Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2000/09/05

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Subject: [Leica] The Adventures of Eric the Red, part 7
From: Martin Howard <>
Date: Tue, 05 Sep 2000 09:54:01 -0400

I-29 was sparsely populated, with only the odd truck travelling southbound
towards Sioux City during the ghost hour.  My broken radio antenna was no
longer picking up the radio stations, so I had turned it off.  Windows
down, I was listening to the doppler sounds of the grasshoppers by the road
as I sat in the cool, midnight breeze looking at the pulsating white lines
in the middle of the road about 40 miles north of Sioux City.  Suddenly,
there was an explosion and the car lurched toward the passenger side.  One
second I had been doing a nice, steady, silky-smooth 65 mph, the next I was
lopsided, with the sound of metal grinding against tarmac.  It's funny how
the mind works in emergencies.  It all happened so fast, I didn't have time
to panic, but I have this very, very clear memory of some strange car
consumer show from TV many years ago that was suddenly running in my head.
A somewhat overweight guy with a beard and glasses was looking directly at
me and saying:
   "In the case of a tire blow-out, it is very important that you do not
brake suddenly.  Take your foot off the accelerator, let the car slow
naturally while you compensate for the change in balance, and very gently
apply a little brake to bring the car to a halt by the side of the road."
I did as the the TV programme memory instructed me.  I came to a halt on
the shoulder and switched on the hazard lights.  Engine off, I stepped out,
walked round the back, and took a look at the passenger side rear.  The
tire had exploded, taking with it one of the beautiful hubcaps, the
wheel-bay skirt and a long, chrome board that runs along the bottom side of
the car.

A few minutes passed while the whole thing sunk in.  I remembered Chris'
advice and opened the boot and reached into the old Absolut Vodka box.  I
found the chocolate bar and pulled it out.  Apparently, the boot becomes
quite hot after prolonged driving, or at least, well above the melting
point of chocolate.  As I picked up the wrapper, I could feel and hear the
liquid of a completely melted chocolate bar inside.  It was obvious I
wasn't going to be eating it.  Shit.  Before this, I'd been relatively
calm, but somehow the fact that the chocolate bar had melted signalled bad
things on a new scale.  I knew I had a spare, so I used the torch to locate
the jack, got it into position, and then realized that while the car came
with a jack, I had no lug-nut wrench, nor did I have the handle necessary
to operate the jack.  I closed the boot, stood by the side of the car
looking out into the dense darkness of the southern South Dakota fields.
About one truck passed every ten minutes and they were going at a speed
which signalled that they had no intention of stopping for some dumb-ass
Englishman who'd got himself into a mess at the side of the road at one in
the morning.  Then, it dawned on me.  I was standing at the side of the
road, in the middle of the night, miles from anywhere, with a gigantic
ocean-liner of a car that refused to move.  Tuulikki's prediction had come
true and I couldn't help but laugh out into the night at the whole

I figured I could sleep in the car until the morning (even if the weight on
the tire-less wheel rim wasn't going to do it much good) and my chances of
finding help, getting towed, or whatever, would probably improve.  It
dawned on me that missing the hub-cap and wheel-bay skirt must mean that
they were somewhere further up the road, so I took out the flashlight and
started walking back and collecting the pieces.  After about five minutes,
I'd found the skirt, lots of pieces of tire (including almost all of the
tread in one thick slab), and the chrome board, and I was ready to turn
back to the car to dump them in the boot and then look for the hub-cap,
when a white hatchback passed me and started slowing down.  The car
stopped about fifteen meters infront of mine and two tall, slender guys in
their early twenties stepped out.
   "Got a flat?" one asked.
   "Yep.  The passenger side rear blew out on me."
They came around and took a look at the debris.
   "Ugh, that's ugly, man.  Do you need any help?"
   "Well, I have a jack and a full-sized spair, but I don't have a handle
for the jack and I don't have a lug-nut wrench."
   "Oh, no problem," says the shorter of the two, "I've got that in my
car."  And with this, he dashes off and returns with the goods.
I get the car jacked up, somewhat precariously, since the shoulder of the
road tilts slightly and this is the lowest side.  But the lug-nut wrench he
has is a straight-handled model with a single socket.  It doesn't clear the
profile of the hub and it looks like it's too small in any case.
   "No problem," says the taller.  "I live only about four miles down the
road and we've got one of those cross-bars.  Just wait here, we'll be back
in a few minutes."
And with this, they're off.

Again, I'm beside the road in the middle of the night, but now with the car
jacked up.  The wind picks up and is, of course, blowing from the high side
of the car, so I decide that leaning against the car from the other
direction is probably a feeble thing to do, but it gives me psychological
comfort and a purpose in life until they return, so I do.  A police cruiser
comes along the road, travelling in the opposite direction, and presumably
he sees Eric lurching, because the cluster of lights on his roof spring
into life and his tail-lights glow red as the brake is applied.  About a
minute later he's on my side of the road and pulls in behind me.  He sits
for a good thirty seconds in his car after it's come to a halt, with his
headlights and a torch blaring in my face, before he decides that I'm
probably harmless.

"Tire blowout?" he asks.
"Yep."  I tell him about the two guys who are getting the tools I need to
complete the job.  He asks for my driver's license, which he gets, and then
he's off into his cruiser again.  This time, he sits there for several
minutes, chatting on the radio and tapping on some kind of terminal.

The two guys return, this time with the goods.  The cross-bar has a socket
that fits perfectly and unbelievably enough, I can undo the lug-nuts with
hand force.  Usually, with the pneumatic tools used today, it's impossible
to move them.  I get the wheel off and place the spare on the hub.
   "Hey, it's a Firestone," says one of the guys.  The recall of certain
models of Firestone tires had been in the news recently.  The Ford Explorer
and some other vehicles are fitted with this as their factory tire and a
number of people had suffered tire blow-outs with death and injury
resulting from the accidents.  I point the torch at the tire and sure
enough, it's a Firestone alright.  The damage is extensive.  Almost all of
the tread has come off, most of it in a single pelt.  The steel radials
have been bent outwards by the force of the explosion, and the side wall of
the tire has split in a perfectly straight line down the side to the lip.
I suddenly feel extremely lucky.

As I'm putting the final twists on the lug-nuts, the police officer
returns.  He returns my driver's license, then says to the other two:
   "Aren't you boys going to give him some help?"  I've enrolled the
shorter guy for torch detail, and the other replies:
   "I've just had surgury, so I can't do heavy work."
   "Don't worry about it," I reply, "it's pretty much done now."
   "Well, looks like you've got it under control now," says the officer.
"Have a good trip."  And with this he returns to his cruiser, turns off the
x-mas tree on the roof and takes off into the night.
I finish off the job, stick the broken tire in the boot and wipe the worst
of the muck off my hands.  I told the two guys how he'd examined my license
for ten minutes in the car.
   "Oh yeah, they've got a terminal there where they can see any
violations and accidents that you've been involved in.  He was probably
just checking you out."
   "For a tire blow-out?  What was that all about?"
   "Yeah, I knew him in highschool.  He's like that."  I shake their hands
and thank them profusely for stopping and helping me out.  I tell them
about my trip, where I've been and where I'm going.  I think they quite
enjoyed the adventure.

I went back out serching for the lost hub-cap, but coudn't find it.  One
more item to put on the bill to Firestone, I guessed (BTW -- If there are
any legal experts reading this, I would appreciate any advice on how to
proceed in this matter, given the circumstances of this tire failure).  I
checked all the other tires.  The two front ones were new Michelin's, as was
the spare I'd just put on the passenger side rear.  The driver's side rear,
however, was a Firestone, just like the one that blew.  I decided that
caution was the order of the night, and so I drove the remaining forty
miles into Sioux City at a gentle 35 mph with my hazard lights flashing all
the way.  I found a diner close to I-29 where a guy gave me directions to
the Sears Autoshop south of the city.  Sioux City appeared to have more
road construction going on than Columbus and after some consideration, he
decided it would be easier to show me, so he drove first and I followed.
Stopping at some lights, he came over to my car.
   "Just continue down this road until you see the malls, then make a left
and there it is."  I thanked him and plodded along at 20 mph in the
direction he'd indicated.  Once there, I puttered around the parking lots,
looking for the Sears, but never found it.  Instead, I found a Penske Tire
Service company stuck on the side of a Big K-Mart building and took up
residence in their parking lot.  It was now about 3:30 and they opened at
7:00.  Ah, time for sleep.

- -- 
Martin Howard                     | iCon          iDole       iRate
Visiting Scholar, CSEL, OSU       | iDeal         iDull       iMage
email:         | iSue          iOn         iGnorance
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