This morning I sat down in my chair and wrote out all of the things that I intended to get done today. Drive to Sellwood and pick up supplements from my naturopath, return to Vancouver for a massage, get gas, go shopping, and maybe watch some college football. It was going to take some timing, but it could easily be done.
The naturopath’s office opened at nine in the morning, so at eight thirty I jumped into the car and began the thirty minute trip to Sellwood where His office is located. As I crossed the I-205 bridge I felt my pocket, as is my habit, to make sure that I had remembered to bring my phone. I patted up my thigh and then down and, finally, and with considerable consternation, accepted that I had forgotten to bring my phone. “No sweat,” I told myself. “I’ve survived without a phone for most of my life. I guess I’ll do OK for the next hour or two.” So I drove on, exiting the 205 onto Powell Boulevard, and then began to meander through Southeast Portland towards Sellwood.
About half-way down Powell a warning tone came on in the cab of my car and a tire symbol appeared on the dash. I wasn’t perturbed because the darned thing had been going off periodically for the last four months, and the service guys at the local Ford dealership could not find anything wrong with the tires or with the electronics. I had come to accept that my onboard computer was malfunctioning at best, or that it was possessed by a malevolent spirit that was out to make my life miserable. Either scenario was equally believable, although my money would most likely be put on the latter possibility.
Shortly after the alarm went on I stopped for a red light, and when I accelerated again I became aware of an odd flopping noise. This is not entirely unheard of in my Ford Escape. Many times when I’ve been on the highway and had the rear windows down, my ears have been assaulted by the most unpleasant of flopping sounds, so I thought that this might be the same phenomenon.
The windows were rolled up however because it was about fifty three degrees outside and I was wearing only a tee shirt. Also, I was not on the highway. No, the sound came from somewhere else. “Maybe that car next to me,” I thought, so I slowed down and let that car get well in front of me. The flopping sound continued. It wasn’t that car.
At that point I could no longer dodge the fact that I had a tire in trouble. I turned right onto a side street and parked by the curb. Upon getting out of my car I looked at the two driver’s side tires and saw that they were fine. When I walked behind the car and looked at the rear passenger-side tire however, I received the verdict: It was as flat as a board.
“Oh great,” I thought. “Flat tire. Deep into Portland. No phone. What the heck am I to do next?”
At this point some sort of acute stress response reaction set in. This is more commonly known as the “flight or fight syndrome.” I was in a situation here: flat tire, no phone, sketchy neighborhood, wife on a plane to Las Vegas. What do I do next?”
Plan A was to change the tire, but that was not really a valid option. I hate working on cars. When I was young it was expected that all boys could work on cars; that they longed to work on cars. I tried to develop a taste for such activity, but the effort never paid off. Finally, in my later twenties, it became crystal clear that I hated working on cars, and I refused to do it ever again.
Because of this it never occurred to me that I should try to change the flat myself. I might as well try to turn lead into gold. Somewhere in that car was probably a jack, and quite possibly there was also a spare tire. I had no impulse – and I mean zero – to look for either. Cars are dirty, and I don’t like car dirt. Garden dirt is fine. Dirt with tomatoes growing out of it is just peachy. Road dirt? Dirt with old grease in it? Dirt that demands that you scrape your knuckles as a price of admission to play in it? No. Hell no! No damned way. I don’t do that.
Plan B was to return to Vancouver where my phone was and call Triple A. As I said earlier, I was in reaction mode, and going back to where I came from was the first real plan – and it was a visceral plan at that – that came to my mind. Returning to my house in Vancouver would provide me a chance to reset the situation. At that moment I could see a bus approaching that was going in the direction that I wished to go, so I jumped.
I ran across the street and made it to the bus stop in time to board the bus, thanking my lucky stars that I was on my way towards my destination with no delay. I was also thankful that the bus was warm since, as I said, I had left my house wearing only jeans and a tee shirt. No sweat, eh? I’ll be inside all the time!
The bus took me a mile up the road to where I could walk a short distance to the light rail stop, or Max as it’s called in Portland. I walked through a homeless camp and gained the Max platform, only to find that the next train was twenty six minutes away. Weekend schedule. I had no phone, no book, and no pen and paper, and no sweatshirt or jacket, so I chose to walk in long loops around the platform to kill time and try to keep warm.
I made one loop and knocked three minutes off of my wait time. As I began the second loop I remembered that this was a weekend. The train would still run to the Gateway Station, and from there I would board a train that would still run to the Park Rose Station. What I did not know however was if the express bus ran from Park Rose to Vancouver on weekends as it did on weekdays. I would be rolling the dice. It was cold and I was walking on the train platform among trash that was blowing in from the homeless camp, and I did not wish to roll any dice.
No! I would have to stay on the train and pass through Gateway to Lloyd Center, and then walk to the Yellow Line that would take me up to Delta Park. From there I could take the Number Four bus to Vancouver, then the Number 37 to within five blocks of my house.
I made another loop around the platform. Sixteen minutes to go. I began a third loop and in my mind I watched myself arrive at my house. I have a set of keys in my pocket and I will enter through the front door. But – – – wait! Our front door is secured by a multiplicity of locks which includes a manually-thrown dead bolt, and I do not remember whether that bolt has been retracted or remains in place. If it is still in place, all of the keys in the world will do me no good, so I ask myself, “Do you feel lucky?”
Actually I do not feel particularly lucky on this day. There has not been one thing that had happened to me yet that could possibly contribute to any sort of feeling lucky. I stopped and felt completely flummoxed while pondering my options, while a catsup-smudged McDonald’s wrapper blew against my ankle. In a moment my next move became clear: I had to return to my car and retrieve the garage door opener (which I should have removed from the car in the first place).
With a sigh I retraced my steps down from the Max platform, back through the homeless camp, and back to Powell Boulevard. There, I caught a bus that returned me to where I started. I opened my car and retrieved the garage door opener, then locked the vehicle and walked to the nearest bus stop, going now in the opposite direction. The buses were running more frequently than was the Max and I decided to take a bus to where I could more easily catch the Yellow Line towards Vancouver. Also, getting on a bus would get me out of the cold, and I wanted very much to do just that.
While standing at the bus stop and walking in circles, trying to kill time until the bus arrived and I could warm up again, my brain once again began to engage in something reminiscent of normal function. I had a Triple A card in my wallet, and if I had my phone I would have already called them for roadside assistance. But I didn’t have my phone. But somebody must have a phone!
I looked around me and saw nobody except one quintessentially odd Portland couple crossing Powell a half a block east of where I stood, and one tuxedo-colored tom cat in an empty yard behind me. I knew that my odds with the cat were weak, and the couple, both scantily clad with neon hair, piercings in places that gave me a mild case of anal flutter, and the unmistakable look of being stoned out of their gourds, inclined me to suspect that my odds for luck with them would be only slightly greater than were those with the cat.
I looked to the west and saw only a closed neighborhood bar. Since it was only a little past nine in the morning I knew that there would be nobody there. To the east was a row of businesses, and I started walking in that direction to see if I might find one open and the proprietors willing to let my scraggly self come in and use their phone.
A dental office, an accountant, an insurance agent, a wood panel business; all were closed. It was a weekend, or have I already said that? I saw some more businesses across the street, each with a simple neon sign that said ‘Open.’ I thought that I might try my luck there but just a few yards in front of me on my side of the street I saw a barber’s pole and it was moving. I walked up to the building and sure enough, the business was open. I opened the door and walked inside. There, an Asian woman was cutting an Asian customer’s hair. Another Asian customer was waiting for her turn.
The barber spoke very little English. She tried to explain something, but I had no clue what she was saying. I began to relate my own sad story but it quickly became apparent that she did not understand me any better than I understood her. Fortunately the customer waiting for her turn in the barber’s chair understood my dilemma. She offered me the use of her phone and I put in my call for roadside assistance.
Thirty minutes later two gentlemen showed up to remove the flat tire which had been destroyed by a jagged piece of metal, and replace it with the pathetic little rubber donut that functioned as my spare tire. I then limped home, retrieved my phone, and drove to the tire place where I replaced all four of my old tires with nice, new ones with a fifty thousand mile warrantee.
Other than that, it was a fairly uneventful morning.