Another cold day. This time I stayed at home where I belong. Don't want to drive again any time soon. In town yesterday I went into the hardware store for some flea one-spot treatment for Caterpillar. Talked with Marsha some about donkeys and horses. Saw my friend Tammy Sawyer, an old-time bass and dulcimer player, and we talked briefly. I opened the door to the parking lot and saw my right rear tire was flat. One more unexpected event to make me crazy. Nothing to do but bear down on it. Open the trunk, rearrange the things I keep in the trunk, a box of car-need things, a tent and a sleeping bag. I keep a sleeping bag and tent in the trunk for the unforeseen in case of need. If I were to get into a predicament stranded someplace and it cold, I have the sleeping bag. I have to store it someplace, thinking the trunk of the car a better place than in the house. The spare wheel was under the floor of the trunk, which needed lifting to extract the wheel, one of those hateful miniature wheels. I'm so accustomed to unforeseen speed bumps in these weeks, five now, I gave self to the situation with minimal cussing. The car had one of those factory jacks I threw away as soon as the car became mine and bought a real jack, the kind on wheels mechanics use. They are so easy and so convenient, the $45 it cost was nothing. It felt good to roll the jack under the rear axle and pump it up easily. This meant lying down on the ice cold pavement of the parking lot, which I was glad to do. I'd so much rather have a flat in a level controlled space with no traffic than on the side of the road. Having done this before, I'm checked out on the procedure, mapped it out, step by step in my head and followed the steps. It's a simple process with a good jack. Crawling under the fender, I had to turn my ball cap around backwards. Punk.
Two men I know stopped and offered help, separately. I thanked them and declined the offer. Changing a flat is merely a matter of the time it takes. Every step is simple. Loosen the lug nuts. Another purchase at the same time as the rolling jack was an X lug wrench, a steel one that won't make me feel like Superman when the wrench itself twists in my hands. The kind that come from the factory are good for nothing but frustration. A good jack and a good lug wrench are my number one accessories in whatever I'm driving. And a fire extinguisher. I keep one in the box between the two front seats, the arm rest. The fire extinguisher fits in that compartment like it was made for it, the other accessory I will not drive without having in the car. Experience has taught me that when a fire starts inside a vehicle, only a fire extinguisher will put it out. I was given no choice but to watch my Toyota pickup go up in yellow flames and black smoke over insulation mice had chewed off some wires. All I had was a towel. I'd put the fire out, lift the towel and it would start again, dripped and started one someplace else, towel back and forth, then another. Right away it went out of control. Everything in the interior of a vehicle is oil-based plastic and foam. All I could do was get back and watch. A fire extinguisher would have taken care of it at the start. I also carry a hammer in the door pocket. Having seen what happens, and knowing two people who burned up in cars, separately, I am not going to burn up in a car. Car glass cannot be broken hitting it with hands or elbows. It takes steel to break a side glass on a car. A claw hammer is a good tool with many uses. Also in the door pocket, I keep a long screwdriver, necessary for letting down the hydraulic jack. It's easy with a big screwdriver, very difficult trying to use a dime. The ice scraper I used yesterday stays in the pocket too.
Turning the lug nuts off the bolts was a chore. They're old and hugging the bolt a little too tightly. That's a good thing so they won't unscrew themselves. I couldn't spin the wrench to turn them off the bolts. Went to the box in the trunk for some WD40. It wasn't there. It's in the house. Found a little spray can of lock-tite, something to spray into a lock when it's resisting the key. I sprayed some of it onto the lug bolts and it worked very well spinning a couple of them back on. I might talk with mechanic about getting some new lug nuts. I like keeping the parts on the car in good shape. I like changing a wheel to be easy instead of difficult. Just having to do it is difficult enough without having lug nuts that require wringing the wrench half a turn at a time all the way to the end of the bolt. Flats happen. It's a regrettable experience every time. I feel like it is important for my mental health to have every step of wheel changing work smoothly. This is at least the third one with this car. Driving country roads, screws and nails fall out of the back of working men's pickups bouncing up the gravel road with washboard in it. The tire picked up a big screw that looks like it fell off a car or pickup, wiggled loose from the body underneath. Flat tires are an element of country living. This one today was minimally aggravating, thanks to the experience of flats in the past that taught me to carry the right tools for the job. A cheap jack makes a major aggravation. A cheap lug wrench does too. I call it being kind to myself to buy the right tools, keep them in the trunk and be sure the inevitable that's always a surprise will be just another easy problem to solve.
Lying on the pavement when the two different guys offered a hand, I remembered an old boy I saw at least twenty years ago changing a wheel by the side of the road. I was driving down the mountain on Hwy 21 with twenty-seven curves, for whatever reason I don't remember. It takes a lot to get me off the mountain. At the bottom of the mountain where the road straightened for a good chance to pass a truck you're dealt the misfortune of following down the mountain, a big Chevy SUV was parked beside the road, a bumper jack holding it up, an old country boy sitting on the ground with a spare tire. I passed by thinking he's got it under control. I re-saw him in my mind's eye and realized he did not have it under control. He was in his seventies, kept alive by a doctor and medications, has these huge tires to deal with, somehow got the spare out and onto the ground and the back end jacked up. He couldn't do any more. He'd met his limit. He was sitting beside the tire in frustration. I turned at the next place to turn around and went back to give him a hand. I could not have driven any further once I saw his situation. It wasn't morality. It wasn't good deeds. I saw he could not take the old wheel off and put the new one on. He didn't have the strength. I did. It's what we do in the mountains. You see somebody needs a hand, you lend a hand. It's mountain code. It's what hillbillies do. He was tickled somebody stopped to help him. When I saw him up close, I wondered how he made it as far as he had. The tires were big and he was frail. I went through the procedure of changing the wheels, uneasy about the bumper jack I was careful not to shake. I grew up in the Fifties when guys would crawl under their cars to work on them using bumper jacks. It was frequent in the news that a man was crushed to death when his bumper jack let go. I was glad to get the old boy back on the road, and he was thankful, offered to pay me. No, pay was not the purpose. We shook hands and went on our ways.
alexander calder himself