Al Batt: Good tires and air — gifts that keep on giving in life

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

Who hasn’t had a flat tire? 

Other than those people who don’t drive a car, truck, bicycle, lawn mower, tractor, motorhome, airplane, tire swing or submarine. I threw in the submarine to see if you were paying attention. I was in an airplane that blew a tire when landing at the Denver airport.

Al Batt

On the subject of airplanes, a different flight had been delayed, canceled, took a wrong turn at Philadelphia and made an unexpected stop at the pilot’s house in Wichita to pick up his cellphone. It resulted in me arriving at MSP Airport on a red-eye flight and driving home in the middle of the night. The highway was busy with a multitude of trucks and me. The truck in front of me hit a deer, and the poor buck was flipped toward my car. I couldn’t swerve to the left because there was another truck. I couldn’t slam on the brakes because there was a truck right behind me. I didn’t want to swerve into the ditch. There be dragons. The result was I ran over an antler, which blew a perfectly good tire.

There was much ado about something. That was a kick in the knickers and no small tear in the fabric of my transportation night. The trucks continued down the road.

I sprang into action with a deep sigh of disappointment before pulling over to the safest spot I could find, which turned out to be the darkest. My only flashlight was on my cellphone.

If anyone is unable to change a tire in the dark, it would be me. If I did any maintenance or repair on an automobile, there would be a parade in my honor. I’ve forgotten how to do many things because I’m trying to save space in my brain for the roster of the 1991 Minnesota Twins. My fingers were crossed as I faced off with the tire, which made it hard to do much work. I tackled the task and felt like Gilligan on a bad day. I pretended to be Mr. Goodwrench, the one who had been laid off.

I found the tools — jack, wheel wedges and lug wrench, but progress was slow. I wished I’d have had reflective triangles, flares or a fireplace. Before I was driven to the point of madness, a charming young couple arrived. They brought light and expertise. The tire was changed as fast as any tire outside a race track had been changed before. He worked at a tire shop and refused recompense, insisting I pay it forward.

I drove off in a car running on three regular tires and a donut spare tire, which wasn’t a jelly donut. “You shouldn’t drive over 50 mph or more than 50 miles with a donut-type spare tire,” I said as a donut-tired car doing about 75 mph passed me with ease last week. 

I’d had two flat tires on the way to high school because I’d angered the karma gods and that was my punishment. My spare tire was flat, too. I was late for my poor decision-making class. My tires went flat frequently during my first years of adventurous driving. Used tires were common and good treads weren’t. I learned to change a tire in a hurry. I was as fast as a pit crew member who lost his job because he was too slow in changing tires.

Years later, I had two flat tires on a rental car in the deep Alaskan snow. Good times. I changed the first tire and secured another tire from the rental car company. I’d lost some of my enthusiasm for changing tires by the time the second one lost air.

I had a flat tire with my elderly pickup truck. The spare tire was located so far under the bed of the truck it was in Idaho — probably Pocatello. The rain poured down as I crawled under the truck on a road with more dirt than gravel. Muddy but unbowed, I used specialized tools combined with dynamite, which allowed me to lower the tire.

 The next time you have a flat tire, take a photo of it. It’s handy to email to someone as an excuse when you’re running late.

Al Batt’s column appears in the Tribune every Wednesday.