Iím someone who tries to look for the silver lining in things, but flat tires have always challenged me. Still, I learned long ago that some of the nicest people in the world choose as their lifeís work jobs that day after day allow them to take care of other people who happen to have a flat.
Have you ever watched the process of fixing a flat?
First of all, itís typically a job that must be done in the worst possible weather. If itís not unbearably cold, itís unbearably hot. If itís not snowing, itís raining. If the flat doesnít happen at the most inconvenient place, it happens at the most inconvenient time. More often, itís some combination of the above.
Just removing the damaged tire and returning it to the axle after the repair is a chore. Itís much easier for a pro, of course, who enjoys the advantage of having the right tools to do the job. Then, thereís the detailed work of finding the piece of stray metal or whatever it was that caused the puncture, and patching it.
Itís also a potentially dangerous endeavor. A college friend was seriously hurt when a tire he was working on at his summer job exploded in his face.
Even if I had the training to do all of this, it would have to be a loved one or dearest friend to get me to do it for less than a piece of currency with Benjamin Franklinís portrait on it. And Iíd have to think about even that. Yet, I had a need for this service twice - at different times in different cities - in just the past month, and I got both tires fixed and back rolling for a combined expenditure of less than $20.
For over a year, my front right tire has demanded frequent attention. I rarely could burn up a tank of gas before this tire again needed air. In June, before embarking on a long vacation trip, I decided to have a local professional take a look at it. Less than an hour and just a few dollars later, that tire was no longer a problem. Diagnosis: a large screw.
Confident now that our trip to New Mexico would be pleasant and uneventful, my wife and I pointed the car into the sunset as Independence Day approached. After spending the night in Van Horn, we awoke on July 4 to complete the journey to the city where my high school classmates were holding a reunion.
Van Horn is something of an oasis for cross-country travelers - a West Texas outpost where you find things like motels, fast food restaurants, gasoline stations, no fewer than a half-dozen Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and some extremely friendly people. But itís not exactly a resort town. At resort towns, the motels put chocolates on your pillow. Here, you get a pair of ear plugs, a concession to the road noise wafting from the ever-present Interstate highway. But itís the thought that counts.
Imagine our dismay when we went to the motel parking lot on the morning of July 4 to find our left rear tire all but flat. Where do you get a flat fixed on the Fourth of July in Van Horn, Texas? As it turns out, the solution to a double nail puncture was right next door, at a 24-hour truck stop.
The good fortunate of having an open service center so close was silver lining No. 1.
Silver lining No. 2, as we decided while waiting for repairs to be made, was that this didnít happen at 80 mph a dozen miles from nowhere at 9 oíclock the night before.
Silver lining No. 3 was the bargain price that the quiet but helpful technician quoted.
We were cleared to be on our way to New Mexico by the time we finished our coffee.
Flat tires have a way of making trips memorable for all the wrong reasons, but thankfully this one was a notable exception. I count myself fortunate, because Iíve not fallen victim to such dilemmas very often. But theyíve made up for their lack of frequency with their horrible timing.
The worst incident for me was during college, while driving back to Brownwood after a visit with friends in Missouri. Somewhere in Oklahoma, during a snowstorm, I blew a tire. It was cold, wet and windy, but a sign promised that a town was five miles ahead. It was so cold, even the Oklahoma highway patrolman who raced past a motorist in distress didnít give me a second look. I slowly pressed ahead, ruining the tire for sure if the blowout hadnít already done the job. At the first open station, I might have initially thought I had dropped into the set of ďDeliveranceĒ if that movie had been filmed yet, but the two guys I met couldnít have been more helpful. They seemed happy to have my business on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and sold me a cheap used tire that got me home.
So, if youíre wondering why two of my tires have those telltale white chalk arrows on the side walls, thatís why. But I must stop here. That right rear tire looks a little low to me, so Iím thinking Iím going for the hat trick.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.