Butt-clenching “commute”

Posted by barb on Jun 10, 2004 in Uncategorized |

Today was not what I would call a memory-book day. No, indeed, I would rather forget the whole thing, but I fear that nothing short of brain damage would accomplish that task — too many details are etched securly in my memory.

The day started with my “annual” exam at the ob/gyn. But, frankly, compared to my afternoon, it was a pleasant walk-in-the-park-on-a-sunny-Sunday kind of thing.

Later in the afternoon we got official word that while the federal goverment is “closed” tomorrow as a federal day of mourning for former President Reagan, it is not actually “closed for business”. What this means is that while civil servants are excused from work tomorrow, contractors are not. Never mind that they will be closing the same gates on campus that they close during “any other federal holiday”. Never mind that the buildings will not be unlocked as they are on any other business day (requiring me to walk across the parking lot to Building 2 whenever I have to pee instead of going into the much-more-convenient Building 6 just outside the trailer’s door). We are, however, allowed to take leave-time for tomorrow if we wish. Oh, yeah, just like any other day of the year.

But frankly, even that wasn’t bad compared to my “commute” home. No, it was more of a cuddling-under-the-blanket-on-a-cool-evening kind of thing.

No, the true fun of the day started about 18 miles into my 35-mile commute home. I was on the “I-270 spur” on the outer loop of the beltway going 70 mph in the left lane, when the car suddenly felt kind of funny — the wheels weren’t quite right, and I started smelling burnt rubber. I decelerated as quickly as I could, and pulled into the left-hand shoulder. Unfortunately, as with most shoulders, there was only about a foot of space between the side of my car (a small Toyota Tercel) and I could only chance a quick look out of the passenger-side window at the front tire. It was flat. Flat, flat.


No problem, I thought. I’ll just grab my AAA card and call the emergency roadside assistance. I reached into the back seat and fished around until I found my purse. I pulled out my “life” and found my AAA card among my credit and customer-bonus cards. Then I reached into the little side pocket where the cell phone lives….except, it wasn’t there. Where could it be? Perhaps in my work bag? It shouldn’t be there, but it was certainly worth a look. Nope. Then I remembered where it was. It was on the counter at home where I had left it after recharging the battery. Well, isn’t that nice.

What to do now? Surely someone will stop, right? But the chances of that are slim unless I’m outside the car looking helpless. But, I was on the spur, on the inside part of a bend, with just my car between me and the oncoming cars. As I looked into my rear-view mirror, I noticed that cars were ignoring the solid white line demarking the shoulder, and had to scramble when they saw my car. There was no way I’d be able to get out of the car here. Plus, the flat was on the passenger-side, and I was on the left shoulder. Changing the tire here was out of the question.

I looked ahead, and noticed that it straightened out about 500 feet up, where I-495 and I-270 come together. I decided to pull the car up there, so at least I wouldn’t be looking in the rear-view mirror clenching my butt every time a car came around the bend hugging (or crossing into) the shoulder.

The car made sickening noises as I rolled on the rim that 500 feet, but frankly my safety was much more important to me at that moment than the cost of repairing the car (plus the seeds of a new car were already germinating). I pulled up to just where I-270 and I-495 come together, and I was in the middle of 6 merging lanes (three on each side).

Unfortunately, this did not improve my chances of getting my tire changed. I still only had a foot between the car and the cars zooming past at 70 mph. But at least the cars coming around the bend had some room to see me and get out of the shoulder.

After about ten minutes, traffic started backing up. The cars that had been zooming past at 70 mph were now braking and were going a manageable 30 mph or less past my car. Could I use this to my advantage? I still had a bit of the merging median in front of me, so I decided to pull the car up a bit more, and angle it so that I could get at the tire without putting my butt into traffic.

I got out my spare and the cheesy jack that came with the car, and moved cautiously up to the errant tire. I started in on one of the lug nuts, trying to loosen them with just the strength in my arms. That didn’t work, so I put my foot on the bar, and slowly added some weight to it. Next thing I know, the lug nut shears off.

That’s okay. You can still put on a spare with just three lug nuts. I just need to be more careful with the others.

I started working on the second lug nut. Again, my arms weren’t strong enough (they looked a bit rusted, since this was the tire without a hubcap), so I gingerly started adding torque with my foot. I tried a small amount of weight. Nothing. I tried a bit more weight. Nothing. I tried everything. The lug nut sheared off.

That’s okay. You can still put on a spare with just two lug nuts, as long as they are opposite each other.

I decided that it was time to start looking like a helpless female driver stranded. I walked around a bit, scratching my head, looking around at my tire, and the cars passing, waving the lug nut wrench-thing. I bent down to start on the thrid lug nut, trying it again with just my arms. And then noticed that a car was pulling up behind me! Yes! Reinforcements.

In the car was a couple, and the man came out and I handed off the wrench to him. He looked at the remaining lug nuts, and then started working on one. He got it to turn an eight of a turn. Not much progress, but far better than I’d been doing. He then turned his attention to the final lug nut. He had more trouble with this one. He tried putting all he could into it. And that lug nut sheared off.

That’s it. Game’s up. You can’t put on a tire with just one lug nut.

Fortunately, the guy had a cell phone that he let me use, so I finally called AAA emergency roadside assistance. They assured me that a tow truck would be there in about 60 minutes. I thanked the man, and his wife (?) for stopping. They offered me a ride, but I thought I should stay with the car. A big thank you to that couple for stopping — I might still be on the beltway if they hadn’t stopped.

So, then I got myself back into the car, looked at the time (4:26 PM), and stealed myself for a long wait.

After a while, I was getting really bored, even with the radio blasting good music, so I decided to look for cool, weird, dumb, or unusual personalized plates. Here’s a sampling:

  • ATOM 12
  • CRAKRS
  • MYXTRA (on an Xterra)
  • HEAD WST
  • DOCSMNI (I’m assuming this is Doc’s Mini, for irony, since it was on a Hummer)
  • NAP TYME
  • KLSILDY (this one took a minute for me to figure out — classy lady)
  • TRI GEEK
  • NSUP4YU (my favorite — you’ll have to be a Seinfeld fan to get it)

I also counted 7 empty tow trucks that passed me. One even had the nerve to stop several yards in front of me, putz around for a few minutes, and then drive on. Clearly this wasn’t my tow truck, but come on. The guy’s got to know that it’s a bad idea to stop on the shoulder directly in front of a stranded vehicle if it’s not his pick up. I lost all heart for my licence-plate game after that. I sat around in a daze until my tow truck finally showed up at about 6:15 PM.

The good news is that I’m fine — which may not sound like much, but being a pedestrian on the beltway is a good way to become road-kill right-quick. Andrew and I are looking into getting a new car for me, since it’s likely not worth putting another $1000 into Arthur, considering he’s a 12-year-old car with 125k miles.

1 Comment

J.D. Myers
Jun 11, 2004 at 12:25 pm

Ugh! That sucks. I would have been pissed as hell. Especially with the tow trucks just passing by. I mean hell don’t they want business? At least it’s almost the weekend. … Thought you’d enjoy a real comment and not a spam one.


 

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