“Do you hear something?” my wife asked. She was just beginning to accelerate from the on-ramp onto I-75 as we headed home from the Bengals’ game.

“No…I…” I said.

“Because I think I hear something, and the guy behind me is flashing his lights” she said, as she turned the radio down from the post-game show.

Then I heard it, the “Thump…Thump…Thump.”

“Oh crap…pull over and let me take a look,” I said.

She pulled our silver Rav 4 to the edge of the ramp and I hopped out to take a look at what I already knew was coming; the left rear tire was indeed completely flat.

“So what should we do?” she asked.

I said “Well, we need to get off this ramp. It’s not safe to try to change the tire here. Let’s try to get it to an exit.”

I climbed back into the passenger seat and we limped along a couple of miles to the next exit and pulled into the parking lot of a small convenience store. All the way my mind raced as I planned out the next course of action.

I was not upset about the tire. First of all, it’s only a tire. Nothing serious. Secondly, this set of tires had almost 60,000 miles on them and was already scheduled to be replaced.

I did, however, realize I had owned this vehicle since 2001 and had never changed a tire on it. In fact, I had probably not changed ANY tire for twenty years. I wasn’t even sure where the tools were. On top of that, it was bitterly cold and spitting rain. I had brought no coat, no gloves, no warm head protection, and was only wearing a fleece Bengals’ sweatshirt covered by a $1 saran wrap raincoat. I braced myself for the task ahead.

We stopped, climbed out of the vehicle and my wife set the emergency brake as I opened the back of the truck to search for the tools. There I found several hidden compartments, some empty, some with pieces of tools that together were supposedly designed to extricate us from our situation. Some of the tools were unrecognizable to me and others were missing. I had to go to the manual to find the other parts scattered throughout the vehicle. Jack? Under the front seat. Jack handle? In a side compartment. Wrench for the lug nuts? Under the carpet in the back. Geez! Where were the real tools?

Truth is, in modern cars there are no real tools. Sometime, in recent years, auto manufacturers made the decision it was more important to streamline and lighten their vehicles than to give customers real tools they could use. So we are all stuck with “Tonka toys” that taunt you as they question your manhood. The lug-nut wrench doubles as a miniature jack handle (and also can be used as a mouse trap and cheese grater.)

I laid out the tiny tools, removed the fiberglass shell from the spare tire, loosened the lug nuts from it and easily slid it off the back. So far, so good.

Then, I positioned the jack at the safety groove just in front of the left rear tire and begin rotating the swivel to slowly meet the body of the truck. The jack was clumsy and slow but at least it worked. I jacked it up part way and then began the process of trying to remove the lug nuts. This was where I was to meet my Waterloo. The handle on the wrench/mousetrap/cheese grater was too short for me to get any leverage and though I pushed it as hard as I could, the only thing giving way was my back. I pushed, pulled, and stomped on the wrench to no avail. I had also worked up a good sweat and now was beginning to shiver from the cold drizzle. I was rapidly running out of ideas.

My rescuer would not be a knight in shining armor riding a white horse. He would instead be a dirty disheveled thirty-something in need of serious dental work driving a beat up small brown sedan with a mismatched door. His thirty-something wife had long stringy brown hair and had a cigarette dangling precariously from her mouth. The right sleeve of her light blue windbreaker clung to her dirty jacket by threads.

Taking note of my predicament, he yelled over to us, “Looks like you could use some better tools,” and immediately went into the trunk of his junker for a real jack and a four-way lug nut wrench. Without my even asking for help, he patiently began to work on the wheel, leaning over far enough in his ill fitting jeans for me to catch a glimpse…not of the working man’s clichéd butt-crack…but instead revealing a pair of black and orange “Scooby-Doo” briefs. He worked quickly and effortlessly, and soon the task was done. We could be on our way.

I thanked him, shook his hand and reached into my wallet for a twenty. When I tried to give it to him, he refused. I insisted. He shook his head, refused again and got back in his car. I ran around to the driver’s side and tried to hand it to his wife, but she too would hear nothing of it. They said, “Drive safely,” and in an instant they were gone.

I was stunned. I couldn’t believe people who obviously needed the money more than I did wouldn’t take it. I thought that was probably why they had helped.

How judgmental of me!

Of course I would have refused to take money for helping, but how could they? Couldn’t they have used the money for cigarettes, beer, or maybe even for more Scooby-Doo underwear?

Would I have stopped to help someone who looked the way they did?

Probably not.

My wife and I got back in the truck and headed home. I felt a little depressed. This man was not supposed to help me and expect nothing in return. I wish he had taken the money. It would have made me feel good to know that I had helped somebody. It always makes me feel good to help others in need.

Do I think I am driven by a higher moral calling than he is?

My wife, noticing the look on my face looked puzzled.

She said “Do you still hear something?”

I said “Yes, I think I do. I think I hear the sound of a guy smiling.”

Joe Hall is a storyteller, writer, one-time stand-up comedian, retired government employee (where do you think he got some of his best material?), and a southern church drop-out (where do you think he got his very best material?). A confessing agnostic, the honesty in his stories speak deeply of a Mystery that exists beyond the walls of the neatly organized, controlled, and sometimes treacherous buildings we think of as “church.” We look forward to Joe visiting us again!

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