The Holy Tire
Buckling the kids into their car seats, I was looking forward to getting home. It was a long, busy day, and the kids were ready for bed. My husband was working a weekend overtime shift, which meant I was playing the part of the single mother. I took a slight detour before getting back on to the highway. My cousin had moved to a new home, and I figured I would check out the neighborhood on my way out.
As I stopped at a red light, I noticed my tire icon on the dashboard had illuminated. In the winter this is a regular occurrence, but typically, the light doesn’t go on in the warm weather. The light turned green and I made a right onto Sunrise Highway. I turned the radio down to listen to the sound of the tires on the pavement. At first, everything seemed fine, but as I drove on I started to hear a bumping sound that seemed to be getting louder.
While I was sure that it was nothing to be concerned over, I still decided to pull into the Quick Check gas station to take a look. I rolled up to the air pump and was excited to see that the air was free! Oh the little things in life. Too many times I have paid more than a few dollars just to fill up my deflated tires with air. It’s like charging money for water….but I digress.
Hopping out of the car, I take a look at the rear driver-side tire and notice that this was not going to be fixed with a little compressed air. As I stood there, I could hear the air hissing out of the tire. I leaned down to see a small metal gauge stuck in the tread. It was so strategically placed, I almost thought it was done intentionally.
You have got to be fucking kidding me.
I lean back over my driver seat, pull out my wallet and begin searching for my AAA card. For years I have paid the fees associated with being a member, but I can count the times I have used their services on one finger. An audio recording comes on, prompting me to put in my request for help online.
Oh yes, how convenient. I am stuck on the side of the road. What more would I love than trying to search on the website to try and request service to a random unknown location? Most helpful.
The pre-recorded voice drones on, and I finally get the option to speak to a human. “Press 2 to speak to a road-side representative.” I press the #2 on my keypad. “Due to high call volume, the wait time is longer than expected. Please wait on the line for the next available representative.”
Okay, seriously what in the actual fuck. Why am I paying you a membership fee for an emergency service when no one can help me in an emergency situation?!
Taking a look around, I realize that I am not in a very good area. I see a homeless man walking up to me with a pink coat and a bundle of plastic grocery bags. He extends the hand with the coat and shouts out to me, “I’ll trade you this coat for a bottle of water!” I look at him quizzically. At this point, I am fairly pissed off, and am in no mood for bartering.
“What?!” I called back in my utmost bitchy voice, hoping that this will send him off in another direction.
“Water, I’m just looking for some water,” he replies back.
“I don’t have any water,” I explain.
In my ear, the pre-recorded voice continues to ask for my patience while I wait for a human, or possibly another machine, to answer my call. “All I have is a flat tire!” I point angrily down at the tire, and turn back towards my car.
The man starts coming closer, “I can help you with that.”
“Nope, no thank you, I’m on the phone with triple A. They’ll be here any minute,” I lie.
“I used to change tires for a living miss. Please, let me just help you,” he walks closer to the car. He walks to the trunk and takes a look at the tools.
“I can’t even get this thing open,” I point to the puzzle of my spare tire and the secret key that somehow unlocks it. He takes the tool and starts winding the tire loose. I end the cell phone call and stick my phone in my back pocket. I knew, even the best case scenario would have me sitting in the sketchy parking lot for another hour or two. Trusting this stranger somehow felt like the better option.
“I worked in a tire shop my whole life. That’s what I know. I can have you out of here in no time.”
“I really appreciate it. I’m sorry I was so rude to you.”
“I understand. There’s a lot of us around here, homeless folks. Most of them give the rest of us a bad name. I’m not a bad guy though. Never got in to drugs or drinking, just got caught up in a bad situation”
My daughter calls me from her seat. The man looks up realizing that I have my kids in the car. “I see you have a gift or two in there,” he nods his head to the middle row. “Yep, two…,” I smile. While I should have been concerned for the safety of myself, and of my children, I felt oddly comfortable with this man.
“What’s your name?” I ask him.
“Curtis Dennis, ma’am,” he replies.
“Well nice to meet you Curtis. I really do appreciate you helping us. My name is Christine.”
“Christine?! That’s my ex-wife’s name. Married for twenty years.”
As we continue to banter back and forth, another man walks near. This man is significantly larger, and most definitely gives off a strange vibe. He calls over to us, “It’s the wrong jack there. The guy’s using the wrong one.”
It was clear that he was trying to find his way into the situation. I stayed still, staring down at the asphalt. My new friend Curtis ignored him. The man, not getting the attention he was looking for, walked on.
“I’m glad that it’s me that found you here, Christine. There are a lot of bad people in this area. It could have been dangerous for you.”
“And I’m glad you found me!” While I am not awfully religious, I felt the need to express to Curtis, my thoughts, that God had sent him to help me. Curtis continued to work on the tire. He worked skillfully and with purpose, trying to complete the task as quickly as possible. He even went as far to explain what he was doing, teaching me the ins and outs of tire changing.
While it wasn’t much time that passed, I was still able to find out a bit about his situation. Curtis was divorced and had lost most of what he had in savings during the divorce settlement. He had a child, with whom he was estranged, due to the circumstances of the divorce. He was willing to work, but did not have the means for transportation (a vehicle), communication (a phone), or a home. The housing department was able to set him up with a short term apartment for one week. He landed a job the very next day, but after the week was up, the housing service was unable to find him housing nearby. It would take him more than two and a half hours to get to and from work each day. With the bus being unreliable, his new boss was not very understanding of the delays, and fired him for being tardy too often. Now Curtis lived on the streets. He had no job. He had not showered in months, and had the same clothes on for over a week. On his head he had a McDonald’s visor. He had on a black cutoff sleeveless shirt, and a pair of dirty, but should have been white, sweatpants. His socks were mismatched, and he had on a pair of black sneakers.
Curtis put the last bolt on. He walked over to the air pump to fill my dust covered spare tire, which may or may not have even had a birds nest embedded into it. I explained to him that I didn’t have much money to offer him.
“I’m sorry I can’t do more for you,” I said to Curtis.
He smiled, “You did more for me just by treating me like a human being, than anything else.”
I handed him two twenty dollar bills. “Do me one favor though Curtis…” I said as I gave him the money, “Please don’t spend it on drugs and alcohol.”
“No ma’am, I am going over to the Bodega to get me some dinner!” he smiled. We said our goodbyes, and I called him over to the back window where my children were waiting so patiently. “Curtis, one more thing…” I opened up the back door and turned to my son and daughter. “Hey guys, say thank you to Mr. Curtis for helping us out today.” The kids both smiled shyly at him and thanked him obediently.
He picked up his pink coat and collection of plastic bags, thanked me and made his way to the corner. I hopped in the car, sitting for a minute in disbelief. The sequence of events were strange for sure, but the lesson was bigger than I could have imagined. Even in the darkest of days, if you stay true to your good intentions, you will find love and acceptance. I hope I was able to motivate my new friend, as much as he lit a fire within me. Whether you’re homeless or live in a mansion, life can get you down, but before you lose hope, if you’re lucky…a stranger will come by and turn your day around.