(NOTE TO READER: This is the first post in the Tire Trilogy written by my brother, Peter, who is really tall and lives in Texas…where everything is bigger. But, I’m still older-and wiser-and that’s what really matters. Welcome to Stand Still, Pete.)
It was one of those crazy Saturdays. The ones where I run myself ragged for 10 hours, jump in the shower, shave in the fogged over mirror, and then throw on a jacket and a tie and rush off to a youth dance to meet my son, who was already there.
As I pulled into the church parking lot, the car was riding funny. I pulled into a parking space at the far end of the lot, directly under a street light so I could get a good look at the car. What I saw dismayed me: the back passenger side tire was completely flat. As a bonus, and just to vex me a little more, I saw a screw sticking out of the top of the tire. Carramba!
My first thought was an expletive. My next thought was “Lord, I started this day at a baptismal service and I’m ending it at a youth dance and THIS is how you repay me? Wow, I must have really done something wrong to deserve this!”. I gave an audible, expressive groan mixed with a sigh. And then I said a silent prayer – asking for help, any help, and for some courage to accept God’s will even when it’s totally not convenient.
I know how to change the tires on that car. I’d pulled a tire off at least 2-3 times before. In fact, normally it would take about 7 minutes. But tonight, tonight – well, it was different. One of the spare time killers I had picked up a few weeks before was a home renovation project. I was going to flip a house and make lots of money. Just like on TV only better. And so, earlier in the day (after the baptismal service) I had loaded up most of my tools (including 3 toolboxes, plus about 400 ft of extension cords, a circular saw, two drills, a chainsaw, a full box of sockets, buckets, cement, paint, and some drop cloths) into the trunk of the car. And now, my spare tire was buried deep down under all of that stuff – and I do mean all of it.
I sighed again. I glanced towards heaven – again – with an imploring look. And I started to pull all of that stuff out of the trunk. It took ten minutes just to get the trunk unloaded so that I could work on getting the spare tire ready. It took another five minutes to find all the pieces of the jack. I was doing all of this on a summer night with about 60% humidity and 85 degrees. I was starting to sweat through my wool blend dress slacks. My white shirt was soaked.
At this moment, the Lord sent me some help. One of my friends (Steve) walked out of the building and started heading for his car, but he noticed me and walked to my end of the parking lot. He offered to drive me to a tire shop, if we could find one open. I pulled the tire off, threw it into the back of his car, and then we drove off, looking for a repair shop. The AC blew cold air onto me and it was blissful.
Where to go, though? There wasn’t a garage open within 15 miles (it was after 8 PM now) and I still wanted to make at least part of the dance. Steve reminded me that there was an Autozone about 3 miles away. We drove there first.
I got the tire out of the trunk, lugged it inside, and asked the assistant manager for help. He directed me to the $7.99 tire repair kit. I asked the guy if he had any tips, secretly hoping that he would offer to fix my tire. No such luck. “Be sure to use the rasp to make the whole bigger” he said. Whatever that means. I bought the kit, picked up my tire, and headed out to the parking lot.
A guy followed us out of the shop. He looked vaguely like a young version of Dusty Hill from ZZ Top – the beard wasn’t totally grey yet. I am sure we looked kind of strange. This shop is in rural part of Texas – the part of Texas where the Saturday night uniform is jeans and boots, not white shirts and jackets.
“Do you need some help?”
I turned around. “I bought this kit but I’ve never done this before.”
“It’s not that hard. Let me show you.” And with that, Dusty (or whatever his name was) went to work. He pulled the screw out of the tire, worked the rasp through the hole a few times, and then he put the rubber plug into the thing-a-ma-bopper and fixed the hole.
He picked up the tire, walked over to his truck, and with an air pressure hose, he filled up the tire with air. I handed him my tire gauge and he duly filled it to 35 psi. From the moment he first talked to me to the moment he handed me my tire back was about 2 minutes. Maybe less. Pit crews at Daytona have taken longer.
He smiled at me, I said “Thanks a lot. What do I owe you?”
He waved it off like nothing and then he headed back into the store. My good Samaritan was gone, back to minding his own business.
“Who was that masked man?” I asked Steve. He laughed.
Steve drove me back to my car, I put the tire on, loaded up the trunk, and made it inside the church for the last 30 minutes of that youth dance. The air conditioned gym never felt better.
There are at least 2 different ways to understand our mortal experience: one view is that life is a strange set of coincidences as we journey through the cosmos. The other worldview is that there may be more order to the system than we give the Creator credit for. Viewed through this frame, life is really a whole bundle of tender mercies, lovingly strung together by a wise God with a great sense of humor. President Spencer W. Kimball once wrote “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” Indeed.
Dusty, wherever you are today, thank you. I don’t know why you showed up at Autozone, I don’t know why you noticed me or my tire, I don’t know why you offered to help me do the work and then did the work yourself, and I don’t know why your truck had an air pressure hose. When I apply Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is that God knows me and God loves me. You were the answer to a silent prayer, uttered in desperation, from a frustrated child to a loving Father. You were a tender mercy at the right time, at the right place.
I like to imagine that someday I will meet all the people who helped me in this life (what a long line indeed!) and Dusty will be there, standing right behind Steve. But until that day, I pray for Dusty every once in a while, and I am filled with hope when I see someone (I imagine it’s Dusty) stop to help another person. There’s a little of Dusty in all of us.