Preface: woke an hour and a half before I usually get up. Couldn’t get back to sleep. My mind ranged over some anxieties, chose a few, squirted some uh-oh juice into my system. Why? I don’t do this. I sleep well. Think happy thoughts. Think about that iMac you want to get. But I need new tires. Gah. Nothing as unsatisfying as buying new tires - and it’ll probably be half the cost of an iMac.


As last thoughts go, “I appreciate the symmetry of the design but wonder about the cost and the utility” isn’t bad, but I suppose most last thoughts are even more banal. I was driving north up 35W, and was coming up to the big bus terminal built over the road - people can take stairs down to the buses that run on a dedicated line on the highway. Never see anyone use it, but I don’t drive on that road at the hour when they would, I suppose. It’s nicely designed, but seems rather tajmahally.

What’s interesting is what I thought next: if my tire blew and I crashed here and now, that would be my last act on earth: judging a bus station. I was going to get new tires tomorrow, because I need them, and there’s a local station having a 3 for 4 sale. The tread on the tires isn’t what it should be, and the left front was a bit soft yesterday. (I’d filled it up.) About a mile down the road I heard a peculiar sound, like someone driving a huge bike with a stiff card flapping in the spokes, and I wondered - huh? Louder. It took a few seconds to realize the sound was me, and it was coming from the left front, and it was getting louder and louder. The tire was gone. After only 32,000 miles of mild city driving. Well. Hmm.

Hmmmm. I started to change to the right to ease off the highway, because there was no breakdown lane on the left; it was a bus lane / express lane. But once I eyeballed the right I realized I was past any exit, traffic on the right was thick as herd of Huns on horses. If “COPS” was any indication I could get this thing into downtown. So: put on the blinkers, ease off on the speed, and hope the general tilt of the car indicated a certain amount of distress. If it did, it meant nothing to anyone, because people sped around me and tailgated and hugged my left side. That’s right, folks, that’s right: be angry! I put on my flashers for no reason whatsoever; nothing you can glean from that, or the scraps of rubber flying out from my front.

WHAPPITY WHAPPITY WHAPPITY WHAPPITY it got worse, and it felt as if there was nothing there by now. Got it up the ramp into downtown, eased over to the curb, and parked.

Took a look.



Still smoking.

Called AAA. Second time I’ve used them in two months. Years like this make you a member for life. The nice lady on the other end asked how she could help, and instead of just saying “I need a tow,” of course I had to tell SOMEONE what happened. “I blew a tire on the highway,” I said.

“Is everyone all right?”

“I’m fine. Thanks!” I was waiting for the trembles, the after-effect of dealing with a stressful situation, but it wasn’t happening.

“Where are you?” she asked, and I said “I’m right next to the old Drake Hotel in downtown Minneapolis.”

“The Old Drake,” she said, and now I wonder if she knew what I meant. The Drake has been a welfare hotel for 30 years or so. It was a classic four-story middle-class hotel when it was built, got the bottle-hound crowd when the neighborhood fell, but it was still pulling in respectable types in the early 60s, if my postcards are any indication. In recent years its reputation has improved, and it no longer looks like a dark odorous hellhole.

“Is there an exact address?” she said. I looked up at the streetcorner poles. For some reason this was the one intersection downtown that has absolutely no street signs whatsoever. I squinted down the block.

“Tenth and Ninth,” I said.

“Old Drake at Tenth and Ninth,” she said. “Which tire?”

“The left right,” I said.

Okay. The left right tire, and I’m at tenth and ninth. Now I realized I was a little excited.

“That’s pretty zen,” she said. Really. I laughed and said driver side front. She asked if there was any place I wanted the vehicle towed to, and I said “Lehman’s garage on Lyndale.”

“Okay, Lehman’s . . .”

“No wait. They tore it down. Well, they built a new one. It’s huge. But I don’t think it’s open.”

“We have a Steve’s on Lyndale.”

“Perfect! Across from a Caribou Coffee. I know it.”

“I’ll call the tow,” she said, and 12 minutes later a truck arrived from Bobby and Steve’s. Not Steve’s. Bobby and Steve’s. It’s a local chain of gas stations / repair shops / convenience stores, all big, and they carry Cass-Clay milk. I have no idea why. There’s so many milk distributors; why Cass-Clay? It’s the milk I grew up with: Fargo is in Cass County, Moorhead across the river’s in Clay. I didn’t know that as a kid. I just thought the milk was called Cass-Clay. It was like learning that Holsum Bread wasn’t unique to Fargo, either. Ahhh, Holsum: they had a bakery by the Dairy Queen by the underpass, and you could smell that great fresh bread smell as you drove past on a summer day with the windows down. The Super Valu up the block from my house baked the bread on the premises, too; you could smell it wafting through the neighborhood. It used to be one of those scents that you weren’t surprised to catch, but it always felt special anyway. Ahhhh.


It was amusing that Bobby & Steve’s was coming to take me to Steve’s, because I always wondered if Steve’s was trying to coast in Bobby & Steve’s slipstream. The stores looked similar. Maybe people would think Bobby and Steve had a falling-out, or Steve just wanted to do something on his own, dammit.

Two guys got out. One young and jumpy and grinning, the other the take-charge laconic guy who dealt with the customer. He shook my hand and introduced myself, and I noticed a tattoo of praying hands clasping a cross rising from his collar. He was bald. Maybe thirty years old.

“You have a spare?” he said. Of course. D’oh. Yes, I do. “We’ll just change it,” he said. “I’ll let him do it.” The kid scampered off to get the tools.

“New guy?” I said. He smiled and nodded.

“I was supposed to have it towed to Steve’s on Lyndale,” I said.

“People think that’s us,” he said. “It’s not.”

“I know.”

So the new kid raised the car and twirled off the lugnuts and tried to get the tire off the axle.

“Kick it,” said the boss. He kicked it. Nothing. The boss said “go back and bring the lift down.” The kid jogged back to the tow truck, lowered the lift. The boss walked over, pulled out a big L-shaped piece of metal, banged it on the ground to knock off the snow - CLANNGGGGG - walked back to my car, hooked behind the tire, and yanked. The tire popped off. The tiny emergency spare went on, and that was it.

I signed some papers and said “God Bless and Merry Christmas,” and he nodded and they were off.

I looked at my watch: 35 minutes since I’d felt the tire go.

What a country.

Well! I went to the office, and usually I have a light lunch. I bring something small that gets me through. Sometimes I keep a running week-long caloric log in my head - had those Trader Joe’s Danish Pancakes on Sunday with bacon, so it’s a 200-calorie Weight Watchers slider with a few chips for lunch, and no ice cream until Friday because I had a bowl Saturday and really mined the hell out of the rich vein of chocolate and caramel. Take it easy for a few days. Everything in moderation.

I went up to the cafeteria and ordered a cheeseburger on a ciabatta roll. A big thick damned cheeseburger for lunch. I’d cheated death. I deserved it.

“What do you want on it?” the chef asked.

“Raw onions and nothing else.”

“Finally,” he said. “Someone who knows how to eat a hamburger.”

That almost made up for the look I got from the tow-truck driver, which can be best summed up thus: another yup in an Eddie Bauer jacket who can’t change his own tire.

In my defense, I’d forgotten I had a spare. Also, I pay for AAA to do this, right? Okay.

Drove home. Called up Steve’s to see about tires. Sure, they could sell me some tires. I called my wife to see if she could pick me up on the way back, and she said she had a coupon for this-and-that at Steve’s. Where? “It’s in my purse.”

But . . . you have your purse.

“No, the purse on the chair.”

Ah, the resident non-moving purse. I looked through one of the 37 pockets, and found a laminated card with lots of great deals.

“This is Bobby and Steve’s.”

“Oh. Well, give them a call.” I did. Sure, they could sell me some tires. That coupon thing? Sure, but they were having their 3-for-4 sale now, probably a better deal.

“You have a 2 for four coming up anytime soon?” I asked.

“Nope,” said the guy at the garage. “Got a four for five, but people don’t like that one much.”

So everyone’s pretty much being delightful and funny today. Fine by me. I said I’d run it in later, and after supper I did.

“Need an alignment?” said the clerk, looking at the laminated card.

“Considering I left a tire on 35W and drove two miles, probably, yeah.”

“Ouch! Everyone okay?”

“I’m fine. There’s also a free oil and filter change on this card.”

“We can do that too.” I handed him the keys and said thanks and called my wife to pick me up. Waited in the Chevy Cafe. There’s a beautiful old BelAir in the cafe in the holy turquoise color. It was beautiful.


There was a sticker on the window, the original price.

About 1.5 the price of an iMac. And that included tires. Whitewalls.


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