I am a creature of habit. Each day of the week has its own set of activities, its own rhythm. On most Saturdays, after a workout, I head to the Barnes & Noble café to read the New York Times advance Sunday sections, maybe start the puzzle, and write.
Last week I had to run the gauntlet of festive downtown holiday traffic, which turns happy shoppers into grumpy Grinches. I am not immune. We crawled east on the Post Road past King’s Highway School, waiting patiently to cross Wilton Road, except for those entitled drivers who clearly had a “feel free to cut the line” pass, and nosed their way in, nearly scraping the left front bumpers of law-abiding drivers who they expected to yield to their urgency and privilege.
I finally made it across the bridge, thinking it’d be smooth sailing from there when a living-room sized SUV with New York plates stopped abruptly, blinker-less, in front of me to make a left turn on to Main St. Trying hard to retain my own holiday cheer and eschew xenophobia against the out-of-stater, I pulled around to what room I had left on the right. I must have miscalculated the width of the doublewide, because I bumped the curb with a dull thud.
“Drat!” I said (in more colorful language), and “I hope the car is ok,” just as the amber tire pressure warning light flashed and burst that thought bubble.
Automobile mechanics savvy ranks high on the list of skills that I lack, right up there with doing math in my head. Uncertain if I could even safely drive, I pulled into the Bank of America parking lot and maneuvered so that the injured tire faced out, accessible for AAA.
I sat for a minute breathing before I emerged into the frigid but clear air to examine the damage. It was dead flat. And not just punctured, but slit rim to tread as if by an angry ex in a country western song. Shoot shoot shoot (also in more colorful language).
I dialed AAA from the warmed car seat as I continued to consciously breathe. “Due to an unusually high call volume…” Shoot. I texted my brother in law. I texted my ex. Not that I expected that they’d run over to change the flat, but for masculine moral support and advice. Could I just replace one tire? The best tire store in the area?
But AAA picked up before they could respond, and an extremely kind, empathetic woman asked first if I was ok, and then assured me that they’d dispatch someone “within 45 minutes.” And that they’d send text updates on the technician’s progress, complete with a tracking map to show his whereabouts. Boy, this is not your father’s AAA.
I waited in the bank’s cozy cabernet-upholstered conversation nook with the paper, and not 15 minutes later, I got a call and a text with my technician’s name, location, birthdate, and favorite ice cream flavor. Ok, not those last two, but Antonio was en route.
This surprisingly early arrival amazed me almost as much as the fact that I had neither hyperventilated nor cried yet. Often, glitches like this agitate my anxiety, but for some reason my yoga and mindfulness training magically manifested, and I just breathed in breathed out and reminded myself that this occurrence was not even a mote of cosmic dust in the universal drama playing out anywhere in the galaxy at that moment.
And at that moment, savior Antonio rode up in his white steel steed of a flatbed truck. Young, tall, and brown khaki-clad, he shook my hand and said, “Don’t worry about this. This is nothing. We will take care of it. Pop the trunk and go back inside and keep warm.” Thank you, oh sage mechanic, I thought as I followed his directions.
But no sooner had the warm vestibule air enveloped me than he crossed the parking lot to retrieve me. “Ma’am,” he said, “do you have a spare? Do you know where it is?”
We tore the trunk apart to find only a small repair kit with a patch and a pump. He checked his phone while I checked the manual, and sure enough, 2015 Ford Fusions have “run flats” and no spares.
But there was no running on this flat. The first aid kit could band aid amateur tire punctures. This needed major surgery. “You can’t go anywhere on that tire,” he confirmed, adding, “hop up in the cab. It’s warm. I’ll put the car on the truck, and we’ll head to the tire shop.”
This would have been another good moment for swearing or a panic attack, but again, I chose breathe in breathe out, while I watched him maneuver the car onto the truck bed.
“All set,” he said as he climbed into his seat. “Ready? Don’t worry about this,” he said again, reading my mind. “You have no idea how often this happens with the new curbs the town put in.” I nodded and wondered why, then, the town installed sharp curbs to begin with.
We talked about the holidays and some of the things he’d seen on the road while we wended our way toward Town Faire.
I actually hugged him after he deposited the car back by the garage bays. And tipped him, too.
A small crowd thronged a waiting area that resembled a half-finished fort that children could have constructed out of stacked radials. The aroma of rubber reminded me that I was allergic to latex. I wondered if I’d react. I made a note not to touch the “walls.” I squeezed through to the desk, discouraged by the number of “waiters.”
“Let’s have a look at it, and we’ll see what we can do,” said one of several Town Faire Tire-fleece-vest-clad men behind the counter. “We’ll get you out today, but,” as he nodded over at the fort-dwellers, “it may be a while.”
Breathe in breathe out.
Two hours, $200, and two eggs Florentine later, I was back on the road. The world didn’t end. There was no apocalypse. I got my work done, albeit with a change of venue and a higher price tag, but done, nonetheless.
My relative calm amazed me. Although I can dish out enlightened advice to anyone willing to listen, I often don’t follow it myself. Something as insignificant as a flat tire would have flustered me not long ago. Wow, I thought, maybe I’m finally getting it. Just a little. As my long-time yoga teacher would tell me the next day when I related the story, “Congratulations. One small step on the path!” One foot in front of the other. Breathe in breathe out…