A comedy of errors turns into some profound lessons for Joe Rutland as he tells the story of sleeping with the enemy … himself … inside his own car.
I knew that I was in trouble when my left front tire started wheezing out air when leaving for work last Tuesday afternoon. See, I have a commute for my night job from my home in Chandler, Ariz.
The other town’s name is not important, really. After all, the goofball here should have kept a closer eye on that tire before … well … let me just say that between the time I went into work and the time I came out to go home, that tire went flat.
Not a little flat. I mean flat, baby.
Thus begins a Tuesday night and Wednesday morning filled with lessons from a flat tire.
I feel grateful that I was not on Interstate 10 driving back home at midnight and the tire decides to go out. Who knows what might have happened. It could have been a bad scene.
Lesson No. 1: Humility. I got out of work, saw the tire and felt that sinking feeling in my gut. Yet I knew that I had a trump card … AAA. Triple-A. They’ll help me. Sure they will. So I drove my car to an all-night gas station and parked to get some gas. (What was I really thinking?) I put some in the tank and the tire, well, it just wasn’t getting better. So I pulled out the trusty AAA card and called for some help. No problem. Man on the way. I thought, “Yes. AAA will save the night, put on my spare, and I’ll drive home.”
By now, it’s 12:30 a.m. Wednesday morning and it was a bit cool outside. No complaints here as Arizona does have a few warm months. A few, people … not 12 months of furnace-burning heat. I parked my car up front so Mr. AAA could see it. He rolls in with his tow truck, gets out and comes over. He gets his jack out of the truck and raises the car up so he can get to the tire easily. I’m thinking, “Ah wonderful. He’ll have this fixed in no time.” Putting his automatic lug nut gun to the first one, he goes 10 seconds on it and pulls it off. The process is repeated a second time. No dice. The man goes over and gets another handheld tool, gives one big push (the dude weighed close to 200 pounds easily, OK), and the lug nut doesn’t move.
This is not good. Eventually, he couldn’t do anything at all, got back into his tow truck and drove off. He did say that he could call another driver to come out and try to get the lug nuts off, but he’d have the same problem, too.
So I signed his paperwork, he left, and I headed back into town to find a hotel room for the night. Holiday Inn was out as it was out of my budget. I stopped at a motel along the main road, went in at now 1:30 a.m., gave the man at the desk (who I woke up) my debit card, he ran it and said “Declined.”
Lesson No. 2: Financial responsibility. I was sure that I had enough in the bank account to cover a $40 hotel room for one night. I did say this was a motel along the main road of this town, right? OK. I got back into my car, with the flat tire, and was getting a bit carried away. Admittedly, being 50 years old and lacking sound financial responsibility in my life is not pretty and I’m not proud of it. I’m working on it, though. I mean, what woman in the world would want to go out with a guy that isn’t financially responsible? (That’s the type of mental yapping that runs through my head sometimes.)
Now what, you are asking? Ah well, it’s 1:50 a.m. Wednesday and I’m nowhere near going home. So I decide to do the safe thing (at least for this night) and drive back to the parking lot near where I work, park my car and … yes … sleep in the car. Another dose of humility, please.
(Let me say something here, too. Look, I didn’t have to go sleep in a shelter or on the streets. The sleeping-in-the-car experience is one that I’ll never forget … yet I’m very aware that there are thousands and thousands of others who had it much worse that night than I did. So I’m not blind to the real-world issue of homelessness.)
Now … back to the countdown.
Lesson No. 3: Sleeping with one eye open. I park it in a parking space and turn the ignition off. I didn’t bring a jacket with me, so it’s me with a dress shirt and an undershirt pushing the front seat back and into a reclining position. I was near where people were working for the company at these hours. I felt pretty safe and parked where there were lights. Yet for the next four hours, I’d look at my smartphone and see it inch along hour by hour.
When the front seat got boring, I maneuvered my way into the back seat area. I had the seats turned down and there was room to curl up … with the spare tire inside the car that Mr. AAA could not use. Then it was back to the front seat. I swear if someone had been videotaping me during the night, it might have looked like a Jim Carrey film or (for old-school people) Jerry Lewis from the 1960s.
It was a comedy.
Lesson No. 4: Patience. About 4:45 a.m., I found the need to visit a nearby bathroom. Well, I did see a couple of people who work in the early hours around the company building outside. I thought, “Hey, we work at the same place so I’ll just go inside there and take care of myself.” Not so fast there, Joe. I get out of my car, walk over and start to go inside this building. An older gentleman looked at me and said, in effect, that this was private property and I’m not allowed inside. I told him that we both work for the same company. It didn’t matter. This felt like Clark Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” hearing from John Candy’s character, “Sorry folks. Park’s closed. Moose should’ve told you outside.” Honestly.
So it was back to my car and another attempt at getting some winks. When the phone struck 5:45 a.m., I thought I could go somewhere and get a little breakfast. Maybe even something hot to drink, like coffee. I took the car very carefully out of said parking spot, drove down another main city street to get breakfast. Breakfast biscuit, hash browns and hot coffee at 6:05 a.m. It never tasted better.
Lesson No. 5: Immense gratitude. Once I finished with breakfast, I made my way to a mainstream tire shop. I parked the car and waited an hour for it to open up. By now, it was 7:30 a.m. Wednesday and I was running on little sleep and breakfast. The tire shop opened up at 7:45, one of their employees came out, came over to see what was going on and eventually put my spare on. I felt grateful that I didn’t get on the road any more than I had that night. I felt grateful that they put on the spare for no charge. I felt grateful that I took care of myself as best as possible.
I drove back to Chandler, got home around 9:30 a.m., grabbed two hours of sleep, got up and did some freelance work, then headed right back out the door for another night of work.
You might be asking if one person can have all these lessons pour out of one little situation around a flat tire. My answer is if you want to learn more about yourself and have a semblance of awareness – even in the midst of goofball thinking – then it’s possible.