..." I said as I hung up the air hose.

Here's the thing about tires, jacks, and spares:  You should really check all these 'piece parts' out before you need to use them.  Oh, everything was there, but in a dark parking lot (did I mention it was raining?) staring at the overall 'flatness' of the tire, makes you wish you had done a dry run on this BEFORE the tire actually went flat.  I suppose that I could have referred to the Owner's Manual in the glove box, but, hey, I'm a man - I never read directions on Christmas Eve, so I'm not going to start now...  Especially with my wife watching.

I found a 'likely looking' spot for the jack under the frame, I work to loosen the lug nuts on the tire prior to lifting the tire off the ground as something in my right arm 'popped' a little as I curse quietly to myself and the pneumatically-tightened lug nuts resist my best efforts to remove them and then...  All five lug nuts are loosened and ready for removal!  I jack the car up high enough to put air between the tire and the ground, spin the tire, realize that, of course, the tire needs to be higher off the ground than it is, since the spare is NOT flat, and seconds later...

All five lug nuts are off the tire.  My broken tire hangs lifelessly a full four inches above the black top, I grab the tire to pull the tire away from the brake housing and then...

And then...

And then...

The unthinkable.

Nothing happens.

The rim, the tire, is magically 'stuck' on the studs somehow and is physically unwilling to LEAVE the car.  Okay, I've change a LOT of tires in my life, but this is a new concept to me.  I check to make sure there's not a locking 'thing-a-ma-bob' securing the rim to the car and there isn't. 

I then do the thing I did not want to do:  I call the guys who normally take care of my car hoping that someone is there and...

At 7:20pm on a Friday night someone is.  

"Kick it!" Scott tells me over the phone.

"Kick what?" I ask, thinking I didn't hear him properly.

"Turn around, and kick that tire as hard as you can, it'll come off.  Sometimes they corrode and 'stick'.  If you can't get it off, call my cell phone and I'll stop by on the way home and help you with it.  I'm leaving here in about fifteen minutes and I'll be driving right by there."

"No, that's okay, I'll do it, I'm a MAN, I'll kick that tire myself!  Thanks Scott..." I said.

I turn around and begin kicking at my 'stuck' wheel.  

NOTE TO SELF:  If I must kick a tire in the future, keep a pair of waffle-stomper boots in the car.  The black wing-tips don't work so well.

In the rain, in the wind, in the suit, the mostly insane man continues to attack the stuck tire with his foot...

Meanwhile:   A green Subaru Outback pulls up with two guys in it.  The first man gets out and asks the question any normal person would ask, "What did that tire ever do to you?"

"Oh, it's stuck, it won't come off the car.  It's possessed by demons." I say as my right foot pistons repeatedly into the tire.

"Oh yeah, I've had that happen before.  Let me help you.  I've got these big ol' boots on, I can get it off for you - I've done it before." he says as he walks up to where I'm standing. 

"So you're a professional tire-kicker?"

"Yes sir, I am." he responds.

"Okay, if it's not too much trouble...  Apparently, I'm not so good at this."  I say.

"No problem, I'll have it off for you PDQ." he says. 

The nice man from the Subaru leans back and delivers a kick to this tire that would have sent a Space Shuttle to the moon.  The tire and rim remain stubbornly in place (I believe I heard it 'chuckle' at him but this is probably just my imagination).

"Oh, so that's how it's going to be, huh?" says the nice man who has made kicking my car's tire his personal vision quest.

He turns around and kicks the top of the rim 'backward' and the rim tilts, falls, then bounces lifelessly to the ground.

"Man, that thing was s-t-u-c-k on there!" he says as he reaches for the spare.

"No, I've got it, you guys go enjoy your Friday night.  I'm good."  I say as he ignores me.

"Nah, listen, I'm here, you're wearing a suit and all, and I'm already filthy from my job, I'll finish this up for you." He says this as I figure out that he's already gotten three of the lug nuts back on the tire. 

"No, really, it's okay, I can do it..."  I say as he spins the final two lug nuts onto the studs and begins to lower the car with a fluidity which is unnerving. 

"Nothing to do, it's all done...  Just put the jack and stuff back in the trunk and you're all set to go."  he says.  

I reach into my back pocket, pull my wallet out and offer him a $20 bill.  "Go get a pizza or something, thanks for your help."

"No, don't worry about it, I'm just glad that we were here to help you.  That tire was really stuck..." he said this as he opened the door to get back into his car.

"I really wish you'd take this..."  I said, once again holding out the bill to him.

"You keep that for your tire, you're going to need a new one from the looks of it." he said.  

"Thanks a lot guys, I really appreciate the help!" I call out as they drive away.

Just a wave through the glass is all I see as they cross the parking lot and head out back on their way

Friday, November 11, 2011, 7:50pm...

I am happy.  Not happy about the tire, but you know, the tire is just a 'thing'.  Things don't matter that much - they can always be replaced.

I'm happy because my wife is okay, I'm okay, and I was lucky enough to get smacked between the eyes with a stark reminder of how decent almost all people are.  Writing about stuff which 'makes news' sometimes blots out the things which should get coverage in our lives. 

Strangers coming to my, and my wife's, aid in changing a tire?  No, it's not newsworthy for CBS, NBC, ABC, or FOX, but, honestly, it was the best news I got all week. 

Because in the end, it's not about the things you 'have' - it's about what you leave behind when you cross the curb and head down the road to your next destination.  

Thanks to the two nameless guys who taught me that 'Hope' does in fact, come from 'Change'. 

Sometimes, even when it comes from the simple changing of a stubborn tire...

Next time you have the chance to make a difference for someone?  Put your waffle-stompers on and get busy.  I've got mine in the trunk of my car right now.

Have a nice day folks...

Let's leave this place better than we found it.
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