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I have had so many amazing, beautiful, perfect experiences, but it’s the imperfect ones– the truly disastrous ones– that are the most memorable and often the most humorous. They become funny in their absurdity, funny in their improbability, funny in the confluence of events that can, thankfully, never all happen at once again. The lines “we’ll laugh about this someday” and “but think of the story you’ll have” really do apply and I always try to remind myself of that when things are epically melting down.
We drove out of Phoenix heading west for California. Half way through the drive the Element started handling funny, pulling to the right like we were in a windstorm. Pearson slowed to 80mph (this is slow by Arizona standards) and pulled into the right lane behind a tractor-trailer. Then, at 80mph, our passenger-rear tire blew out.
Pearson managed to pull the car onto the shoulder without further incident. It was 4:30pm Mountain Time, we were 30 miles from the California border (which is Pacific Time) and 160 miles from our destination. We got out to examine the damage and knew we were f*cked.
Pearson got on the phone with AAA while I unpacked the spare. This was not an easy task because a storage trunk, a mattress, and assorted other crap were all packed on top of the spare compartment.
AAA didn’t have any record of us, but said they would run the name and get back to us. Our address change meant a new “club”, which meant a new member number, but we weren’t around to pick up our mail, so we didn’t know that.
While we waited to hear from AAA, I called around to all the tire shops I could find on Google maps but they didn’t know if they could help us and they all closed at 5pm Pacific Time. AAA called back, said they verified we were members and that someone was on their way, but it would be about 90 minutes.
So we tried to change the tire ourselves. I got out the car’s owner’s manual and read it to Pearson while he got on the ground and found the spot on the Element’s frame that would hold the jack. We lined it up and started to raise the jack. The tire rose up until it was just grazing the pavement and an SUV whizzed past knocking the Element off the jack and back onto the ground. We were on our second attempt when a Police Officer pulled behind us. He offered his larger jack and we used that to lift the car off the ground.
Just as Pearson went to try to the first lug nut, a tractor-trailer drove past and the wind knocked the Element back onto the ground. We jacked the Element up again and attempted to remove the lug nuts, but they were not budging. Pearson used our wrench and then the cop’s bigger wrench, but no luck.
Then, much to our relief (and, it seemed, the cop’s relief), AAA arrived with big hydraulic jack, an impact wrench to take off the lug nuts, and a pump to put air in the spare. He changed the tire quickly, making it look effortless, and helped us load all of our stuff back into the car.
Soon we were on our way, driving cautiously at 50mph. We couldn’t risk running on the spare for 160 miles, in the dark, with no cell service, so we drove 35 miles to Blythe, California. We arrived just past 5pm Pacific Time, about 90 minutes after the blowout.
We tried the first tire place we saw, but when we asked if they had a tire for us, the guy looked at our car and shook his head. We sat in the parking lot and I called car shops from Google maps and Pearson called places listed in the yellow pages. We finally got ahold of a used tire place that was open.
The used tire/auto body shop did not have a tire in our size, but they had a slightly smaller one that they assured us would be better than the spare until we could get four new tires (a fun surprise about four-wheel drive). We paid cash and paced the streets of Blythe while they put the tire on.
The guy putting the new used tire on showed us that our old tire had a 2009 date stamped on the inside, if we had had the energy we would’ve been really pissed because we bought the tires at the end of 2012.
By 6:30pm, three hours after the blowout, we were back on our way west. Soon we were off the highway, out of cell service range, and on the dark back roads that lead around Joshua Tree National Park to Twentynine Palms. We passed only a hand full of cars and I spent the entire 125 miles white knuckled and praying that we would make it to town in one piece.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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