It is a rainy day in Bluefield and this weather reminds me of a very interesting story from one of my drives across the country. When I moved here from Colorado, my dad flew out to help me move back, and drive the Uhaul. God bless him, seriously.
It was day one of the drive. We got about four hours into the trip and a huge thunderstorm hit. Visibility was low and I think it even hailed a bit. We got separated in the drive, and I pulled off at Great Sand Dunes National Park, just outside Alamosa, Colorado to wait for him to catch up. Keep in mind, I’m driving my trusty Subaru and he was having to navigate this terrible weather and mountain passes in a place he had never driven before, in a big Uhaul truck.
So I pulled off the road and wait to see the Uhaul go by, so I could get behind him again. I took a moment to relax and let my dog, Zooey go to the bathroom. We got back in the car and I pulled up to the informative signs about the park. I was trying to read some of it through the rain when the low-pressure tire alert lit up my dashboard. My stomach dropped. No, not again, not ANOTHER flat tire. I had just had all of my tires replaced a few months earlier after bending one of the wheels in the deserts of Utah.
I got out of the car, rain soaking through my jacket and looked at all the tires, trying to see which one it was. Of course, it was the front right tire, it’s always that tire. I called my dad, who could hardly hear me over the storm and told him I was going to the nearest gas station to try to pump it up. I pulled back onto the highway and fought the weather blowing my small car around and the car leaning to the right on that tire. I made it to the gas station and started the now-familiar process of feeding the pump coins and trying to fill the tire. During this process, my dad caught up with me and I hadn’t even noticed. It wasn’t until he came up behind me and said, “Hey peach,” that I burst into tears. Peach has been his nickname for me since I was born with “peach fuzz hair.”
We try refilling the tire, to no avail. We actually tried two different gas station’s pump machines. We ended up pulling into a very small parking lot to put the spare tire on. We had to empty my trunk, full of plants and suitcases in the parking lot. I’m sure the plants enjoyed the rain, but we did not. I frantically called every auto repair shop that a Google search provided and they were all closed, it was after 5 p.m. after all. While I called, my dad was putting the spare tire on. My favorite part of this story in hindsight is Zooey’s reaction. During all the chaos, she sat in the backseat, ears perked up, just inquisitive. As my dad jacked the car up, I remember distinctly, Zooey looking at my dad out the window, bouncing with the vehicle, not scared, just curious. That image in my head still brings a smile to my face, I wish I had a video, but memories will suffice.
My dad got the spare tire on, but we were approaching one of the last big mountain passes and it was not safe at all for me to drive that dangerous road on a spare tire. I wanted to try it, just get on the road, but thankfully, he insisted. In an act of desperation, I called the local Auto Zone. The man that answered told me, obviously, they couldn’t help me, but he did have a friend that worked at a local shop that might be able to help. He gave me the mechanic’s cell phone number and I thanked him about 50 times before getting off the phone. I called the number and explained our situation to this stranger. He told us to meet him at Tim’s Transmission and Auto Repair in Alamosa and he would help us out. This man was a godsend.
We made our way over to this mystery location and the man, who I am very sorry for forgetting his name, was already there, re-opening the shop. This man took all four tires off my car, re-sealed them, filled them up and put them back on and only charged us $40. I am not kidding when I say I think he may have been an angel. One funny anecdote from this interaction was the removal of all my plants from the back of the car, again to put the spare tire back in. The mechanic helped and when he saw my potted tomato plant, he told my dad that I better hide that in Kansas. We were confused. Are tomatoes illegal in Kansas? No, we had forgotten we were in Colorado and the man thought that I might be trying to smuggle a marijuana plant across the U.S. My poor tomato plant met an untimely demise in a hotel dumpster to avoid any further confusion and possible arrest in Kansas.
After we paid and my dad took a business card and promised a glowing Facebook review for Tim’s Transmission and Auto Repair, we were back on the road and about five hours behind schedule. We had a hotel reservation waiting for us at the Colorado border. The rest of the drive is an exhausting blur. Thankfully, the weather cleared up, but I have never driven through more wildlife in my entire life. At one point, there were so many foxes, deer, rabbits, mice, possums, and more running across the road that I started to think I was actually driving through a zoo. In fact, my animal-loving self hit a rabbit that made a poor decision to jump out on the road. It was either swerve into a wreck and put mine and my dog’s life in danger, or hit the bunny. I called my dad and he said that he had seen it, please don’t cry, just keep driving.
At one point that night I was so hungry that I was shaking. My dad had snacks in the truck and we pulled off in a terrifyingly abandoned farming town in the Colorado mountains and he gave me a cereal bar and an apple and we kept on driving.
We finally arrived at the hotel at 3 a.m. I cannot imagine what was going through the hotel employee’s head when we walked in like drenched, oil-covered, exhausted rats in the middle of the night. In fact, my dad didn’t even realize that he had cut his hand while putting on my spare tire until he was signing the receipt at the hotel’s desk. So not only were we a strange trio, with my big sleepy dog, but suddenly kind of suspicious with my dad’s bloody hand and arm. No questions were asked and we went to our rooms.
This is the last part of this ridiculous story. Zooey is 12 years old, at this time she was 10 and she has never reacted to a mirror in her entire life. I remember when she was a puppy holding her up to mirrors and trying to get a reaction from her by saying “who is that? Is that Zooey?” in a baby voice. I never got a response. However, on that night in a Colorado hotel at 3 a.m. she lost her mind when she saw herself in the mirror. Zooey does not bark that much. Only if there is someone at the door or cat outside. She barks to protect, in her own way. But when she does bark it is loud. My parents and I have always said that it sounds like a man screaming. So, at 3 a.m., in a hotel completely full of people, I assume by the lack of parking available, Zooey could not stop barking at her own reflection. It was a dog-friendly hotel, but it was actually in the paperwork I had to sign that they could kick us out if the dog was a nuisance. My dad came into the room and tried to help, but the mirror was attached to the closet door, so we couldn’t just take it down. We propped the closet doors open and she calmed down for the most part. She still couldn’t leave my side though. She kept pacing the room growling and poking her head around the shower curtain while I tried to shower to make sure that big brown dog wasn’t attacking me in there. We finally got to sleep and got about two hours of sleep before heading for our next hotel in St. Louis the next night.
While it was one of the longest, most uncomfortable and stressful days of my life, my dad and I can laugh about it now. I am left with a sense of gratitude for that mechanic who saved us from being stranded in a town with no hotels for the night and gratitude for my dad for putting up with all of that and so much more with patience and love.
— Contact Emily Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @BDTrice