Saturday, June 14, 2008

Friday the 13th...

...struck with a big fat 'ol vengeance. The funny part was, I didn't even recall that until my father texted me in response to my ordeal earlier in the day. A light bulb went on and I kind of stared at my cell for a few moments whilst fighting off a "Duh" moment because...I'm really not superstitious in the least.
But anyway, as you can see, Friday the 13th, without explanation, completely wtfpwned my car's tire. There was no warning, it simply started to hum VERY loudly, and within a matter of a few seconds I heard the sound of something thrashing inside my back wheel well.
I was on I-76 at the time. For those of you in PA, you know that this means that there pretty much is no where to pull off until you get to an emergency pull off, about every half mile or so. The rest is blocked by cement barriers turning everything in to a cattle chute.
So I thumped along, pulled off after about a minute, and promptly called AAA. No problem said the woman on the other end, who was obviously used to reading from a script, we will get them out there sometime between right that second...and 60 minutes from that second.
So I stood there for a bit. And got a call from people trying to find me. I clarified my location to them. They said great, no problem. They would be there in ten minutes.
They were not there in ten minutes.
In the mean time a gentleman in a white car pulled over and jumped out with a look of great concern to check on me. I assured him I'd called AAA, thanked him for his concern, and wished him a good weekend. He pulled back out and was on his way.
I got another call, this time from the dispatch truck. They couldn't find me. He kept arguing with me that if I was between 333 and 326 I was going away from the city. I said that's not possible, I got on near the Jersey border and 326 dropped me off on the Schuylkill Expressway. He argued some more, then asked if I really knew where I was. I re-explained. He said great, he would be there in 5 minutes.
He was not there in 5 minutes.
At this point another gentleman of about the same age pulled over in another white car (different make and model) and jumped out to check on me. I thanked him for checking on me, told him the tow truck was already on the way, and wished him a good weekend. He hopped in his car and left as well.
At this point I got sick of waiting, so I unbolted the spare tire in my trunk and pulled out the tire iron.
I would like to note that during this time several women in mini vans drove by staring at me, several truck drives honked and beeped, and the Boy Scotts of America drove by with their trailer (marked as Troop 276, I believe. It was on there in big letters) without even so much as a passing glance.
Oh, if I'd had my camera-phone at the ready, I would've had a picture for the FAIL blog.
I don't mean to sound irritated. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I got to see the pattern in traffic and how it came in waves about every 5 minutes. I got to watch the butterflies on the side of the road go from mustard flower to mustard flower. I saw crows play tag on the electric lines. And I got to send lots of texts to people and have a quick conversation with my buddy Foxglove, who I texted because it was actually the first really interesting thing that had happened to me in a while and I thought she might sympathize. It was too loud to carry on a real conversation, unfortunately.
SO, I am waiting patiently, aware that I am tanning every second I am outside my car. I am ready to go! The only reason I have not yet attempted to change my own tire is the narrowness of the emergency pull off. I'm afraid I will get hit because the tire is on the traffic-side of the car.
A third car pulls up. A gentleman from the turnpike commission gets out and dons a brilliant yellow vest. His white car (I kid you not, only people with white cars stopped) had an orange light on top of it. And he walks up to me and says "Why are you on the side of the road?"
"I'm waiting for someone to come and fix my flat tire. I really don't want to do it myself in this traffic, I'm afraid I'll get hit," I reply.
The man looks at me for a long moment and says "Well, are you a part of a road service? Like Triple-A? Could you give them a call? Maybe you wouldn't have to stand here, then," he replies.
Now at one point some of the dispatchers had said a PennDOT truck might be what showed up to help me with the tire. So I am taken aback by this announcement. You see, I figured he was with PennDOT. He is driving a government car. "You mean you're not from PennDOT? Because I HAVE already called, I'm waiting for them to show up, and they said someone from PennDOT might show up to fix it. I thought you were with them."
He looks at me in surprise. The realization that he has just questioned my intelligence when I have already done what I am supposed to creeps up on to him and he sort of babbles for a bit about not knowing that I had been there and simply having pulled over because he saw me. Finally, he says "Let me go call and see if we've gotten any service requests over the radio for you."
So I wait, and wave to somebody else who beeps at me as they go past. In the meantime, I somehow manage to miss a call from AAA.
He comes back a moment later and asks "Did you tell them exactly where you were?"
"Yes," I reply, "I told them I was between exits 333 and 326."
"Yes, but did you say specifically in 1-76?"
"I told them I was on the Pennsyvlania Turnpike, I-76, headed towards Philadelphia."
"Okay, then you told them right," he says, and I realize he now also thinks I don't know where I am. "We didn't get a call in for you, so whoever said that thinks you're on the Schuylkill Expressway. Otherwise they would have told you they can't come out on the Turnpike to fix your car."
Well, fuck.
So I call, and AAA confirms what he's just said, also says the original woman who didn't have terrific English wrote the information down wrong, and they gave up looking for me on the expressway 20 minutes ago. The gentleman from the turnpike commission, upon hearing this, goes and puts a call in for me, the nice boy at AAA leaves a nasty note for someone to go talk with the other woman about transcribing directions more careful, and 45 minutes in to having a flat tire, I wish the gentleman from the turnpike commission a good weekend before he hops in his car and drives off.
I am now waiting for a tow truck.
At this point I am beginning to grow irritated simply because so much miscommunication is now leaving to me feeling hot, dizzy and nauseas. This is, in fact, exactly how I felt after riding a bike around Valley Forge and I realize I'm about to get hit with the same problem agian if I don't get out of there. So I grab the tire iron and do my damnedest to get the wheel off.
Problem is, the car is firmly resting on the busted tire, and each time I lay in to the tire iron the car shifts forward and then back a bit. I had the strength to get the bolts loose, but I couldn't get the tire off and another one on without the car shifting around dangerously. And traffic was much heavier by this time.
So I wait.
10 minutes later Chaz, nicest guy in the world, pulls up in the biggest tow truck I have ever seen. He shows me what I should have done if I'd had a jack in the car (Thank you, Honda, for not seeing fit to put anything in there of that ilk) and that I've got a locking lugnut on one of them, and the key was in my glove compartment. He points out that my stickers are VERY old and does me the favor of not calling it in. He tells me what the spare is rated for speed-wise, assures me I can drive the other 30 miles home on it without much issue, and tells me to go slow so I don't get caught by the cops. The whole thing takes 10 minutes tops, and I am back in my car and listening to NPR with the air conditioning blasting. Total elapsed time from start of ordeal to finish is an hour and a half.
At this point this might be seen as a story of misfortune, but it's not. And I'll tell you why. It forced me to drive slow, and to drive in the right-hand lane most of the way home. I got to see a different part of things than I usually do. I focus on getting around and through traffic as fast as possible normally. Well, I was already late to get home at that point, so no reason. Also, because it was later the sun was at a different angle, and 76 goes through some beautiful country. I got to see farmland and forest lit up in the golden afternoon sun, and because I had to keep it around 60 I got to spend more time looking at it. I got to listen to a different section of NPR programming, and because I was so hot and sweaty I got to really appreciate the AC in a way I normally don't having stepped out of an air conditioned office building.
And, of course, there was the people watching, the butterfly watching, and the bird watching.
I'm not bitter about this in the least. It was fascinating, and it served to remind me that I had fallen in to a routine without realizing it. So for that I am grateful.
It also made me realize I needed to take better care of my car and clean it out, as I had to actually move a woolen cloak and a typewriter to get to my spare tire.
Bob took me out for sushi when the whole thing was said and done. I was exhausted, slightly sun-pink, and brain-dead. We ordered drinks and ate heartily of the fish. Our usual waitress was there and chatted with us briefly before having to buzz around to the other customers. It's good to be well known.
And the final good that has come from this? Besides a general warm feeling that three perfect strangers stopped and asked if I was okay -which has almost fully restored my good opinion of humanity- was Bob taking me by the shoulders when I got home and telling me that, no arguing, he was paying to have my car inspected and my tires replaced. I guess the whole thing scared him. I was at least half an hour away when this happened and he had no way to get to me. If it had been something more drastic there would've been more serious repurcussions. And he also knew that I was waiting until I had more saved up to get everything fixed.
My car has new tires, new break pads, and passed inspection. Had the flat tire not happened I would've had no impetus to get these things checked and fixed. My breaks were dangerously thin. They even replaced my windshield wipers, which had been trashed during an ice storm in March. I just kept forgetting to replace them.
So... as I said, I am not superstitious. I do believe things happen for a reason. And I think this whole thing went down so that I could realize I was smart enough to fix that thing without help (if I'd had a jack...Honda...) that I could handle a stressful situation without getting massively upset, and so my car could be safe while I continued on with life.
At least, that's what I'm choosing to take from this.

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