Make Mine with Studs
I’ve seen that neon-orange, horseshoe-shaped light on my dashboard before. My Honda FIT is smart—it knows when any tire falls below the recommended pressure.
The passenger side rear tire had leaked air a few days ago. My tire gauge confirms it. Filled to 37 pounds at the time, it’s back to 31. Better take it in. I head to my neighborhood tire store–helpful, friendly and most importantly, close.
On the drive over, I think of the conversation I had with a friend the day before.
“I heard we’re going to have a lot of snow this year,” she said. Do you have snow tires?”
“No I’ve never had them.”
“Might not be a bad idea. You can get them with studs which is even better.”
As I enter the store, Kevin, name embroidered in white on his gray shirt, greets me from behind the counter. After telling him about the slow leak in my rear tire, I decide this would be a good time to inquire about snow tires. An alternate plan would be to do research on the internet, comparison shop and ask more friends about their snow tire experiences. I don’t want to do any of that. I cut to the chase.
“I’ve been thinking about snow tires,” I say. “Are they pretty good?”
“Oh yeah, they help a lot.”
“I heard we’re going to have above average snow this winter,” I tell him. It crosses my mind that I am doing everything in my power to encourage Kevin to sell me snow tires.
He quietly nods. He appreciates my help.
“What about studs? Do they damage the roads?”
“No, no, they’re approved in Colorado. You can leave them on all year if you want.”
“How much do they cost? How about with studs?”
Number challenged all my life, I know whatever figure he quotes will fly right over my head, and it does. The only piece of mathematical information that registers in my left hemisphere is that the studs don’t cost THAT much more than plain snow tires.
“I’ve never had snow tires, but I’ll try them. I’ll go with the studs.”
“You want us to put them on now?”
“We’ll take care of the tire with the leak and put on the studs. It’ll take a couple hours.” He calls the courtesy van driver.
I step outside leaving the rubber-scented air behind. Amiable retiree Vince, now supplementing his Social Security with a part-time job, cruises up in the white passenger service van and I climb in.
“I’m getting snow tires put on,” I confide. “Never had them before.”
“Good idea,” Vince says. “Makes the difference between getting some place or not getting there.”
Like all tire store employees, Vince believes in reassuring the customers, and selling tires.
Two hours later I’m back and Kevin greets me at the counter displaying a long nail that had been embedded in the rear tire.
“Did I run over that?”
“No,” he answers with diagnostic authority. “What probably happened is the front tire did its job and kicked the nail back, but then it went in the rear tire.”
“Oh,” I say, handing over my Visa card, as I muse over the responsible front tire and the vulnerable victim behind it.
My back seat holds the old tires neatly placed in individual bags. I back out of the parking lot and head for home.
It is 75 degrees, sunny, with dry pavement, but I notice a reverberating, clicking noise. There must be someone behind me with a flat tire. I slow down and look in my rear-view mirror. No one there, so I speed up again. The rumbling is louder. OMG! It’s me. I sound like a freight train. I roll the window down. Now it’s so loud I can’t hear my radio. I raise the window partway and increase the radio volume. But the clatter and the clack continue, and I reduce my speed as the road becomes a bumpy trestle.
I have a vision of people stopping what they’re doing to stare at me as I thunder through their neighborhood. I blow three long blasts on my whistle. I stick my head out the window and sing,
I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans,
Doncha know me? I’m your native son.
But in the deafening roar they can’t hear me.
Worse than the rumble, is the clickety crunching sound. It sounds like tires running over loose gravel. I visualize an endless road. The 40 miles of washboard that runs between civilization and Chaco Canyon in the middle of the New Mexican desert comes to mind. But in this case, a road crew had dumped gravel in uneven piles over the washboard. They were in a hurry to get to the Oasis Bar before happy hour ended.
No, it’s not gravel after all. It has a sharper pitch. A tingle-in-the-spine tone that goes beyond gravel. Crushed glass! That’s what it is.
This driving over crushed glass will last how long? How long until I can grind on back to the tire store and get these suckers taken off? It’s now October. March is our snowiest month. I count on my fingers—six months! April is the second snowiest. Make that seven months.
The next day, on my way to Target, I call a friend I wish I’d called before I made my rash decision. Though not as affirming as Kevin and Vince, she is tactful. “It will be interesting to see if at the end of the winter, you’re glad you did it,” she says soothingly.
But her voice fades away, drowned out by a far-off din emerging from a tunnel. The clamor becomes words, chugging closer and closer. Upon me now, rhythmic and compelling–
The Rock Island Line it’s a mighty good road,
Well if you ride, you got to ride it like you find it,
Get your ticket at the station for the Rock Island Line.
Lucy Bell is a retired teacher and writing consultant. Her thirty-five year teaching career included creating FIRSTWRITE, a program that helped hundreds of teachers teach first graders creative writing, even before they could spell. She is currently a featured contributor for the online magazineUS Represented and the literary journal Almagre Review. Molly and the Cat who Stole Her Tongue is her first children’s novel.