At midnight on the 5th of July, my right front tire blew in one of the worst places in the entire city for such things to happen. I cursed the heavens and wondered aloud why this was happening to me now. It was Friday, and I was flying out to Vegas on Sunday. Didn’t the universe understand that I didn’t have time to deal with a flat?
I pulled over and put on my hazards. The heat and humidity made my clothes stick to me instantly, and I bitched that this would happen when the lows were only in the mid-seventies. I tried to cheer myself by thinking at least it wasn’t mid-twenties. I set the cooler and lawn chairs out of the back so I could take out my jack and spare. The spare was a donut, of course, and so I cursed Subaru for not making full-size spares standard. The battery in the flashlight was almost dead, and so in amber light, I was on my side on the shoulder of the interstate, peering under the car for the indicator arrow for the jack, and hoping that no one would decide to stop and kill me.
As I slid the jack under the car, a cop pulled up behind me and puts on his lights. “Need help, ma’am?” he asked.
“I think I’ve got it,” I said, “but if you don’t mind staying…”
“No problem. You know, when people see flashing hazards, they sometimes drift toward you and hit you, even though you’re on the shoulder, especially at night. I’ll just stay behind you. People tend to avoid flashing police lights.”
I was glad of him, and his flashing lights, especially since my flashlight chose that moment to die. He did end up helping me with the tire and getting all my gear back in the car. I drove 55 all the way home, grumbling and griping.
The next morning, I called my buddy, a car mechanic and performance specialist, and he gave me the name and address of a truck garage. “I tuned this guy’s Mustang, so he does tires for me for just a little over cost. I’ll call him and tell him to expect you after lunch.”
I drove back to the city (and I would be coming back the next day to the airport), to an even worse part of town than the part where the tire blew. After driving past it and turning around in an empty parking lot, save two hookers, I pulled into the garage. By trucks, my buddy meant 18-wheelers, and there were loads of them along with their drivers out in the blazing heat. I went in the shop, dingy, with a rasping window AC, poorly lit with half-dead fluorescents, and stereotypically ripped naugahyde chairs held together with duct tape. I approached the stereotypical faded beauty office wrangler, complete with bad dye job and 120 menthol smoldering in a miniature Good Year tire with a glass ashtray at its center. In one wave, she managed to ask for my keys and tell me to sit.
Anticipating the usual hour to two-hour wait, I took a seat in the least ripped chair and settled down to read a Terry Pratchett novel. After only thirty minutes, the manager said, “Okay, hon, they’re done with you. Go round back and check it out, then come back. I’ll have your ticket.”
I did go round back where an ancient black man handed me my keys. When I said hello to him, heads popped up from under hoods and under engines. The mechanics watched me as I checked that I had all my hub and valve caps. “Your spare’s in the back,” the old man said to me and patted my hand.
In the office, I paid only $390 for four high-end touring tires, making my eyes pop. I didn’t argue. As I handed my check to the manager, I said, “This is the best service I’ve ever gotten,” to which she said, “Aw, thanks, hon. I’ll pass that along to Bobby.” Not knowing or caring who Bobby was, I smiled, took my copy of the ticket, and hit the road.
Before I flew out to Vegas, I called my buddy to thank him for helping, and he said, “Hey, did I tell you the guy that owns that place is a Grand Dragon?”
“Yeah, can you believe that? Nicest guy in the world. You’d never think he was in the KKK.”
“Oh my God! Are you telling me I just gave business to someone who is a leader of the KKK?!”
“That’s what I’m saying. They did a thing on him on the Discovery Channel. He goes by Bobby around here, but that aint his real name.”
“I’m riding around on KKK tires.” I shook my head at the phone.
“He gave you a good deal, didn’t he?”
“Well yeah but still.”
“You think other people who put tires on your car don’t have hate in their hearts about something?”
Thing is, after a long argument with the IRS over not sending me an economic stimulus check, I finally got the $400 only three days before the tire blew. In my mind, I traded my stimulus money for those tires, so in my mind, I used W’s gift to the citizens of the U.S. to stimulate the business of a man whose breeds hate for a hobby. In the end, the whole thing left me feeling like a needed a long, scalding shower, especially since I kept the tires.