My car once overheated while I was driving my daughter and three of her teammates to a soccer tournament in Wisconsin.
I had to pull onto the shoulder of I-294 around Chicago … at rush hour … in a construction zone …near the O’Hare exit … and at the start of the Fourth of July weekend.
And I didn’t even realize that a couple of the girls started throwing Gummy Bears at other cars at they creeped along in the inside lane not 10 feet from us.
Thankfully, a Good Samaritan came by with some radiator coolant about an hour later and we were on our way.
A perfect stranger rescued us from this perfect storm of road challenges.
And now I can beat that scenario as we headed to Arizona last Sunday.
While approaching St. Louis and ready to merge onto another interstate, I ran over some object on the road and our front right tire blew. We rattled off the road with two other cars who had hit the same unidentified but unforgiving piece of something.
My wife immediately called our emergency roadside service, but was informed by a recording that we needed an app to get help. So while she looked into that, I took our two bikes off the back of the car and then hauled out our suitcases, golf clubs, hiking equipment and apparently everything else we owned smaller than our dining room table so I could get to our emergency spare.
We must have looked like the Beverly Hillbillies with all our belongings strewn around the car.
Meanwhile, cars whizzed happily by on their way to a better view of the St. Louis Arch — Gateway to the West.
My wife got on the app but the people that could help apparently weren’t available on Sunday. (One of them did call us back on Monday. Gee, thanks.) Another search by her did come up with a random roadside service number of somebody who wanted our credit card number before coming out.
I shrugged. I hadn’t changed a tire in 15 years and we were on a bit of a slope. I gave it the old college try anyway with what looked like a toy jack that kept slipping, presumably because of the uneven ground and not my ineptitude.
But while twisting off the lug nuts, I broke off the stud that holds the tire to the wheel. I didn’t know my mashed potato muscles were that strong.
About that time, an Illinois state trooper pulled up. Great guy. He kept us safe. Then he called an Illinois highway worker with a big truck and — more importantly — a big jack. Another great guy.
After a lot of work, he had our emergency tire — or fake tire, as I call it — back on.
“With that small tire and only four lug nuts, you aren’t going to be able to go very fast or very far,” the state trooper said.
After we loaded back up the car, including the flat, the highway guy offered to lead us a back way to one of the bridges over the Mississippi River so we wouldn’t have to do a lot of lane changing on intersecting interstates.
Great guy? He was better than that. He even drove his truck to a couple of tire places in St. Louis with us following. Of course they were closed on a Sunday. So he escorted us back onto the interstate and then waved good-bye as he took an exit and headed back to Illinois.
We, meanwhile, searched out a big box store that sold tires. But they wouldn’t put one on for us because we had a missing stud (which they couldn’t replace) and only four working lug nuts.
So St. Louis it was that night even though we usually get to Vinita, Oklahoma on our first day of our Arizona travels. By pure luck, we checked into a hotel just down the street from a Dobbs Tire & Auto Center.
When the manager unlocked the door at 7 a.m., Monday morning, we were standing in front of it. Fortunately, my Cub hat was still in the car because when we walked in, I saw St. Louis Cardinal emblems around the office. I learned that Dobbs is an official sponsor of those dirty birds.
Their bays were full, the parking lot had a lot of cars dropped off over the weekend but they worked us in after our sob story — my wife taking the lead. They also gladly accepted my offer to buy them lunch.
“Just as well I didn’t wear my Cub hat in here,” I eventually said.
“If you had, we would have probably gotten you out of here by Thursday,” the manager said with a smile.
We were out of there by 9 a.m., that Monday with a new tire lug, a new wheel stud and five lug nuts. We made it to Amarillo that night, a day ahead of the big storm, and then Tucson the next.
I have a new respect for the people around St. Louis. I will always have to hate their Cardinals, though.
Contact Bill at [email protected]