I dragged myself out of bed last Friday, normal time, about 6:30 a.m., and started the regular routine. Shower, shave, cheerios, coffee, fight with the kids to get ready for school. “At least it’s Friday I thought”, even though I had a 10 hour work day on my schedule for Saturday. My wife usually leaves for work after me, I drive the kids to school in the mornings and she picks them up in the afternoons. This day she had to leave early for a staff meeting she had at work. So I finished getting the troops ready and by 7:20 we headed out the door, got in my truck, a 2003 Dodge Ram 1500, Hemi pick-up, a manly vehicle if I don’t say so myself! Backing out of the driveway just as I hit the main road outside our house, I heard a little popping sound but didn’t really think much about it. We have a gravel driveway and live on a dirt road and I figured it was probably just the sound of gravel popping on the tire treads. So we headed off to school and within a minute or so, there was that sound that every driving adult somehow knows, even though thankfully we don’t get to hear it that often. Flup, flup, flup, flup… “Hey, something doesn’t sound right” I said to the kids as I pulled to the side of the road. “What if we have a flat tire?” my daughter said anxiously. Mind you, she just started middle school two weeks before and was still trying to get all her ducks in a row. Now I was about to be responsible for her first tardy! “Let me get out and see” I said. Sure enough, my driver’s side rear tire was flat as a pancake… Ugh! Since we were still close to home, I turned around, and slowly drove back to the house to assess the damage!
What’s the first thing you think of when you have a flat tire? “Goddamn, I hope the spare is still hooked to the bottom of the truck!” I tried to remember the last time I’d looked under the truck to inspect the spare tire, and decided I wasn’t sure if I’d ever looked under there. This truck has 108,000 miles on it and I’d never had to use the spare tire! I climbed underneath and alas, it was there and appeared to be in good shape other than the years of accumulated road gunk on it. So I got out the jack and the tire changing tools, all of which appeared to be severely inadequate for a 1.5 ton truck, but I figured the guys at Dodge must have known what they were doing when the spec’d out this toy jack and the various metal pipes that came with it, and I got to work, figuring I could bang this job out quick and still get the kids to school in reasonable time.
I’ll be the first to admit, I not the manliest of men. I’m about 6’1”, 170 lbs, somewhere between scrawny and reasonably built. Although I live in Michigan now, I grew up on 1980’s Long Island, wearing parachute pants, pointy shoes and other bit and pieces of apparel that hopefully never show up in photographs on Facebook! I still like clothes, and try to dress well most days. I am reasonably athletic, but other than Little League and the occasional intramural team, I never played any organized sports in grade school or in college. In fact, I spent most of my time in the high school orchestra playing the cello and still occasionally listen to classical music. I lift weights and exercise a few days a week, but don’t have the guns, pecs or six-pack to show for it. But I’m also not a complete nancy-boy! I recently suffered through two knee surgeries on an arthritic knee that continues to plague me every day. I’m handy around the house, having done some major renovations to the 100+ year old farm-house that my family lives in Michigan. I’ve installed floors, doors, toilets, appliances. Heavy, physical, exhausting work, weekend after weekend! Plus, I drive a 2003 Dodge RAM 1500 Hemi pick-up! Surely I could change my own tire.
The kids had quickly forgotten about going to school and were playfully running around the yard while I got to work on my truck tire. I assembled the spare tire rod and cranked the spare down from underneath the truck, removed it from the attachment cord and pulled it out to inspect. “Wow, looks good” I thought, “first crisis averted!” Next I set the jack underneath the side of the truck, a couple feet in front of the rear tire, hooked the crank to it and started cranking it up. Crank, crank, turn, turn, crank… pretty soon this thing was fully extended and would you believe it, the tire wasn’t even off the ground! Maybe those Dodge guys didn’t know what they were doing! Or maybe they accidently slipped the jack for the Dodge Avenger into my truck. Crank, crank, turn, turn, I jacked the truck all the way back down. “Guess I better look at the manual” I thought. I looked through the index, which guided me to page 258 “how to change a flat tire.” Blah, blah, blah, there it is, you have to “locate the jack underneath the axle between the spring and the shock absorber.” I guess it pays to read the directions.
But before that, better call the middle school, my daughter is now going to be late. “Hello, this is Mr. Warner, Madeline Warner’s Dad. We just got in our car to drive to school and we have a flat tire, so she is going to be a little bit late.” “But it’s okay”, I wanted to say, “her superhero Dad has changed his share of flat tires before and will just bang this one out… so we’ll see you in about 20 minutes.” But I didn’t.
Back to the truck. I got down underneath, put the jack where it’s supposed to be, and started cranking. Crank, crank, turn, turn, crank, turn and there it goes, the tire is off the ground, and we’re ready to roll. Next I got out the lug wrench, attached it to each lug nut, stamped on it to loosen each nut, twisted each one off, thought “we’ll be done here in 5 minutes”, grabbed the flat, and pulled… and pulled… and yanked… and pulled. “What the fuck” I said, hoping afterward that the kids we’re not within earshot. I couldn’t get the damn wheel off the truck. I continued to pull and yank and pry until my arms were vibrating from the workout I was getting. By this time the kids were fascinated with this whole routine and were watching anxiously, wondering now if they were ever getting to school, or if maybe they’d get to take the day off. “I can’t get the friggin wheel off” I told them, toning down the four letter words that were shooting out of my mouth like fireworks on the 4th of July. “Can I try?” asked Jonathan, my eight year old son. “Yeah, give it a whirl buddy, I said with a smile, his comment taking some of the edge off this whole troubling situation. No, he couldn’t get the wheel off either.
Back to the manual. I read and re-read every step but couldn’t find anything beyond the ordinary steps of changing a tire. Remove the spare, jack it up, remove the lug nuts, pull off the wheel, put the spare on, tighten the lug nuts most of the way, jack it back down, tighten the lug nuts TIGHT! Nothing anywhere about stuck wheels, or wheels fused onto the lug bolts, or special tools that only the dealerships have access to, so that ordinary guys like me can’t change their own tires. After another 15-20 minutes of tugging and yanking and kicking I put up the white flag. “Sorry guys, I can’t get the wheel off, I am going to call uncle Bob and see if he can give us a ride.”
Ring, ring, ring… “Hi this is Bob.” “Bob, it’s Steve, I’ve got a problem. I have a flat tire on my truck, I have it jacked up, lug nuts are off and I can’t get the fucking wheel off the truck… and I’ve got to get the kids to school. Madeline is already late, Jonathan will be late shortly. Are you anywhere nearby?” “Do you want me to just come by and pick you up”, Bob asked. “Yeah, would you mind?”
Sunday morning I got up, made coffee, turned on “CBS Sunday Morning”, a typical relaxing weekend day. Bob had picked us up Friday morning. We delivered the kids to school and me to work. I had told my horror story to all my co-workers, everyone got a good laugh and all was okay. “That happened to me once”, a colleague offered, “you need to hit it with a sledge hammer.” That sounded a little aggressive to me, but I was accepting any and all advice at this point. I used one of our business vehicles to get home Friday night and back to work Saturday morning, and my wife picked me up Saturday evening and drove me home. On Saturday at work I had Googled this situation and discovered that I was not alone in my experience. Lot of folks had written about this situation, and the consensus answer seemed to be, put the lug nuts back on, don’t tighten them up much, drive back and forth a few times, and that should free up whatever evil force is holding the wheel on.
So about 11:30 Sunday morning I headed back out to battle the stuck wheel once again. I cranked down the jack, pulled it out from underneath the truck, got in, drove back and forth a few times, got out, jacked it back up… and pulled and yanked and pried. Still nothing! This wheel was not coming off. “Do you want me to help you pull”, my wife came out and asked, probably feeling more sympathy for me than actually believing the two of us would be able to pull off this wheel. But we tried anyhow. “One, two, three, pull!” “Nope” she said, “that’s not coming off!” “What the fuck”, I shared again, this shouldn’t be this hard.” “What if you put it in neutral”, my wife offered, “then you’d be able to spin the tire and maybe loosen it up.” “Okay, I guess we’ll try that” I conceded. Let alone being a stupidly unsafe idea, if you want to destroy your jack, put your car in neutral and yank on the wheel a few times. The truck rolled off the jack, forcing the jack’s crank shaft into the ground and bending it into a nice curved shape. “Well that jack is finished”, I grumbled. “Let’s get the jack out of your van.”
“You could call Mike”, my wife offered. Mike is a friend of ours who is a Ford mechanic and can pretty much fix anything. “Or you could call AAA” she added. “We pay $75.00 a year and we never use the service, this is what it’s there for.” “Yeah, I guess I could do that” I offered, thinking “there’s no way in hell I’m gonna call AAA ‘cause I have a flat tire in my own driveway. That $75.00 is for when I drive off the road on a snowy, icy night on a road trip across the county.” “You’re not embarrassed to call AAA, are you”, she asked? “Uh, no, no” I mumbled, “I could, uh, maybe do that.” I felt my own lug nuts shrink just a little bit up into my body! Mike on the other hand, yeah, maybe I could call Mike and see if he has ever run into this situation.
Ring, ring, ring. “Hello.” “Hi, Jordan, this is Mr. Warner, any chance your Dad is around, I’d like to speak to him.” “He’s up on the roof” she replied. “Oh… uh… what’s he doing up there?” “He and a few friends are stripping off the old shingles and installing a new roof.” “Oh, okay, well maybe when he gets down, could you have him call me, thanks.” So, Mike is installing a new roof on his house, and I can’t even change my own truck tire! I went back in the house, poured some more coffee, waited for Mike to call back, and decided to get back on-line to see if I could Google the “magic bullet” that would finally help me release my flat tire from my truck.
And that’s when I found it. No, not the magic bullet… but the motivation! I found this website, where there was this big long forum thread where people where talking and bitching about flat tires. “They always happen at the most inopportune time” wrote one lady. “Right outside your house is probably the best option,” I thought to myself. Another guy wrote about how there was no space along the side of the highway to change a tire. “I have plenty of space in my driveway”, I said under my breath, “without the threat of 80 mph traffic flying by my head.” So I scrolled down farther, past the various musings about flat tires, and there was the post of all posts:
“The first time that I tried to change a tire on my current car, the stupid wheel would not come off. I was shaking the whole car, trying to get it off, and afraid that it would fall right off the jack. So I call roadside assistance. 30 minutes later, a big guy with a Russian accent arrives, takes one look at the tire, says “this is what you do”, kicks it, and it falls right off. I tore up my Man Card right there.”
I laughed my ass off when I read that!! Man, I could totally relate to this guy, and I could totally picture this big burly Russian dude, showing up, probably wearing a flannel wife-beater shirt, jeans, ratty work boots with the heels worn down on that angle that makes your feet hurt just looking at it. He kicks this guy’s sissy little tire, and it falls off like a lump of clay. “Good thing I didn’t call AAA” I thought to myself, “I don’t want to have to tear up my Man Card!”
I shut down the computer, went back outside, grabbed my crowbar out of the barn, walked over to the truck, laid down in the gravel driveway, just outside the back bumper, just far enough back that I wouldn’t be crushed if the truck came off the jack. And I swung the crowbar, hard, right into the back of the wheel…THUD! And the wheel just fell right off, just like the Russian guy said. I put the spare on and within minutes my good ‘ol truck was ready for another day, or at least ready to drive to the tire shop to buy a new tire.
So, I can keep my Man Card for another day. I called Mike back, got his wife this time, and told her that all was well, and Mike didn’t need to call anymore. “He hasn’t come down off the roof yet” she interjected. “Well, he doesn’t need to call anymore. I was having some car trouble, but I figured it all out,” I said, not leading on that I was just trying to change my truck tire. He’ll probably think I was putting in a new transmission or something!