Ten days ago I hit the road for California. Friday night I hit a big rock. Nailed that sucker dead on.
My front right tire immediately popped FLOP-FLOP-FLOP-FLOP-FLOP-FLOP. I limped up the emergency lane to an exit a quarter mile up. It was a road to Nowhere, TX. I could take a pee and no one would see. And I did.
I grabbed a flashlight and pointed the beam at the wheel. The rim was cracked all the way through – destroyed. A jagged crack shone through the wheel rim like a bone sticking through the skin. I felt sick.
I was probably 50 miles east of Amarillo, TX. It was dark. It was cold. 18-wheelers roared by. Whoever dropped the rock was long gone.
I looked on Yelp for the nearest tow truck. 15 miles away. I dialed the number.
“Hello?” a man’s voice.
“Is this the wrecker?”
“I hit a big rock out here in I-40. I popped the tire. I’m near the rest stop.” I got more specific. I looked at the map on my phone. I told him the route number of the road to nowhere, the one with my impromptu bathroom where I marked my territory.
“I just sat down to dinner,” Wrecker Man said.
“I’m sorry to bug you,” I said.
“Sit tight,” he said. Did I have a choice? He was the only tow truck in 20 miles of bad road. Yes, it was bad.
It only took him 20 minutes. He either left his dinner or woofed it down. He was a man of few words. He towed me to some little town near Shamrock, Texas. I wore a mask. He did not. We didn’t discuss it. He played a Christian pop station on Sirius Satellite Radio. I thought about the dog star. I thought about his horoscope. I did not ask him his sign.
I worried what this would cost. A tow like this in Charlotte would be $150 minimum. He dialed a number. He told someone I just needed the baby tire put on. I suppose if I was a real man, a Texas man on a Texas road I could have just jacked up the car and swapped out the tire myself. I don’t trust myself with such things. The way my boulder-strewn night was going I could easily have dropped the car off the jack on my femur.
“How much?” I asked.
“Hunnurd thirty five dollars,” he said, much to my relief.
“You take a card?” I don’t carry cash.
“You should really carry cash,” he advised.
“Can you run me over to that convenience store?” I pointed to lights around the corner.
He did. I gave him $140 with a hefty $5 tip. Then a guy named Derek and his buddy showed up at the shop with a mound of tires heaped beside it and fired up a generator in the back of a pickup and quick as a NASCAR pit crew swapped out the tire.
“What do IOU?” I said. Wrecker Man said it might be 50 bucks.
“Say $25?” Derek said. I gave him 40.
“20 for you, 20 for your buddy,” I said.
“Thanks,” he was appreciative.
“Don’t drive no faster than 60,” they said. The baby tire was not to be trusted.
Ugh. It’d be midnight before I made the Hampton Inn in Oklahoma City, the one I’d reserved for $80 on the Hotels Tonight App, the one I’d already paid for. No more 80 mile an hour. No more hitting boulders dropped in the middle of I-40.
I listened to an audiobook. I watched the moon rise, huge and luminous on the long flat Oklahoma horizon. I rolled down the window. I pinched myself. Eventually I made it. I threw on a mask. I plopped down an ID and a credit card. I walked through empty halls past empty rooms. I fell over in the bed with my clothes on. I don’t remember my dreams.
The first of my @ManListening #podcast recordings from the road drops Thursday. It’s a conversation recorded near New Orleans with my friend “Dixie Lee.” She went to prison for attempted murder just weeks after graduating high school. What happened then…and her life now – more than two decades later… this Thursday.