Thursday, April 12, 2012

Not in my skill set: Automotive 101

As a fairly accomplished journalist, I take pride in the variety of skills that have gotten me to where I am.
I consider myself a solid reporter, an ace at building relationships and a compelling storyteller.
Somehow, I must have missed the class on changing a tire in college.
I consider myself fairly intelligent, well-read and well-traveled, but when it comes to car maintenance, I'm definitely not at the head of the class.
For the past nine years, I've thanked God that my wife's father owns his own automotive repair shop, saving me the time and energy (not to mention plenty of money) when it comes to taking care of our cars.
For almost the same amount of time, I've told myself countless times that I should learn some automotive basics - changing the oil, changing a flat tire, etc. Needless to say, I never did it and hoped that would never come back to bite me.
Today, it bit me. Hard. Right in the backside.
It's probably payback for the number of times I have continued speeding past a stranded motorist on the side of the freeway, always in a hurry to get to wherever I'm going. I don't know how many times, I've seen someone with a flat (or worse) a shredded tire and said to myself, 'It really sucks to be them right now."
Today, that bit me too. Again, the bit was uncomfortably hard and yes, right in the same location.
We've known for some time that the front two tires on my wife's car needed to be changed. We put it off and put it off, knowing eventually, we would get around to it.
With my wife driving my car this week, I drove in Ann Arbor for a Michigan football press conference. As usual, the trip was uneventful. Afterwards, I drove up State Street, thinking I heard something strange.
I've taught myself that noises are commonplace along busy thoroughfares and never figured for one moment that the sound I heard was coming from my car - and more specifically, my right left tire.
I almost stopped, but then figured, it would be fine. I entered I-94, sped up and almost immediately knew something wasn't right. My ride suddenly became bumpy, prompting me too cross over the right lane and onto the shoulder.
Traffic sped by. I got out of the car, looked at the tire which was shredded and nearly cut in two. I smelled the god-awful smell of burned rubber that typically only NASCAR fanatics tend to love. I think I could have swung an axe at my tire for 30 minutes and it wouldn't have looked as bad as the remnants of what already a tire that should have been retired long ago.
I considered my options. I could call my father-in-law as I had many times before. But seeing he is 150 miles away in Grand Rapids, I opted for another route. I texted a fellow sportswriter and asked how knowledgable he was in changing a tire.
"None, sorry," he responded.
At that moment, I discovered something. Sportswriters tend to be pretty loyal and willing to help one another out when we can. Yeah, sometimes we think we know it all, but this one thing is true.
Not very many of us know how to change a flat.
I called a friend at work, who said he was about to go into a meeting and he'd be at least an hour. I called another friend. No answer.
I thought for half a second about trying to figure out how to change the tire myself myself. About then, five cars zoomed past, making me reconsider my options.
Kneeling by the side of a major freeway with speeding cars mere inches away didn't seem like the best way to go. Not if I wanted to see tomorrow.
I googled more options on my phone. We're not AAA members. Our insurance company doesn't offer roadside assistance. Finally, I learned that our insurance company would reimburse us for a towing company to come out and change the tire for me.
I called Brewer Towing, which dispatched a truck within 10 minutes. Ten minutes later, my new best friend Josh, had the tire switched out and threw the shredded tire into the trunk. After the insurance reimbursement, my fee for the service will be $5.
It's not very often watching someone do their job makes me feel inadequate. But today as Josh jacked my car up, removed the lug nuts and then the tire, I have to admit I didn't feel very smart.
I know cars are his business, but as I stood behind the car watching him work as traffic flew by, I was thankful I didn't try to do it myself.
One, it would have taken a heck of a lot longer than 10 minutes. Two, I'm not sure I would have lived long enough to write about the experience.
I still don't know if I'll ever learn to change a flat tire. But after today, I'm sure I will give it a second thought before I find myself stranded on the side of the freeway again.
After all, it's never too late to add something new to your skill set.
Even if it's just fixing a flat.