Bam! Something exploded.
One summer, I don’t remember when now, but probably when I was about 9, so that would have been 1975, our family went to Florida for vacation.
We went there about every 2 years, because my grandparents retired in West Palm Beach, and of course, Disney World is down there. Who doesn’t love that? Anyway, so we’re driving down there on I95, and I’m not sure exactly where we were, but I think we were somewhere in Georgia, when the tire blew.
Oh, I forgot to mention that we were pulling our camper. No, not one of those big solid types, but one of those smallish, pop up kind that you crank up and pull out the beds on the ends—that inevitably stick and won’t come out, then when you finally pull them out, you prop up with the spindliest little leg thingys, that were made of aluminum, I think. Then you stretch
out the canvas top, yeah, it was actually canvas, and vinyl—and then snap that into place by stretching it over the ends. You have to level the whole thing by extending these little legs underneath on the four corners, then VOILA!, you have an abode!
The thing had rust in several places, and the vinyl, plastic-y top looked like the surface of the moon, thanks to a close encounter—a few years before—with a tornadic storm cell somewhere just outside of B.F.E., Kansas. That storm was a doosey: orange-y black clouds swirling, rain so hard that you could not see the hood ornament on the front of the Famiily Truckster. The storm viciously assaulted the Truckster and camper with golf-ball sized hail, and so much rain that I thought I saw Noah floating by standing next to two lambs and a couple of giraffe.
The din of this assault was Armageddon–or what I imagined the final battle would sound like, based on the descriptions my preacher father gave once a year when he preached on Revelations, the Second Coming, and the End of the World. Even my mother was visibly shaken, and that almost NEVER happens. So much so, that she made us all crawl down in the floor of the back seat of the Truckster
and cover our heads with our hands, a position we were all trained to do in school, for tornadoes, and in case the Russians decided to bomb us into oblivion and we all needed to kiss our own ass goodbye, which thankfully never happened.
Sorry, that was a bit of a long digression there, but I wanted to plant an accurate picture of that camper in your mind. This was no spring chicken, I’m tryin’ to tell ya. Hell no. It was an old campaigner, long before it reached the side of I95 in the Georgian heat. I both loved and hated that camper. I loved it, because it was ‘camping’, hated it because when you got to your destination, instead of running for the beach/playground/video arcade, we had to spend an hour setting the damned thing up.
Anyway, so we’re cruising down I95 when the right tire on the camper blew, dragging the car into a slight swerve, which my father adeptly navigated, managing to drag it onto the left shoulder of the interstate highway. Then he counted to 10. That’s what my dad does when he really wants to cuss, but can’t since he’s a preacher, and doesn’t do the whole cussing thing.
He might occasionally say, ‘SHOOT’, which is really the same thing as ‘shit’ with a different vowel, and the same emotion behind it. Cursing, or cussing, I would argue, is really about the emotion and intent behind the word, not the word itself. Words are pretty arbitrary, if you think about it. Someone decided, a long time ago, that ‘shit’ was a bad word, and usage and tradition have held that up, while ‘poop,’ or ‘shoot’ is not. And isn’t a rose by any other name as sweet? Ok, shit ain’t roses, but the analogy holds.
So may dad said ‘shoot,’ and then counted to 10. He got out of the vehicle, it was a station wagon, and I don’t remember which one it was—we had so many over the years—but it was basically the ‘Family Truckster.’ He got out and walked back to survey the damage. The Old Campaigner’s right tire was blown, so he got out the tire tool, and the spare tire—the trailer actually had one—and set to work on the lug nuts. That’s when things got kind of sticky. Literally. They wouldn’t budge.
Years later, when I was 16, my dad showed me how to change a tire—then it was the tire on a car, a metallic green, 1974 Ford LTD—which had gone flat while I was in school, on the very first day I ever drove it to high school—go figure. Anyway, in 1982, I was big enough, and strong enough—I had recently beaten my father at arm wrestling for the first time (the first time he didn’t LET me win that is)—to wield the tire iron. Dad went through the finer points on lug-nut removal (yes, there are ‘finer’ points to it), and when he got to a nut he couldn’t budge, he let me have a go.
I remember him telling me that if it’s really tough and tight, you have to grunt or do some kind of karate sound—not that my dad knew jack crack about ka-ra-TAY, but for some reason he had picked that ‘technique’ up, so he felt he needed to impart the Wisdom of the Ages to his teenage son. Kind of like a ‘wax on, wax off,’ moment, I reckon. Anyway, it worked. I gripped the tire iron, gave it my best Karate Kid, gruntish, growl, and Snap, Crackle n Pop, the damned lug nut gave way! Of course, I looked around to see if any of the girls from class had seen my incredible display of masculinity, but there was none to be seen. I hate Murphy, and his law.
But back in 1975, I was not big enough to loosen lug nuts that my father was unable to move, so I watched him attempt it. I could see the frustration coming off the top of my father’s head—he’s mostly bald—rolling off in a kind of steam, which meant he was gonna say ‘shoot’ a few more times, and probably count to a hundred (that’s never a good thing). It was also probably August, and Georgia, and yes, the heat and humidity is legendary, just like in the movies, for those of you that haven’t experienced it. There were ‘skeeters’ flying round us as well—they always are down there—which makes concentrating an act of congress. And I mean our recent congress. That is, in other words, “It ain’t gonna happen”.
So the nuts wouldn’t move, and my dad’s brain was spinning like a million miles per hour, and the skeeters were swarmin’. We got back into the Truckster, where he sat, fuming, trying to work out what to do next. I imagine his internal conversation to be something like this: (I have these conversations myself, so I reckon his aren’t that different—we’re much the same when it comes to this kind of thing), “SHOOT! Lord (he’s a preacher, remember), how am I gonna get out of THIS mess? I have the Family Truckster full of kids (3 boys), my wife (who isn’t happy at the moment let me tell ya), and I’m stuck to a camper on the side of the road in Georgia, with a flat tire, 100 degree heat,110% humidity, and I think I just swallowed about 20 ‘skeeters. What do I do?”
Dad was stuck. He was trying to figure out, I’m sure, how to get help on the side of the highway, in Georgia, in an age long before the invention of the cell phone. That’s when an idea hit me. It was a pretty simple idea, so I was unsure why my father hadn’t thought of it yet—though now I know (his mind was clouded with too much ‘shoot’ and the pressure of solving a problem that couldn’t be solved the conventional way).
So I said, “Dad?” I tried to be a meek as possible—and that’s not easy for me, even then it wasn’t—because I knew he was NOT in a good mood.
“Not now son! I’m thinking!” There was a pause of a minute or two.
“I said, not NOW!”
After another minute or two—I was an annoying child sometimes, always asking too many questions, but I really did have what I thought was a good idea cooking in my little brain—so I persisted.
“Dad, don’t be mad, but can I ask something?”
Finally, my persistence paid off. He stopped in the middle of counting to 1000 or something, and said, “Yes, son, what is it?”
“Dad, why couldn’t we just unhitch the camper and drive somewhere for help?”
DING! All the Bells of St. Mary began to ring at once! The air—much as it had from the tire—released from my dad’s lungs in one heave. Then, in an attempt to salvage what little face he had left, I think, pointed out that someone might steal the camper if we left it on the side of the road.
“Dad? Why would anyone want to steal a camper with a flat tire, and a roof that looks like the surface of the moon?”
Point made. My father said, “That’s a very good point, son.” To which my mother agreed, and I think added, “ANYone who wants to stop on I95, in the Georgian August heat, to steal that beat up camper can HAVE IT, as far as I”M concerned!” My mother doesn’t mince her words. You never walk away from Mrs. Bivans wondering what side of an issue she is on. Which can be either refreshing, or painful, depending on which side of it YOU are on.
So we unhitched the thing and left it sitting there while we drove off in the Family Truckster to look for help, which we found. When we returned to the rusty old camper, we were informed by the hero from the fillin’ station—that’s what we used to call gas-stations back in the olden times, because you would pull up and an attendant would come out and ask if you wanted it “filled up?,” (they actually had mechanics working there too), yeah, I know, how primitive—that the lug nuts on the camper worked the opposite way than regular car nuts, which meant, ‘lefty loosey, righty tighty’ no longer applied, but instead, ‘lefty tighty, righty loosey’ which makes no damned sense (and doesn’t rhyme, which makes it a crappy mnemonic device), but apparently it was true, so that’s how it was, and the tire was replaced by the fillin’ station hero, and we were off to Disney World!
And the moral of the story is…
What in hell is the point of this story anyway, you ask? Just this. When you’re in a sticky wicket, as we were on that steamy highway so long ago, it pays to listen to children, or, the child within your own brain. Sometimes the solution is so simple that you just can’t see it, because you’re holding on to a rusty, leaky, old trailer with a flat tire. Lose the load already! Cut it loose! Don’t drag around rusty old crap, just because you think someone might steal it if you leave it there for a bit. Chances are, it will still be sitting there when you get back, if you choose to come back for it.
And in case you were wondering, this is a metaphor for LIFE. This is not a ‘how to’ article on fixing flat tires in steamy Georgia in August on I95.
Somethings can’t be fixed. Somethings can’t be fixed by YOU, because you can’t even SEE the nut, much less know which direction to turn it, even if you do know how to grunt like the Karatay Kid! If it can’t be fixed by you, then you must either find someone else—which means unhitching yourself from the problem momentarily and looking for assistance—or, leaving the issue on the side of the road for someone else to deal with, as my mother suggested. So when you find yourself in a situation like that, just yell ‘SHOOT’, count to 10, or 100 if necessary, then LOSE THE LOAD damn it! Drive off and don’t look back, or go get some help at the fillin’ station.