Yesterday, I hit the 100-day mark since returning to the States. It’s a completely arbitrary milestone, especially since I left the country again less than two months after I returned, but I’m back now, for real, and reality is setting in. With decisions to be made (where to live? what to do?), bills to be paid, and responsibilities to attend to, my attention has refocused to my trusty steed, Bessie, a beloved 2000 VW station-wagon.
Bessie and I have been on many adventures – 185,053 miles worth. Together, we have lived in four cities, driven cross-country at least twice horizontally and four times vertically, and tolerated more than our share of derogatory comments about station wagons and child-free soccer moms. Last summer, we survived no fewer than 9,000 miles together, though the heat and a two tires didn’t make it the whole way.
It is possible Bessie has been better to me than I have to her, though she’s gotten me back with her fair share of expenses. It will be a sad, though much awaited day, when I have been re-employed long enough to replace her with a vehicle that has, oh, I don’t know, decent cupholders and someplace to plug in my phone.
This morning, as a matter of routine maintenance, I took Bessie in to get her tires rotated. (Don’t be impressed – it’s probably the first time ever.) When I handed over my key, the tech at Discount Tire asked me if there was a special lock required to get the tires off. Without pausing I looked at him and replied, “Hell no. It doesn’t take more than one midnight tire-change on the streets of DC for me to get rid of the locking lug nuts.”
After 14 years, it is easy to forget some of the incidents Bessie and I have shared, but that simple question – is there a special lock on the tires – was enough to take me back ten years, to a time I lived in DC right after grad school, and en-route to meeting a friend for dinner, turned a corner too tightly and hit my tire on the metal gutter-guard on the sidewalk edge. My right rear tire went from full to flat in half a block, and I limped Bessie around the corner and into a blissfully available parking spot.
My dad taught me to change a tire early on because he considers it, along with proper use of duct tape and WD40, one of life’s essential skills. But after loosening four of the lug nuts on this tire, then struggling with the fifth for an extended period of time, I remembered being told about the lug nut key when I bought tires five months earlier. The tech made a big point to inform me I better not to lose it. And then, apparently, he never put it back in the tire-changing kit.
It took a good two hours for AAA to send a tow to Georgetown on Saturday night, but it was worth the wait for Ulysses, a wanderer of the Southern States with five children and a ‘good woman,’ this one, finally, after the other three. He seemed aptly named and he ferried Bessie and me into the far east side of Capitol Hill, to an all-night tire drive-through garage with cars lined out the roll-up store-front and partway down the street, waiting to buy used tires that were stacked as high as the garage roof.
Ulysses refused to drop me off, alone and conspicuous, so late at night, and so we sat in the idling cab of the tow truck for 30 minutes while he regaled me with stories of his travels, until it was our turn to pull in to the shop, where people without cars walked up to the pay window and left with paper sandwich bags of something other than tire parts. We had a store like that where I went to college; a Snapple cost $25 and came in a bag with a fun surprise, if you catch my drift.
The mechanic seemed tempted to file locking lug nuts under “white people problems,” and I can’t say I blamed him. After confirming multiple times that I understood he may strip the nut and I may need to buy another, he went at it, first with a compressed air impact wrench and then with a variety of other tools I have no ability to name. I’m not 100% positive one of them wasn’t a crow bar. At last, it came off, and Ulysses insisted on changing my tire for me, since that’s what AAA paid him for. Tire changed, spare on, Bessie was ready to go. I tipped Ulysses $20 and paid the mechanic his $35, and figured it was a cheap price to pay for such an adventure.