So I realize it’s not only been a while since I really wrote a blog post – which it has – but also even longer since I did one of my true travel tales. I’m not sure why this one popped into my head this afternoon – maybe because one of the tires on the wife’s car has a slow leak.
Years ago – 2004 to be precise about it – I said goodbye to San Diego, the Chargers and my apartment by the beach, loaded up the Seabring, pointed it east and floored it (all another story). I had some time on my hands, so I made a few stops: the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, a few other places.
A couple of days out from the coast, I blew across the Texas/Oklahoma border at around 80 MPH. “Blew” being the operative word when my tire hit a piece of spare metal in the road, and I found myself on the shoulder moments later, still within eyesight of the Welcome to Oklahoma sign.
So it came to pass that in the middle of a May afternoon in 2004, if you happened to be on the I-40, east of Amarillo, you’d find a former Charger scouting intern on the side of the freeway, his worldly possessions spread all over the shoulder. I jacked up the car easy enough – of course the tire was on the left side, meaning I had to run away every time a car came by. But as fate would have it, the Chrysler-issued jack broke as soon as I tried to turn it.
Good thing I’m a AAA member, right?
What follows is the actual conversation which I typed up immediately afterwards and sent back to some friends in SoCal (I’ve saved all my emails since 2003):
Triple-A: “What town are you in?”
Me: “I’m on the Texas-Oklahoma border, I-40 East, Just inside of Oklahoma.”
Triple-A: “I need a city.”
Me: “I’m not in a city.”
Triple-A: “You have to be in a city.”
Me: “Well, let me go ask this cow what city I’m in…nope. No city.” (Editor’s note: I actually did ask the aforementioned cow).
Triple-A: “Do you have a map?”
Me: “Yes, don’t you?”
Me: “Isn’t this Triple-A?”
Me: “Don’t you guys make maps?”
Triple-A: “We don’t have any here.”
Me: “Whatever. (I dig up and look at a map). Okay, the nearest city is Texola.”
Me: “No, Oklahoma.”
Triple-A: “But what city?”
Me: “Texola. T-e-x-o-l-a.”
Triple-A: “What city?”
Me: “Texola damnit!”
Triple-A: “What’s Texola?”
Me: “The closest city!”
Triple-A: “That’s not a city”
Me: “How the hell would you know? You don’t have a map.”
Triple-A: “I’ve never heard of Texola. Is it in Texas?”
Me: “No, god damnit, it’s in OKLAHOMA!”
Triple-A: “You’re in Oklahoma?”
Triple-A: “Oh. I have to transfer you to the Oklahoma office. Please hold.”
Towards the end of my discussion with the Oklahoma office – which didn’t want to help me because I was calling through a Texas cell tower – I noticed a really old pickup idling behind me on the shoulder.
I pause for a moment, though I promise this is not a digression: Have you seen City Slickers? Billy Crystal driving cattle across New Mexico and Colorado, led by an old cowboy named Curly played by Jack Palance. Hopefully you have, because you’ll understand: this guy looked just like Curly.
Curly popped his truck into park, and slid out of the cab. Given all my stuff still sat on the side of the road, I was starting to get a little nervous as Curly reached into his truck-bed, and then my heart kicked into adrenalized overdrive when he removed a large steel contraption with four ends on it and headed towards me.
Of course, my call to AAA dropped as Curly got within striking distance. But rather than whacking me one, he extended his hand and asked if I had a star wrench. I shook his, and told him I didn’t. He grinned, hoisted his steel contraption and had my blown tire off in under 2 minutes.
See, if you’ve never changed a tire before, you need to understand that it’s near impossible to remove the bolts with the bendy wrenches that come standard in your trunk. Machines put the bolts on in garages using so much force, it’s impossible to get them back off without the right amount of torque. A star wrench allows you to put your entire weight behind your turn.
Curly and I popped my new tire on, we shook hands and he drove off. I loaded up my car again, headed off the nearest exit and into Erick, Oklahoma.
Never heard of Erick? You’re not alone.
Erick, it seems, isn’t prone to a lot of tourism. Here I was, driving a convertible, California plates, slowly rolling on my half-flat donut tire through town. Driving down the streets at around 10 MPH, I saw a kid playing in his front yard. He looked up, saw me, and sprinted into his house. As I rolled past, the kid came back out onto his porch, and pointed at me. His Mom was right behind him, holding a little girl up on her chest. A man, clearly the father, came out behind them. Spotting me driving by, he slid around his family, stood between me and them, arms protectively behind him and around them.
The man and I watched each other, probably in the same amount of disbelief.
Yeah, it had been that kind of day.
I found a used tire lot (didn’t know that was a thing) a few blocks later. My tires were 14 inches (Curly told me, otherwise I’d have never known). The guy behind the counter wanted to sell me a single, “previously owned” 17 inch tire for around $300. Seeing a couple of guys snickering across the store, I thanked him and headed for the door.
Just outside, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and stepped back at the same time – because, really, the man and his family. But it turned out to be a second good turn: someone who gave me directions to the Walmart.
60 miles away.
It took me almost 2 hours to find the Walmart, not really wanting to test the car over 40. People tailgated, flashed their lights, gave me the finger, what-have you. But I got there, and was good from that point on.
Like most of my stories; I don’t really have a point here, other than to say: make sure you’re carrying a star-wrench. And maybe know where the local Walmart is.