This morning, this lovely, cloud-heavy, rain-impending, atmosphere-brewing, commute-laden morning on my way in to work, on the bridge I use to cross the bay five days a week, the bridge on which I occasionally torture myself with thoughts of how I would try to escape my car should I find myself plummeting over the side and hurtling towards the cold, deep, blue-grey current below, I felt a strange ridging effect as I drove in the left lane, the fast lane, the lane closest to the guardrail. I was thoughtful. Had something changed on the road surface that would cause me to feel this strange bumping?
As I looked for signs of a pattern change in the tarmac that might cause such a sensation and pushed back the idea that there might be a problem with my tire because what the hell was I supposed to do about it while driving in the fast lane, smack in the middle of a five-and-a-half mile-long bridge (?), my ride suddenly changed. I simultaneously heard and felt a loud thump. My steering wheel went weak and wobbly, my Volvo station wagon, known for its high safety ratings, (five stars for front and side impact protection) began a giddy fishtail. My steering corrections caused even more unanticipated effects in direction control. One of my tires had blown out.
I am an accomplished worrier but not generally prone to panic; therefore, true to form, I did not panic. I took my foot off the gas, looked in the rearview mirror to find that no one was hovering too closely behind and made a hasty exit to the shoulder, braking slowly so as not to cause even more erratic swerving. Luckily, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge has a shoulder for just such an emergency. I considered trying to drive slowly to the other side of the bridge just so I could be safer while waiting for help, but the lack of control I now had over the car caused me to think waiting it out on the shoulder of bridge was a wiser choice.
Then, what to do, what to do …? Call AAA? They’d come but they’d take forever. Call 911? It’s not an emergency really but it could certainly turn into one. Call my husband? Well, yes, but not now, I’d call him later when I figured out who was going to help me out of this jam. I settled on 911. I figured they could help me decide the best course of action to take even if they couldn’t help me directly.
911 answered right away, a miracle in and of itself. I’ve called 911 before for two separate emergencies (spotting a house fire and witnessing a pedestrian get hit by a car) and have had gotten no answer, none—not exactly something that instills confidence in a person experiencing tense moments. After establishing my problem and location, they sent the cavalry.
It took about ten minutes for him to get to me, which is not long at all but seems quite a bit longer when you spend the entire time peering into your rearview mirror trying to figure out if anyone coming up behind you at sixty-five miles per hour hasn’t had enough morning caffeine to realize you are not moving, your hazard lights are flashing and they’re about to drive through your backseat and leave you and possibly themselves plastered to the windshield and engine block. Everyone seemed sufficiently alert this morning; no one even came close to plowing into me. I sat unscathed but anxious while I kept close watch on the traffic behind me and kept my eyes scanning the lanes for a certain man and his truck.
I was thrilled to see my hero and his trusty steed ride slowly up behind me and park. He ambled out. He was a large, hairy, smiling, congenial, dirty, tire-changing man and his large, white, sturdy, light-flashing, dirty, tire-changing truck. I got out of my car to meet him on the loud, blustering, bouncing, traffic-whizzed shoulder of the bridge. We assessed the damaged tire—passenger side, rear. The tread was still loosely attached on one side of the tire but the other side had been cleanly sheered by the metal rim of the wheel. We even found the offending screw. It was clear I had been driving entirely on the rim after that ominous thump. Yikes.
He did not hesitate. He did not fumble. He was fast. He was handy. He knew what needed to be done and he did it deftly. He had his way with that tire in no time—flat. The damaged wheel was off the car in the time it would take Hugh Hefner to remove a reluctant-to-play playmate’s panties. The spare was applied equally quickly to the axle. The entire procedure took perhaps eight minutes. Whew! What a man! You’ve gotta love a man who can be speedy—when the situation calls for it.
I asked him if I owed him anything; he told me the service was free. I looked at him, my greasy but efficient dark knight in garage grey clothing, his loyal, white charger revved up and ready to whisk him away back into traffic, back to save more drivers in distress. I was a bit befuddled as to what I could do to thank him; I had no cash with me. I told him that the way I saw it, he saved my life. Wanting to express myself fully, and hoping he wouldn’t mind my physical intrusion, I gave him a hug and a kiss and thanked him for his help. It was the most sincere thing I could muster at 7:30 a.m. on the loud, blustering, bouncing, traffic-whizzed shoulder of the bridge.
Anyway, I think knights like that kind of stuff.