Musings from Home

When I was a teenager and learning how to drive, my dad told me that before I would be allowed to use the car, I needed to know how to take care of simple maintenance/repair things. He made sure I knew how to check the oil and add more as needed, check the tire pressures and pump them up as needed, and change a flat tire. The latter I actually had to practice and demonstrate to him that I could do it.

In college, I drove the same 1968 VW Bug and twice had to change a flat tire. The first time was in the parking lot of my apartment complex. That was lucky for me because although I knew just what to do, I was unable to get the hub cap off. I flagged down my next door neighbor, who was quite willing to change the tire for me. He actually seemed a little uncomfortable leaving me to do it myself, but I insisted that I was fine if he could just take off the hub cap for me. I didn’t want to impose and it was important to me that I could take care of this myself.

On my next visit home, when I told my dad about my inability to remove the circle of metal covering the lug nuts, he insisted that I practice removing the hub cap. I knew just how to do it, but I was still unable to pop it off. I knew he’d never let me stop trying until I had that hub cap in my hand. So to end this interminable practice session, when my dad wasn’t looking, I stopped my brother as he was passing through the garage and asked him to take it off for me. He quickly and easily did, and exited. I immediately called out to my dad, “Dad, I did it. I’m going in now.” He came to see, and then I popped the hub cap back on and went inside. I know, that didn’t help me for the next time.

And the next time did come. Again, luckily, in the parking lot of my apartment complex. This time, the neighbor I stopped wasn’t so keen on changing my tire, but was happy to help me when I explained I could do all of it except remove my nemesis hub cap.

Both times that I changed the tires, I got really annoyed when I went to have the tire either fixed or replaced, because the guys who worked at the tire place treated me as if I were some dumb bimbo who needed her husband or father to do everything for her. They were reluctant to deal with me at all and did so with a lot of condescension. I wanted to scream at them that I had changed the bleep bleep tire myself and I knew exactly what I was doing. But I was raised to be polite, so polite I was, while seething inside.

Fast forward twenty-five years. I now drive a Honda Odyssey and more often than not, I carry precious cargo. And I have no idea what the tire pressures should be or if I even have a tire gauge in my car. I haven’t checked the oil in years, although we do have the car serviced regularly. Until last Friday, I wasn’t even sure where the spare tire, lug wrench, and jack were in my car and I didn’t know where on the car the jack went. I most certainly have not practiced changing a tire on that car.

On the way home from Sapphire’s preschool last Friday, on a busy interstate, the car started to make a horrible noise and started to have a mind of its own. I quickly pulled over onto the shoulder and stopped. Knowing that I was looking for a flat tire, I carefully got out of the car and circled the vehicle looking at each tire. Luckily, the badly flat tire was the front right one, so it was on the side of the car opposite the road. An inconvenience, but not a big deal, right?

And then it hit me. We are on the side of a busy highway. Cars are whizzing by us at 70 mph and the car is shaking each time they do. I have a 5-year-old with me. And I have no idea how to change this tire.

My mind started racing. Do we still belong to AAA? Do I have the card with me? I looked in my wallet and thanked my lucky stars (and my husband) that Jim has kept up the membership. I called the number on the card and Sapphire and I prepared to wait the 30-45 minutes it would take until the tow truck driver would arrive to change the tire for me.

Just as I started to relax, a little voice came out from the back seat. “Mom, I’m hungry.” [It was just after noon and we were heading home for lunch.]

“I know you are, Baby,” as I rummaged for snacks, not finding any (another fail).

That happened to be the day in Sapphire’s preschool when another parent had come to school to show the kids how to frost cupcakes, so Sapphire had with her the cupcake she had frosted. Prior to this delay, I had told her she could have it at home after lunch, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I let her have the cupcake as her appetizer, promising myself I would prepare her a healthy lunch when we got home. Crisis averted.

Then, “Mom, I’m thirsty.” Oh man, one of the few times I don’t have a travel cup of water in the car. We were only going a few miles . . . (fail #3). I told her I was sorry we didn’t have any water with us, but I’d give her a drink the moment we got home. My little trooper understood. 🙂

Silence for a few minutes. Then, “I need to go potty.” Of course this would be next. Luckily, she was wearing a dress. Enough said.

Once all of these emergencies were dealt with, Sapphire climbed into the front seat to be with me. After another couple of cars raced by, I realized this worried me too much, so I explained that I needed her to return to her car seat, strap in, and stay strapped in until the tow truck arrived. After she asked “why?” and I explained that it was the safest place for her and that I need to keep her safe, she did as I asked. [I should note that my precious Sapphire was absolutely perfect through “our adventure”, as she now calls it.]

For the rest of the wait, we read a book we keep in the car and played travel Bingo. Soon we saw the tow truck pull in behind us and a very nice man climbed out to help us.

He cheerfully changed our tire and not once did he treat me like a “dumb broad” for not knowing where my spare was, or anything else about this car that I drive. Thank you, Mr. Tow Truck Driver/Flat Tire Changer. You were Sapphire’s and my hero that day.

And even though he didn’t act that way at all, I am left to reflect on the fact that I have, in fact, become that “dumb broad”, after all my frustration at being treated like one so long ago. And you know that gets my goat more than anything else. Therefore, I have vowed to become more familiar with my car.

I already have a bit of a head start from watching that nice man the other day. I now know where the spare tire, lug wrench, and jack are and I know where on the car the jack goes. Add to that my skills from my long ago tire changing experience and the fact that the van’s wheels do not have hub caps, and I just might be ready for the next flat (but there is definitely no rush on that!). I may even go practice on the driveway. I might go so far as to read the manual, or parts of it. And just in case, I still have that trusty AAA card in my wallet.

Would you be prepared to change a flat if it happened today on a busy road? Don’t be afraid to make me feel bad. I have learned my lesson.

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