We blew a tire on our way home from Portland on Sunday. We had just come over the mountain pass known as the Blues and saw the results of the dangerous, icy roads. Within a quarter mile there were two big SUV’s on their sides with emergency vehicles attending both accidents. I was definitely white knuckling the steering wheel until I saw the town of LaGrande approaching. An hour further down the road I was grateful to have Ladd Canyon, another cold weather road hazzard, in my rearview mirror. I anticipated a relaxed final two hour drive to Boise with dry roads. It was then that our tire blew. I was going 70 in the left lane, making good time when I heard the thump, thump, thump and the wheel start to jerk. Within a few seconds we pulled off the interstate and piled out of the minivan to see the damage and the smoking, flat tire.
It’s a new vehicle, to us, so we hadn’t changed a tire yet. We unloaded the back of our very packed van and made a pile of our luggage on the gravel shoulder. It looked as if the Beverly Hillbillies had decided to make camp on Interstate 84.
Unfortunately we found out that the jack didn’t come with the van, nor did the accessories needed to lower the spare tire from its hiding place underneath the vehicle. We had no options other than to call roadside service. Knowing it was after hours on a holiday weekend, and knowing that I had cancelled my AAA membership in order to save money this year, I figured the bill to get us back on the road would be paramount to highway robbery.
My family hardly blinked. They gathered blankets, jackets, and extra pairs of socks and then stood in a wind defying circle to keep each other warm as the sun disappeared behind the mountain range. I wish I had been able to have fun with them but I think I was still in shock of what happened and trying not to think of what could have happened. I also knew we weren’t out of the woods yet. They danced, laughed and made the most of the moment for the next hour. They joked that Jesus had taken the wrong wheel. Then somebody passed gas and they told me they were so thankful they weren’t still trapped in the van as it could have been a deadly situation.
When Superior Towing showed up Jeremy had a tool to lower our spare (which he then gave to me). The doughnut that was hiding underneath could only barely be called a tire. He looked at me as if to say, “You know you can’t ride to Boise on this, don’t you?” but when he saw my face he knew I knew.
He had a good idea, “Let’s put the doughnut here in the back and put this full-sized tire up front since you have front wheel drive.” I nodded my assent and watched him change two tires instead of one. Then he asked me to come up to his vehicle and figure out the next step. I learned there were no tire shops open in Baker City but he thought he could get in touch with the local auto salvage owner, although it was closed, and see about finding a good, used tire.
We packed up the the van and everyone got back in the vehicle. I tried to shut the rear door but the latch had frozen in place and wouldn’t close. I had to use the tools that Jeremy gave me to pry the lock back into place. Then once I took my own seat and turned the ignition I found we had used all the van’s battery with our hazard lights. Jeremy saw me running after his vehicle just before he was going to pull back onto the interstate. He backed up and jump started our vehicle.
We drove the seven miles into town while Jeremy went to help someone else in need of roadside assistance. We sat in a fast food restaurant grateful for the warm building and the hot french fries. I couldn’t eat much though, because while I knew we were now safe, I still felt a bit stranded and was trying to figure out our options if we couldn’t locate a tire.
About 45 minutes later Jeremy called me and led us to the auto salvage shop. The owner had just gotten back to town (from Boise) and was willing to help us out. He and Jeremy found a tire, remounted it on our rim, and then Jeremy changed our tire once again. While I paid both men and their companies for the goods and services neither of them took advantage of our situation. I didn’t hesitate to call Jeremy’s boss the next morning and let them know about how he represented his company and cared for his after-hours, holiday-weekend clients. She told me that she was writing down my affirmation to add to his employee folder.
I drove the last two hours home without talking much to my family. Once we had unpacked the vehicle for the second time that day I gathered us all into the kitchen to thank them for the way they handled the crisis. I also apologized for getting us into the mess. I felt there was more I could have done on my end to make sure our vehicle was road worthy. While I had checked all the fluid levels and put chains in the van in case of bad roads I had looked at the tires and thought they were good enough for another thousand miles. I was wrong and wished I had asked a professional. They were gentle with me, which I appreciated, but I don’t want any of them ever making the same mistake I did, so I didn’t want to downplay the situation either.
When they all went to bed I finally cried. Life is so goddamn fragile.
One last note before I put this blog post to rest. In the hour that my family stood on the intersate shoulder beside our obviously disabled van only one person stopped to offer help. When I explained our situation we knew that his truck was not equipped with the tools we would need to lower our spare tire. I thanked him for stopping and let him know that Superior Towing was on their way. We shook hands, him looking at my family standing behind me in the gravel, me looking at his family in the warm cab of his pickup. It didn’t matter that we were of different ethnic backgrounds or lived in different towns, we both were husbands and fathers with all the responsibilities that the role entails. That was all that mattered.
I’ll never be a Jeremy. I don’t have the mechanical ability to rescue people and their vehicles the way he and Superior Towing does on a day-to-day basis. But the other guy that stopped, I want to be like him – not in too much of a hurry to stop and help out a family on the side of the road. I don’t blame the thousand other vehicles that sped on by, I just don’t want to be one of them.
My family and I went to Portland for Thanksgiving. I learned to be thankful on the journey back home.