Like Standing on the Edge of the Earth
Yesterday afternoon, I spent a few minutes with a good friend. Her life is in some turmoil, and friendly faces, ridiculous words can be exactly what she needs to forget, or at least enjoy things for a while.
Lately, I have felt my life has become pretty stagnant, doing the same five things over and over each week and while those things are not in themselves, worthless or dull, getting out of the usual is always welcome.
After meeting with my friend, I jumped in the 4Runner and started home. I usually avoid the Interstate, not because I hate driving home at higher speeds, but the exits I use are often annoying. Plus, I hate the way most people drive (knowing full well that I likely annoy some with my driving). I feel like I have more options if I use the surface streets. Yesterday, wanting to shake things up, I jumped on I-80 at 7th East, planning to exit at Foothill Drive.
Having only owned the car for a few weeks, I am not quite used to all the lights and gadgets and as I approached the 13th East overpass, a light flashed on the dashboard. It was one I didn’t recognize and in the few seconds it took to register the light, ponder its meaning, the steering wheel started shaking and pulling to the right. A flat tire. I contemplated driving the mile or so to the next exit, but realized that would likely mean damage to the wheel.
The 13th East on-ramp ended just ahead of where I was, and though I considered driving through to the shoulder, the tire was completely deflated. My options were now reduced to one. Stay where I was, parked in the V between the end of the on-ramp and the right lane of I-80.
No big deal. I have changed tires before. If things were disastrously slow, this might take me 30 minutes. At best, I would be back on the freeway in 15. I turned on the hazard lights and opened my door. I had forgotten the sound high-speed traffic makes. Cars rushing by followed by the wind and instantly I was disoriented. My head was spinning; I was in trouble.
I opened the rear hatch and removed the jack and lug wrench. Staring blankly at the pile of metal objects in front of me, I had no clue how to get started. The parts for the jack handle seemed to require a screwdriver, which I did not have. The instructions in the owners manual were vague at how to assemble the handle and worse, the handle was required to lower the spare. I wandered back and forth from the front seat, looking for something to act as a screwdriver and standing near the open hatch staring at the items strewn across the carpet.
Almost by accident, I discovered parts of the handle could be used as a wrench (moron), and I was able to assemble it. Sounds kept rushing and wind blew the owners manual shut several times. With the hastily assembled handle, I started trying to lower the spare. Again, the instructions were useless and I attempted to find the lowering screw over and over. The sounds kept getting louder and it started to feel like the noise and wind were now constant. I kept thinking it was only a matter of time until someone passed too close and collided with my car. If cops could be hit hundreds of times a year passing out tickets and attending to accidents, it was not a stretch to imagine the same or worse happening here.
After the tenth failed attempt, I crawled under the rear of the car, hoping to see where this elusive lowering screw was housed. Of course, the spare was in the way and every object obstructed. As I slid out from under the car, feeling quite at a loss, I realized a Mazda had stopped behind my vehicle and the driver was exiting.
I was relieved and embarrassed at the same time. Finally, someone to help, but seriously, it was only a flat tire. It still took us several minutes and one of us under the vehicle to find the lowering screw. After that, the rest was gravy.
Something had lodged itself into my tire, leaving an inch wide hole in the tread. 45 minutes after first pulling over, I was finally driving away.
Chadwick (yes, what a great name), was very friendly and helped me feel a bit better about my pathetic tire changing moment. Once he arrived, the sounds from the freeway seemed less intrusive, less frightening, though my heart really didn’t calm down until after I was getting the tire replaced (the inch wide tear had left it useless). The attendant at the store told me he would never have stopped on the Interstate. “I would have wrecked the tire, the wheel, the hub, whatever it took.” And after my experience, I am not sure he was wrong.
I am having a hard time recalling the sound properly or the sensation of the cars passing. I don’t recall specific types of vehicles passing me or any particularly close calls. What I remember is feeling like being stuck out on a precipice, with the elements around you conspiring to thwart your every effort. So disorienting and frightening, everything was confused and thinking clearly was not possible.
Later in the evening I had a moment when I said to myself, “Why didn’t you just go sit in the car with the doors closed for a minute, collect yourself?” But even that was an impossible thought when I was out there in it.