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Challenge 12: Change a Tire

Background:

Through and through, I am a creature of habit. My planner is the most important purchase of the year and I thrive off my Sunday night organization session where I outline my upcoming week in multi-colored pens. I have certain habits for grocery shopping and laundry and when I like to study foreign languages.

These routines, much like running and writing, keep me grounded and focused. But at some point, routines can become too much. It isn’t until you’ve stepped outside of yourself for a day or a week that you notice how much you’ve missed. You know that feeling of taking a long weekend trip? Suddenly, Saturday seems to last forever as you forget about buying bananas and bread and focus on enjoying wherever you are.

All this is to say that while I appreciate some of the structures I’ve given my life, I can’t help but wonder what’s just outside the box. The new idea for Sunday blog posts is to write about one experience I had in the previous week that was out of routine, that wasn’t predictable, that made me think a little differently about myself and the world I live in.

Challenge 12: Change a Tire

I don’t know a lot about cars. That’s an understatement. I probably know less about cars than about any other subject in the world. I guess I was never interested as long as I could get from Point A to Point B. I’ve never owned a car (thanks, NYC public transit), I truly have no idea how car insurance works, and, even though I know I was taught, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t change a tire…which makes this recent encounter all the more entertaining.

On Wednesday, March 21st, I was out with a friend. She lives about a seven-minute walk from my apartment so as we hugged goodbye outside of hers, I began my short solo trek home. Normally, I would have put in my headphones to return to the world of the podcast or to call a friend. But Wednesday, March 21st was clinging to the remnants of Winter Storm Toby and I wanted to take in the perfect snowflakes for perhaps the last time before Spring.

It was after 11 and I was moderately cold and severely tired. I ran through what I presumed would be my nighttime routine and started to do some calculation about how much sleep I would get before my alarm went off the next morning. Then I saw him.

At the intersection of my street and only a stone’s throw from my front door was a car with a replacement tire leaning against the back. I saw a man – probably my age, perhaps a little younger even – on the phone. I’ve often joked on this blog and in my personal life about how nobody taught me not to talk to strangers. Of course, that’s not true. I was probably definitely taught. But I can’t help but love people and as I had almost convinced myself to not say anything and as I was almost across the street, I felt myself involuntarily turning around: “Do you need any help?”

Parental disclaimer here: It was late, but I was in a very well-lit area in my very safe neighborhood and there were a lot of people out walking their dogs, enjoying the weather, smoking cigarettes, etc. If there was a chance I would have been putting myself in a bad situation, I would not have stopped.

Anyway, I found myself back tracking as the man motioned toward the flat front tire. He hung up and explained the predicament – the flat tire, the replacement tire, the jack, the missing piece. He didn’t have the wrench to take the old tire off.

Now to reinforce the fact that I know nothing about cars, I first thought of the toolbox I keep under my bed. It has a hammer, a Phillips head screw driver, a stud finder... I quickly realized I was the least qualified person to offer assistance.

Fortunately, one of my good friends lives across the street and is accustomed to fielding my random nonsense calls. He said he didn’t know anyone with a car either, but he would come down and check it out. We both chatted with the car owner and when my friend realized there was nothing more he could do, he headed home. That was almost my course of action as well. I don’t know cars. And even if I did, without the wrench we were hopeless. But I’m equally parts friendly and stubborn and leaving wasn’t an option at that point.

We called a few auto repair shops. I popped into the 24-hour bodega. We tried flagging down passing cars to see if they had a wrench. A car-share driver stopped and tried to help but the tool wasn’t the right size. He wished us luck and he was off.

At this point, I was invested. This whole event felt like some sort of puzzle that was in need of a creative solution. I was on my last-ditch effort when another man ambled over to us and asked if we needed help. We explained once more about the wrench and he picked up the jack – the jack that had been sitting by the tire the entire time that nobody had paid much mind to. The wrench was inside the jack. However, the wrench was (for lack of a better word) wrenched into the jack in such a way that it wasn’t until he had smashed the jack/wrench combo off the concrete that they finally separated and became workable.

With all our tools finally within reach, this odd group of new community set to work. I watched as he replaced the tire and then – almost as quickly as he had arrived – turned off down the street. After an hour of standing in the snow on my street with a group of strangers, I realized something about community.

When I first asked if he needed help, I could tell he was frustrated and bummed out. It was 11 pm on a snowy Wednesday night, after all. He explained that nobody wanted to stop or help. I felt that defeat. But I also am also notorious for high morale. I chatted with other people in my neighborhood as we talked about how none of us own cars and trouble shot the best options – most of which we had already tried. I had basically nothing to offer in terms of practical car knowledge or topic based expertise. But I could still show up. I could still allow him to be seen. I could still make sure I wasn’t leaving until he was back on the road.

It’s a funny thing about community – especially in New York City. It can be really easy to play invisible. If you don’t want to be seen, I imagine it’s pretty easy to fly under the radar. But if you take out your headphones and choose to see strangers as people first, well, you just might learn how to change a tire.

Love always,

Liz

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