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Changing Flat Tires - cellophane
the story of an invisible girl
renniekins
renniekins
Changing Flat Tires
I remember my first flat tire. I was... oh, probably 22 or so, just out of college. I had driven my old Pontiac T6000 to Berkley, and fachless and I had spent the evening hanging out doing something-or-the-other. I left her house, walked back to my car, and found the tire was flat.

I walked back to her place, rang the bell, and explained the situation. She asked me, "Do you want me to help you change it?"

I paused, briefly speechless. I was stunned by the suggestion. That hadn't been what I'd expected at all! Quite frankly, I had expected her to go upstairs and wake up her dad. He would know just what to do; I certainly didn't.

I was still young. I had just moved out of my parents' home and into my first apartment, but it certainly hadn't been long. I was still adjusting to the idea that there aren't "dad problems", or "mom problems" anymore -- there are just problems. I was still getting used to the idea that I could (and was even supposed to!) resolve things on my own.

But of course I couldn't voice all of this. If fachless thought we could change a flat tire, then I certainly was not going to disgrace us both by asking for her dad's help. So I thanked her, she grabbed a flashlight, and we walked back to inspect my car.

It turned out to be not all that difficult. We opened the trunk, moved the carpet out of the way, and there was a plastic lid covering the spare tire well. Under it was everything we'd need to jack up the car, remove the flat, and attach the donut spare tire. On the lid were detailed instructions, complete with diagrams. They were smudged with age, but still readable. Between our coordinated effort, the flashlight, and several inspections of the instructions, we changed the tire without any problem.

I was really proud of us -- girl power! I'd never thought of myself as the tire-changing or car-fixing type, and I certainly didn't know what I was doing. But with her confidence, I discovered that really all a task like that needs is a willingness to give it a try. It's not complicated, and it does come with directions after all.

When I found myself with yet-another flat tire a few weeks later, in my own parking lot, I didn't even need any help. I took care of it all by myself! I found it challenging, but just moving slowly and being extra-careful was all it needed. And it is such a good feeling, to know I can change a tire.

Fast-forward several years, and my younger sister and I are both working in the same city, so we meet for lunch one day. She pulls up outside my office, and when she stops I notice that her tire is flat. She gets out of the car, and we both inspect it ruefully. "Now what do we do?" she asks me.

"We go to lunch, and we hope it is better by the time I get back," is my suggestion.

We walk across the street for lunch, but the tire is still flat when we return. Perhaps even flatter.

We are both in business clothes. She is wondering if we should call a truck. I tell her, "Let's change it. I know how to do it, and I can show you. It's not that hard. Besides, we're right in front of a big office building. In all likelihood as soon as we start some nice guy will come help us out, probably insisting to do the job for us." Neither of us feel like getting dirty, but eventually she agrees to the idea.

We pull out her tools and instructions, look them over, and jack up the car. We're two nicely-dressed girls, trying to change a tire without getting grease on their skirts, in front of a building covered in windows. There is even a car parked several yards back with an old man sitting in it, watching us. Nobody, not one person, comes up to offer any assistance.

"Chivalry is dead!" she moans, struggling with the lug nuts. We can't get the bolts off, so we can't remove the tire and replace it with the spare. We take turns struggling with it, barking our knuckles, getting progressively more and more frustrated.

Finally a couple of guys comes out; one is a friend of mine from the third floor. He confesses that they were watching us out the window, then finally decided to come see if we need a hand. Finally! "Chivalry isn't quite dead after all!"

Our rescuers each take a turn struggling with the stubborn nuts, then finally we realize: the tire iron from my sister's trunk has a thin crack in it, just enough to keep it from locking tightly onto the lug nuts. My friend goes to get his truck, and emerges from it carrying a better tire iron. With the new tool, the tire come off quite easily, much to everyone's vast relief.

After that, the job proceeds quickly, with the knights guys kindly doing most of the work. We thank them profusely when Sis is finally able to drive happily away on her spare tire, and they go back upstairs.

Okay chivalry isn't quite dead, but it does seem dangerously ill at times. But really, who needs a guy to change my tires for me anyway? (Even if it is handy now and then, especially when I want to stay clean.) But it's satisfying to know that I can do it myself; there is nothing intrinsically masculine about car maintenance....nor most anything! It's just a question of whether I want to do something, not whether I can.

I don't know what brought these stories to mind yesterday, but it's good to remember such things sometimes!

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Comments
pi3832 From: pi3832 Date: November 10th, 2005 06:10 am (UTC) (Link)
"Chivalry is dead!" she moans

It ain't dead, it done got killed.

I can't remember how many times I changed someone's tire or pulled over to see if people needed help or whatever (I even did a road-side radiator-hose repair once) when I lived in Texas and/or Arizona. (Indeed, I once had a long adventure with a couple with a flat tire that involved rental cars and driving all over Phoenix and $50 that I was going to mail back to them except my battery died the next day and I chalked the cash up to karma.)

Then I moved to Cincinnati, and most of the people who started out asking for some kind of automotive assistance where actually using that as a lead in to try and get me to give them some money. (In fact, now that I think about it, all of them were.) The only time I've changed a tire in Cincinnati was when I was standing outside a UDF having a smoke, watching this teenage girl completely lost as to what to do about her flat tire and I eventually took pity on her floundering and ended up putting her spare on for her. (She, however, had no interest in learning how to do it herself and was quite happy to let me do all the work while she fielded cell-phone calls.)

Anyway, if you want chivalry, I think you need to get out of the urbane parts of the country.
elizilla From: elizilla Date: November 10th, 2005 06:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I dunno. I spent a couple of months driving around Ann Arbor in a car that always started fine when it was cold, but had to be push started when warm. I rarely had to push start it alone. People do come over and help.
johnridley From: johnridley Date: November 10th, 2005 12:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
It turned out to be not all that difficult.

Most things actually aren't difficult. People are just unwilling to even try. That might mean having to think or something equally unpleasant. I'm glad to have found myself with a lot of friends who don't work that way.

Hope your sister went to Sears and bought a new lug wrench immediately.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 11th, 2005 05:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh yes, I forgot to write about that part of the story!

She intended to, but she didn't. So her birthday came up not too long after, and I bought her a new wrench AND a "spare tire in a can" for times when it is less convenient to change it!!!

Aren't I just such a great sister?
devnul From: devnul Date: November 10th, 2005 01:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
First of all, it's a great story, and I think it's a wonderful thing that when such stories come to mind, they get told.

I've only had to change a tire twice in my life. The first time was easy. I turned a corner in a suburban subdivision and noticed a hissing sound. I didn't like it, got out, and lo and behold my tire was going flat. I easily got it off and put on the little toy spare, but what shocked me was that I'd run the inside-facing outer edge of the sidewall all the way through. I had steel wires poking out at me.

Had that tire blown not 5 minutes earlier, driving 80mph down Rte 2, the outcome would have easily been a lot, lot worse.

The second time, I discovered that my toy spare (different car) had no air in it. At 2am I had to call a friend for help. This was beyond embarrasing and now I always have a car-powered air pump along with my tool kit.

Hmm ... I guess I should say something about chivalry. It's not dead, but has suffered from outside influences. One is bad attitude from unappreciative people. When I was in college I got yelled at by a woman on the subway once for offering her my seat. All I said was "would you like to sit?" and got that how dare I "offer my seat because she was a woman." I guess this is what happens passing near such a liberal area as Cambridge, but I was taught growing up to hold doors (for anyone), offer my seat to anyone who looks like they could use it (she was carrying a lot of stuff), and so forth. That incident really hurt me and it took a while to shake off.

The other is, as always, the lawyers. What if I help someone with a tire and do it wrong? What if they're injured? What if they come and sue my ass off? The legal system is killing the good samaritan.

There are also criminals and thieves who feign distress, too, which is a sad state of affairs.

I'm glad you finally got help, and I hope the world can maintain what chivalry it has. There are certainly still a few of us out there who let people into traffic and walk on the street side of the sidewalk, but it's dwindling.

And I have no doubt that you could perform any kind of car maintenance. Of course, even I don't do my own anymore ... there's so little under the hood of my Subaru that resembles the Pontiac I used to work on with my Dad when I was little!

Must ... get ... to ... work ...
pstscrpt From: pstscrpt Date: November 10th, 2005 03:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's just a question of whether I want to do something, not whether I can.
Well, mostly. There's also how long the tire iron is, and how much you weigh when you need to stand on it. That's easily fixed with a longer tire iron, though.
johnridley From: johnridley Date: November 10th, 2005 06:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
...or a rock. Or a hunk of pipe. Or the spare tire, or anything to bash with.
infernus1218 From: infernus1218 Date: November 10th, 2005 04:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
not to take away of from the focus of the story, but isn't today supposed to be picture day?
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 11th, 2005 05:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Yup, just took me awhile. Enjoy!
From: 111466 Date: November 10th, 2005 04:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hrm. I love this story, as it's made me think all sorts of things.

1. I shouldn't be afraid (or I should stop being afraid) of things I ought to know and go learn them. That's a tough process for me, though, and it takes a long time for me to work through it.

2. Like my grandmother (long dead), I tend to apply stories to people and want to help them if I can. If I saw a man whose car had a flat tire, I'd probably wonder if he needed help because he might have arthritis in his hands and couldn't do it himself or was a visitor who didn't speak English well or couldn't afford a tow truck or didn't have a cell phone.

3. I forget that I am supposed to know things by now. It always surprises me that men expect me to walk through the door first because I'm so accustomed to following someone else through it, it doesn't occur to me to go first.

4. Finally, your story and someone else's comment reminds me of a group member. He told me he's failed Communications class (speech) twice already due to his fear of public speaking. Well, while I can understand that, I refused to let him off the hook. So, there is helping and then there is enabling, I guess is my obvious point.


renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 11th, 2005 05:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Sometimes it's just a question of forcing yourself to try something new. It's always scary the first time... but then it's no longer new!
sherdeb From: sherdeb Date: November 10th, 2005 11:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
My ex in Texas, Teddy, used to say...
"Every woman should know how to change a tire, honey, but she should never have to."
Now, there's a southern gentleman for you!
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 11th, 2005 05:06 am (UTC) (Link)
What a great line!

I remember something similar from a movie, something about, "every woman should learn how to sew, but she should never admit to it."
devnul From: devnul Date: November 11th, 2005 12:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
What irony - this article just came out today.

Chivalry, or rather lack thereof, on Boston public transit.
fachless From: fachless Date: November 16th, 2005 04:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ha! I had forgotten all about that! Trust me. You and I trying to figure out how to change our first tire in the driveway was WAY better than waking my dad up!
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