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Winterize your vehicle

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-11-25


Every time I look at my car's tires to see if they need inflating, I'm convinced that one of the tires is dangerously low. Before hightailing it to the nearest gas station, though, to fix it, I take a look at the other tires and that always stops me cold, for damn it: they look low, too. Is this possible? Could it be that I have four, under-inflated tires at the same time? This seems highly unlikely, even to a notoriously negligent car owner like myself, so I take another look at my car's tires, but now, this time, they all look fine. I blink my eyes, take another look, and this time it seems that the tire I initially thought was low is fine but the others are nearly flat.

Clearly, this cannot be, but suddenly my perceptions are so out of whack that I can't trust any single image that I see. It's like my entire existence has been reduced to an optical illusion based solely on my incapacity to determine if I have a flat or not. Suddenly, I wouldn't believe that it was snowing even if the skies dumped a foot of it on me. If I held two fingers in front of my eyes, I wouldn't know what to guess. Four? This confusion pushes me into a state of near existential paralysis as I stand there, and I start to wonder, Say, What are "tires," anyway? Do they really exist? Can they really be properly "inflated?" And what are "cars," after all? What is reality? Am I really here? Is this all just an elaborate prank? Is there a God? Was it really such a good idea to watch The Matrix so many times when I was a heavy drinker?

So it's 730 in the morning, I'm late for work, my neighbors are all contentedly hopping in their cars with their morning coffee while I stand like a scarecrow in the driveway, questioning the fabric of the Universe. Before working myself into a total panic, I decide to rely on the cold, brutal logic of science and scientific gadgets and use my handy tire gauge, but, surprisingly, I'm afraid that even this straight-forward plan of action inhibits me. For, if my tire really is dangerously low, should I chance sticking that metallic probe into the air release, and thereby unleashing more precious pounds per square inch of air? What if I totally flatten the tire by mistake? It's always unnerving how much air escapes when you use the damn thing, is it really such a good idea?

Almost out of desperation I hop into my car and start to drive to the gas station, thinking that I should base all my subsequent actions on the ruling theory that my initial impulse was correct, i.e., that the left front tire of my car does indeed exist and that it is indeed dangerously low. So I begin to drive and almost immediately I hear the dreaded ka-thump! ka-thump! sound of an obviously maimed and receding tire. This is a mixed blessing, for while I'm relieved that I'm not totally losing my mind, I'm now faced with the very real, non-theoretical prospect of being exiled onto the road's shoulder with a dead tire. I've always been skittish about car breakdowns on the road, and the very thought of having a flat tire today, in raw, winter weather, totally unmans me and almost triggers a panic attack. So I'm nearly panting with anxiety when I finally pull into the gas station lot, and just as I'm certain that the last of my precious tire's air has escaped, I wheel my jerking car in front of the sacred air dispenser.

I grab the four quarters out of my pocket, already resigned to the insulting, galling notion that I actually have to PAY FOR AIR, and then of course I noticed the tacked up index card with the words "OUT OF ORDER" on the dispensing machine. The air hose has been sheared off like somebody took an axe to it. The loss I feel at that moment is so profound that I can't even breathe. After a few horrified and bitter moments I make my way to the Shop inside, and the rocket scientist behind the counter, the guy reading "Peddler's Post" with his lips moving, tells me casually that the air hose hasn't been working for a couple of months but that the gas station down the road "might" have one working. "About a quarter mile away," he tells me, as if this information will comfort me, but when I think about the horrible sounds my car made, the next gas station might as well be in Nepal.

But at that moment I can't think of any alternate plan, so I get back in my car. Truth is, there really was a perfectly acceptable alternate plan available to me then but my state of mind wouldn't allow for it: I am a AAA member, and all I needed to do was simply call them and they'd tow my car. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it because I knew that when I called, they'd say, "What's the problem?" and I would say "The problem is I'm wondering if anything exists." And I could only imagine that pregnant pause hanging in the air after I said that, as the dispatcher clicks his tongue and wonders if he should talk to me, hang up, or just quit his job altogether.

So I start driving my car. I pretend that the horrible, grating, grinding noises coming from the upper left quadrant of my vehicle don't exist, just like I pretend not to see the furious hand-wavings and wild gesticulations coming from the concerned drivers who pass me. Thank God it's not summer, when I couldn't ignore these decent people in any believable fashion--"HEY your car tire--" "I KNOW I KNOW LEAVE ME ALONE!" So I beg and plead and cajole and nurse my poor buckshotted car toward the next gas station, praying that there was a centimeter of rubber remaining on the tire and that I haven't bent the rims (whatever that means) or committed some other irreversible atrocity upon my vehicle.

I get there. I get there. There's not too much gray smoke. The air dispenser is working, which is a relief, for now I won't have to go back and beat the previous gas station attendant with a tire iron. I put the air in the tire and the tire holds and then of course I overcompensate wildly, I put about 2000 pounds of air in the damn thing, my tire looks like one of those big balloon tires you see on farm machinery, a 747 could land on my car and the tire wouldn't budge, but I don't care: I'm making up for past experience now, this tire will never lack for air AGAIN. As the machine shuts off and my shudders finally recede, I console myself with this lasting thought: only four more months of winter weather for my car to endure. Piece of cake.

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