Thursday, March 7, 2013

Flat Tire (personal essay)

First of all, if you haven't read part one, My Grease Monkey, I recommend starting there, so that you're not reading this out of context.

Flat Tire
by Alison Jakel

Saturday morning I got up early to make apple crisp to take to my monthly Alto Brunch. I adore this brunch. The twelve-or-so of women from my choir section are all over the map in terms of ages and personal situations, and there's always so much to talk about. Some of us have left choir for various reasons, so Alto Brunch is the only time we are all together. We look forward to it all month.

With the apple crisp hot out of the oven, I rousted my 16-year-old out of bed, so he'd be ready to be dropped off downtown along the way, and we soon headed out to the car.

I recognized the funny light on the dashboard immediately—it's that pesky low tire pressure symbol, the one that came on periodically two years ago, during the few days before our front tire blew out. (Just pumping up the tire periodically, it turns out, is not a sufficient response). I inspected the tires, hoping to find a slightly low tire that I could deal with after brunch. Instead, I found a rear tire with a 2-inch slash through the sidewall.

Ben and I stared at the tire in dismay. "What do we do now?" he asked. I'd been thinking the same thing: What do we do now? I vaguely recollected watching Chris change a tire on the highway once twenty years ago when AAA refused to come do it. We'd canceled AAA at that point and added towing to our auto insurance, but towing seemed like a silly idea. I was in my own driveway.

"Now I call and let my friends know I can't go to the brunch." That was about as far ahead as my brain could fathom. 

"Oh."  He looked at the ruined tire for a moment. "Well . . . bye, I guess," he said, and set off down the street, resigned to being late, to taking the bus after all.

I called my brunch host, and texted Chris at work, wishing for him to come to my rescue and knowing that he couldn't. I went back out to the car to retrieve the apple crisp, which was waiting anxiously on the back seat wondering what all the fuss was about. Chris's text came in: Can you put the spare on with some help, and get it to Les Schwab?

Could I? I had no idea. I trudged up the stairs to where Evan lay, all warm and soft under piles of covers. "There's a flat tire on the car," I grumbled. "I'm not going to brunch after all." 

Peering over the top of his blankets at my disappointed face, he silently reached his arms up to offer a condolence hug.

I gratefully accepted the hug, muttering into his neck, "Dad says I need put the spare on, so we can take it to the tire store."

"Well, that's no problem," he said. 

"You don't think? Have you changed a tire before? In Dune Buggy class?"

He yawned and stretched, then tucked his arms back under the blanket.  "No."

Somewhat bolstered by his confidence, but not quite ready to face the task at hand, I crawled into bed next to him and we read aloud from our book, because that's how we start our days together whenever possible.

After a chapter or three, Evan was ready to get up and go outside, still in his jammies, to look at the tire. He came back in and declared it definitely flat. We shared some of the apple crisp, whose lifelong ambition to attend a ladies' brunch had been tragically denied.

Then he put his Dune Buggy jeans on (the grease-stained ones he wears every Sunday) and we set to work. My part was to read the car manual instructions out loud step by step, complete with its yellow-highlighted warnings about keeping all body parts out from underneath the car while it's up on that tiny jack [!!!!]. His part was to retrieve the spare tire from under the car, jack up the back end, take off the flat tire and replace it with the spare. He did all of this with the calm demeanor of a young man in his element, as if he was just humoring me to let me read the instructions, even though it took both of us several minutes of scrutinizing the diagram in the manual to see where the hell the jack was supposed to go.

With the spare securely on and all four wheels back on the ground where car wheels belong, we drove to Les Schwab Tires and dropped $200 on two new tires.

While we waited for the car to be ready we wandered over to a nearby "antique" mall, traipsing through displays of beer signs and 70s macrame.  Evan dialed his first rotary phone, experiencing first-hand the hardships we endured back in the old days. I think he gained new respect for my generation when I explained how, if the line was busy, people of yore had to dial the whole thing all over again, until the line was free or our fingernails fell off.

Later, when we pulled into the driveway with our new shiny blue-black tires, Evan turned to me. "Okay, having to buy new tires is bad. But didn't you think the first part was pretty fun?" 

My first thought was, Fun? It was a flat tire! And I missed my brunch!

Then I remembered his lit-up face, when he had removed the wheel and got his first glimpse of the nooks and crannies normally hidden behind it. ("Can we clean back here? As long as we have the wheel off anyway?").  His dry, "Yes, Mom, I know which direction to unscrew a lug nut," as I read every detail aloud from the car manual.  I remembered the hug he gave me when I first told him of the flat tire, and his gentle confidence ("Well, that's no problem") that bolstered mine. My not-so-little buddy had done far more to save my day than to change a flat for me.

"Yes," I said. "It was a little bit fun."
My hero


  1. The pants are not actually stained with grease. It's more of a black paint-like stuff, that was sprayed on the underside the dune buggy chassis.

  2. What a sweetheart! I'm sure part of what made it fun was that you were doing it together.

  3. Love the story, Ali! Hey, girl, I need your snail mail addy to send you your runner up prize for my give away. For some reason I keep getting an error message when I click on your 'contact' button. I'll keep trying~ I posted a photo of your little 'happy' on my blog. :)

  4. Why don't you have pictures of him in action? Too busy reading the car manual? ;-)

    1. @Kathryn, Because I had already posted the one I took, on Instagram. Did you see it? I should have included a link.

    2. not everyone is as insta-hip as you!

    3. I thought that was Ben because of the hat

    4. Ah, I can see that, especially since Evan is probably almost as tall as Ben was last time you saw him!

  5. Evan is definitely a hero! What a nice and thoughtful thing to do. :-)

  6. Oh Ali, I loved these two essays SO much!!! We've got a munchkin that I'm pretty sure wonders if he weren't born to the wrong family as well. It sometimes feels downright disconcerting, but it is ever so awesome too. And speaking of awesome--I'd say that describes Evan pretty darn well! :D

  7. I wouldn't have believed that a 12-year old is capable of changing a tire until I read this post and got a feel of the kind of kid Evan is. Thank you for sharing these two beautiful posts, Ali. Some people may think that you're over-indulging him, but at times like these, I bet you're glad that you freely expose him to his interest. He definitely has a career in cars in the future.

    -Rita McCall