Tirus Flattimus

September 20, 2010

Last evening, while making the turn out of my tiny side street onto the main highway (I should mention here that main highways in PEI are like two-lane farm roads anywhere else), I met with a virtually unprecedented occurrence, at least in recent memory—a flat tire. It must be the better part of ten years since my last one, an incident I remember well: I had just finished up a wee-hours visit to the ER of my local hospital after an adverse reaction to some shellfish; as I made ready to exit the parking lot, I heard/felt that distinctive whumpa-thump that let me know in no uncertain terms that my evening’s travails were not over.

Yesterday, however, I was not suffering from the double whammy of bad clams and annoying car problems, and I was basically still at home, where I had a second vehicle at my disposal, thus the repair could wait for another day. So this morning, I raised the Honda up on its minuscule (and fiddly) scissors jack, a process for which the term “man-hour” was undoubtedly coined, and replaced the wheel and tire with one of those silly looking “mini-spare” tires that seem ubiquitous in cars nowadays. I have to say, the logic of the mini-spare escapes me; it is an idea that, despite its implicit foolishness, refuses to go quietly to the graveyard of badly conceived notions.

“Implicit foolishness…?” you ask. Yes indeedy, and I will address that, but first let me offer a brief explanation of the initial logic behind the mini-spare. Back in the early days of pony cars (Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds, et al), the style favored long hoods and short trunks. Short trunks, while infinitely more trendy, could not be expected to hold as much swag as those of their larger cousins (in Chevy Impalas, Ford LTDs, or the like), so some dim bulb came up with the idea of a mini-spare, which would not take up nearly so much valuable cargo space. This is, of course, only important when the trunk is full of luggage. The rest of the time it makes no difference whatsoever. So let’s say you and your three best friends are on holiday to the mountains, all of your camping gear stowed neatly into every available nook and cranny of the trunk of your beloved ride; the lid can be closed, but only with some coercion. You and your passengers are belting out what you believe to be a fairly credible version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, when all of a sudden there is a percussive accompaniment that is as unexpected as it is unsynchronized. You pull over to the side of the road, get out, and stare at your lovely and expensive alloy wheel, which now resides several inches closer to the pavement than is optimal. With a sigh, you pop the trunk, and begin the massive task of unpacking, because the mini-spare occupies a recess under the cargo floor (another bad design flaw, but not germane to our discussion today). Resignedly, you remove the tire, the jack, and the lug wrench, and proceed to remove the still-mostly-round tire from the car, as your friends sit on the sidelines chuckling, chattering amongst themselves and texting pictures or video of the incident worldwide. You install the mini-spare, and then start to repack the trunk—only your stuff won’t all fit in anymore, because the “real” tire/wheel combo is quite a bit larger than the space previously occupied by the mini-spare which now adorns one corner of your car.

It quickly becomes evident that somebody (although not you, as you are the driver) will have to carry the flat tire in his or her lap until the next gas station or tire store, a small but satisfying payback for the aforementioned gaiety and photo/video distribution. With any luck it will be muddy.