29 09 2012

Route 24 North is wide but not very long.  It runs from the outer ring road around Boston, Rt. 495, to the inner ring, Rt. 128.  I was driving North from the undisclosed location of our Shaolin training camp on Cape Cod.

I should have stopped to evaluate a roof on the garage of the summer house of the mysterious Helen of Cambridge, but was daunted by the holiday traffic.

I had been driving slower in Clyde Barrow, my blue 1988 Toyota mini-truck.It felt like it wanted to go slow, which I chalked up to both of us being old and temperamental.

Chain Link                                                                                                                                                                                                    ElFin photo

So I made it past Brockton, where Rocky Marciano, Marvin Hagler, and Robbie Sims learned to be pugnacious, and the drivers wherefrom who clearly felt driven to drive combatively.  I was approaching the northern terminus of 24, and had passed the sign indicating the split.

People in small white cars and large black SUVs texted furiously as they swarmed into their desired lanes at illegal and inadvisable speeds while studiously ignoring each other and lethal peril alike with an enviably cavalier fearlessness.  I hove to the slow lane slowly, since the nasty vibration I had become more and more aware of seemed to transcend even what I could expect from the chopped-up ugly road surface.

Needs Improvement
R.D. Schooling

It was time to stop in the worst place on earth to stop, and check the wheels for undesirable eventualities.

There was nothing for it, but to hurl myself onto the shoulder of the road, and brake quickly before the fork in the road, where the shoulder disappears and all bets are off.

I made it, and considered pulling over even more, which would have  involved leaning kind of sideways on the slanty downhill grassy berm.  Screw it, I thought, and jumped out during a break in the steel train of death whipping relentlessly past my door; but only after initiating the warning flashers.

I decided to check the tires first on the side away from the traffic, which was where the vibration felt like it was originating.

Bad Hair Day

Both tires on that side had air.  Pushing on the front tire with my shoe, I noticed that it looked hairier than usual.  I pushed against what was left of the tire with my foot, but it was all frayed steel belts, like an Einstein hairdo of  wire.  It was still holding air, but for how long?

I took a moment to scrabble in the glove compartment for an LED flashlight.  In the LASAR light of reality, the rubber appeared to be gone, in fact some tread was spread out on the nearby lane.  I couldn’t say for sure if it was my tread, and it didn’t matter anyway.  I had larger char to broil.

It’s a Right Big Char Then
Jim Mayerly @  higharctic.com

I saw a maroon minivan pull over about 75 yards behind me, as I dialed AAA on my cell phone which I had.  And it was charged, was able to connect with a network, and after some of the usual robotic numerations, connected me with an English-speaking female.

Mine’s Bigger, Innit?

“I’m at the North end of Route 24 where it runs into 93/95/128.  It is a road of many names right there where it’s called 93 South even though it goes north.  She got the idea, and guessed from my tone of voice that I was in a hairy location.

Marvelous. Not Hairy.
cyberboxingzone.com photo

“I probably need a tow,” I said.  “I have a spare, but it’s under the truck, and I’m pretty sure it’s rusted in place.”  The spare tire under the Death Tuna was operational, but I hadn’t gotten around to freeing up the one under the Blue Barrow.

A Spare Tire: Nissan Titanic
ask.com photo

She kept me on hold while she did dispatcher things, so I began to walk back toward the other breakdown up the road.

There were some children milling around next to the cars flying past, and a woman listlessly herding them in all directions.  There was a large black man on his cell phone wandering around off to the side.  He looked up at me blankly while he was talking, just as my AAA person came back on the line.  I stopped and talked to her, a respectful distance from the proceedings in and around the maroon van.

Kids in the Road
ElFin photo

He got off the phone, and explained to me that he had repaired his spare tire and then it had been stolen off his back porch.  We shook our heads over the state of the world.

I found out his name was Mike, and told him that I had called AAA.

“How many lugs do your wheels have?  I asked, “Maybe you could use my spare tire.”

Mike latched onto that slim hope, even though I said that the spare might be frozen out of reach.  We walked back to my truck and I started pulling pieces of the complex tire retrieval and changing system out from behind my seat back.  After an extensive vaudeville routine, we determined that the spare was indeed frozen in place under the bed.

epicfail.com photo

About then a roll-off tow truck pulled up along with a second hook truck, bringing our comedy offerings to a merciful conclusion.

We established that I would not be producing a spare tire, and that I needed a tow to Somerville.  At that point I mentioned the plight of Mike, the stranded traveler.  The white guy in the roll-off looked regretful as he expressed his regrets over not being able to help the guy out.  The black guy in the hook truck looked not entirely as troubled as he agreed there was nothing to be done.

In the distance, the woman of the maroon van snatched a child out of the roadway in time to avoid a messy outcome.

I asked if they could tow Mike to the next exit, as a regular tow job, like for money.

No, they were exclusive AAA tow operators.

The Maroon Van Gets Hooked
ElFin photo

Perhaps moved by my concern for a fellow strandee, the white guy relented and said they could tow the van to the next exit as a courtesy, for “safety reasons.”  It was only a matter of time until one of the children made it onto the road surface to be flattened.

The white AAA guy explained the plan to the black AAA guy, who seemed less than ecstatic at the prospect.  We loaded up the truck and van, “Before the staties show up,” as the white AAA guy said.  From what I could glean, the cops were interested in impounding vehicles rather than not, for reasons left unsaid.  I was disappointed but not surprised.

Clyde the Blue Barrow Takes a Ride
ElFin photo

Mike and a child came up to the roll-off to squeeze in with us.  As they were climbing in, I slipped a $20 to the driver, for “helping out the stranded people.”  He had suggested to Mike that he tip the other driver, but nobody really thought that was going to happen.

Mike got in with a bright, smiling child with golden kinky hair, named Darnell, who sat on his lap.

Mike complained about how things always happen to him.

“It could have been worse,” I said, thinking about all the ways things could have been worse for him: no tow, no friendly strangers, or flattened, road-killed children.  Mike was loath to look on the bright side, and nothing could change that.

We let them out at a Shell station, to deal with the unhappy tow driver, and the vicissitudes of fate.

Outside, It’s America;
Jordan Spiers acrylic
ElFin photo

Free from out obligations to our fellow man, we got onto Route 93 South, heading north into the city.  The road magically became 93 North after the Braintree split, and we maintained our progress.  I found out the driver was not only a AAA supervisor, hence his sway over the unhelpful other driver, but he was also a trainer for new drivers.  “AAA is a service operation,” he said, “and they’ll do almost anything to keep a customer.”

We talked about the reluctance of the other driver to help out.

“Most of these drivers come from the towing industry,” he said.

“So they’re used to an adversarial relationship,” I said.

Jerr-dan the Truck
ElFin photo

The driver told me about his recent purchase of a duplex townhouse in Weymouth, a somewhat sketchy waterfront town south of Boston.  He had purchased it for half of the pre-crash asking price, and was living there free on the proceeds of the other unit’s rental income.  I told him that Somerville real estate had continued to rise in spite of all forces of reason and the market.

We got off 93 and were heading toward my driveway, when the driver floated the idea of heading directly to a tire store to remedy the situation.  Upon reflection this made sense, so I directed him to Century Tire on Beacon Street in Cambridge, where I had had some experience with purchasing tires and having Bryan perform front-end work on occasion.

Ready to Roll
ElFin photo

I found out the driver’s name, which I forget now, something starting with the letter T, I think.  Tyler, Tyson, something like that.

“This will be it for me,” he said.  “By the time I get back, my shift will be over.”

We made it through Union Square, Somerville, down Washington Street to where it crosses Beacon Street and magically becomes Kirkland Street.

We tuned right at the Dali restaurant.  He mentioned that he had made a delivery there during his weekday job as a delivery driver.

I mentioned that it was a good place to take a date.  I had been there a week earlier on a date.  It hadn’t gone very well.

Some Drink to Forget
UCSB photo

I had to give directions, since the GPS in the AAA truck had gone into tilt mode, and with the streets changing names suddenly, and having been laid out by spiders on LSD, can you really blame it?  Geodesic segmentation is beyond its capacity.

We arrived at the Century Tire, where I went charging in and impatiently paced, as a large black guy behind the counter completed what was obviously a personal call on his cellular telephonic device.

He got off the phone and quoted me a price of  $75 for a tire, which sounded good until an even larger, white guy came out from the back, and quoted me a price of $150 a tire, since I had a truck and would need “SUV tires.”

The AAA driver had joined me in the shop.  “That’s twice as much,” I observed to him.  He agreed.

“Actually it will be $157.70 a tire, including tax, mounting, balancing, everything,” said the big guy.  I would rather know how much it will actually cost, in the final analysis.  He also told me how much an alignment would be, including tax.  I was pushing it on the Tunacuda, having rebuilt the front end a couple of summers ago now, aligning it by measuring the pivot points before and after replacement.  It was OK, but not for a road trip.

“Let me show you something,” I said, and we went outside to look at the tires on my truck, which was still at a convenient viewing height on the back of the roll-off.  The big guy spit on a large finger and rubbed at a spot on one of the non-fragged tires on my truck.  Out of the dirt appeared a 00.

Double Aught
EDC-blog photo

“This tire is twelve years old.  They say change them every six years at the most.  You need four new tires.

“Too bad, there’s lots of tread, but they’re all dry-rotted.”

“That’s kind of what I thought,” I said.  There was lots of rubber left on the other three tires, but for how long?

“Another one will go, and you’ll be looking at some expensive body work.”

“This is the body I’m worried about,” I said, placing my hand on my chest.
“I’m thinking four new tires,” I said to the AAA driver.  He nodded in agreement.

“That’s what I’d do,” he said.

Six Hundred Bucks? Ouch!
ElFin photo

“Drop it,” I said.  “Thanks for waiting, and everything else, too.”

He dropped the Blue Barrow.

It was Saturday on Labor Day weekend, and there were no other cars there, and very few on the street, driving by, either.  The AAA guy went off to be helpful and spread light and cheer, as I followed the giant tire guy into the shop.

“Do you want the lettering facing in or out?” he asked.  “If it’s facing out you have to wash your tires more often.”

“You’re talking my language,” I said.  “Facing in.”

We filled out a form and then waited while the big black guy that had been on the cellular telephonic device and a small hispanic gentleman brought the truck into the garage and started the tire replacement procedure.

I asked about Dave, who was usually behind the counter, and Bryan the front-end guy.  They were both still employed there.

“Are you the owner?” I asked.

“No, actually Dave’s the owner,” he said.  “Well it’s a family-owned business.”

“The only person I don’t like here is Billy,” I said.  “He looks like another guy named Billy I can’t stand.  I can’t stand either of them.”  It may be a case of  body dismorphism by proxy; something I just found out about by reading a poster on the MBTA.

“Oh, was he the guy that was always hiding up on the roof working on his tan?  Yeah, he’s gone.”  Justice be done.

Please Come Inside, You are Done
maureenholland.wordpress.com photo

The big guy had that Boston accent, maybe a relic of Irish brogue, where halfway through a sentence, all the consonants drop out, and it becomes a mush of unintelligible sound.  As a result I spent most of our further conversation marveling at the sound of the big tire guy’s speech patterns while my truck was undergoing repairs.  We went outside to look at his Buick Roadmaster with a sleeper Corvette LT-1 engine.  In this way time flew until they rolled out the Blue Barrow with it’s beautiful new tires.

“You wrote down the DOT serial numbers right?” he asked the garage guys, winking at me.  They hadn’t, and the numbers are on the side with the lettering, so they had to crawl under the truck with a flashlight to get the numbers.

I rolled out of the parking lot on soft, silent tires.  There is nothing to compare to that slinky new-tire ride.



One response

29 09 2012
Nancy Marsh Sanderson

Love your writing Jordan, as always.

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