True crime podcasts have helped me pass the time on the long stretches of this road trip. They’ve also made me zealously apprehensive. Of everyone. And everything.
So, when I felt my hair stand up at a parking lot in Roswell, I was immediately on guard. I turned to see a man staring intently at me as he lingered by his truck. I shot him a look to let him know I was aware, but every time I glanced back as I packed my car, he appeared to want to approach me.
When he finally did walk towards me (my shoulders squared and my car keys clutched as a defense weapon), he only hesitantly said, “honey, you may want to check your tire.”
I discovered he actually had a gentle and earnest energy, perhaps not at all a kidnapper. I also discovered that he had been staring at my car- not me -and that my right rim was almost completely to the pavement.
Let me cut in to confirm your suspicions that I know absolutely nothing about cars. Think of the least experienced person you know on the topic of automobiles, take them down two grades, and I’ll be waving from the step beneath that one. When the orange exclamation had appeared on my dashboard the day before, I thought it was because my RAV was excited to be traveling across the country. Okay, that’s a joke. But I did think it was because of pressure change due to altitude, not because I had a, “tiny pinhole slowly leaking air” as I was later told.
First, I called my dad to let him know that I had dodged a potential serial killer and my plan to drive to the Walmart across town to get patched up. He didn’t seem impressed by either detail, particularly the latter: “Casie. You can’t drive your car ten miles on a flat.”
When I spoke with April from roadside assistance, I was essentially the least helpful person she’s ever interacted with. I wasn’t sure if my hubcaps locked, or if I had the key. When she asked if I had a spare, I faltered. There was a compartment on the rear door, but technically I had never looked inside. I bought the car used; with my luck, I considered the possibility that it could be empty.
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to confirm there’s a spare tire before I send a team member.”
Totally understood, April. Except for the fact that I didn’t exactly know how to open the compartment.
As I waited for someone to come, I cried out of frustration. Probably a bit of shame, too, for the character flaw that I can never be bothered to pay attention to anything that doesn’t interest me. This made my parents chuckle, which annoyed me. “This is what road trips are about. This is the good stuff,” my dad said, which annoyed me even more, because I knew he was right.
All was well until three months and five states later, when the familiar light came back on. After the last fiasco, my parents bought me a tire gauge for Christmas. Super useful, especially if I had learned how to use it. Fortunately, I didn’t need to worry about how to properly check the pressure; I could clearly see the tire was losing air by simply looking at it. Which actually isn’t that fortunate if you think about it.
This time, I wasn’t in a town. In fact, I was in the middle of nowhere, on a scenic bypass in Southern Utah. I longed for feeling inconvenienced in Roswell, where at least there were people around. And phone service. And a Dunkin’ Donuts.
The tire didn’t look nearly as bad as the first time around, so I naively hoped that I just needed to put a little air in. You know, back to the, “it must be the changing altitude” solution. Torrey was only about 25 minutes away, but when I made it to the gas station, the air pump was out of service. The employee sent me eight miles away to Bicknell, where the air pumped was also (surprise) out of service.
Another surprise for you is that I haven’t the slightest clue how to change a tire, despite my dad attempting to teach me. When it became evident -after finally adding air- that my tire once again had a hole, I had to call AAA.
If you can imagine, it’s not the easiest thing to get roadside assistance in a rural town with hardly any phone service. Not to mention, it was the weekend, so all auto shops in town were closed until Monday. After waiting over two hours without even a call back, and considering asking random tourists if they could help me, I got in touch with a tow guy from the next town over.
In came Weston, who changed my tire in all of about five seconds. We hung around chatting for a bit, and I made sure to laugh at all the right parts of his many, many jokes, hoping that my new friend could perhaps sympathize with my situation and not charge me an arm and a leg.
At one point, he asked me if I had a paddle board, which I thought was some car jargon that was over my head. But then he pulled out a real paddle from his truck bed that he had found and offered it to me. I almost said yes, on account of that’s what friends do, but politely declined, on account of me not having a paddle board.
When he said, “alright, that’ll be $116,” I waited for him to laugh at the right part. But looking at his face, I could tell he was as serious as he had been about me taking a paddle off his hands. $70 for mileage (he traveled from 16 miles away) and $40 for “call out” (I had called at 4 PM- apparently after hours). Don’t forget the tax.
I didn’t skip off reciting, “this is the good stuff that road trips are made of.” But I also didn’t cry or complain all that much. I had planned to spend the day in Capitol Reef National Park, and was obviously bummed when instead I spent the entire day doing the opposite of having a good time. I knew at that point, there wasn’t much else I could do.
I also knew it wasn’t the end of the world. Despite it being 45 degrees, the sun was shining. I was safe. It was still light outside. I still had ample time to find somewhere to sleep. And there are much, much bigger problems in the world than getting a flat tire and a couple wasted hours.
As we wrap up this tale of the Never Ending Flat Tire, I want to leave you with some advice (though, after reading this, you may be hesitant to listen to any of my guidance): Don’t assume everyone’s a murderer. Figure out where your wheel lock key is. Know how to check your tire pressure. Better yet, how to change a tire.
Listen when people try to help you. Pay attention. Humble up. Take a deep breath. And lastly, of course, laugh at yourself a little bit.