6/7/10

Lemons, lemonade, and Mexican food

Of all the people to meet when stranded on the side of the highway with a flat tire... two guys stranded on the side of the highway with a flat tire!

Yesterday, as we made our way home from Sacramento to Santa Barbara via the interstate 5 freeway, we got a flat tire. In an area with no landmarks, no call boxes, no exit signs, nothing. In 95 degree heat.

Once we discovered that our spare was also flat, we drove slowly along the shoulder until we reached a spot where I could get enough of a signal to call the Auto Club. And we found an overpass about 1/4 mile ahead, so we could stay in the shade, passing another car in the shoulder on the way.

We called the Auto Club and then proceeded to wait. And wait. We pulled out magazines, we ate snacks. We kept the car running so we could have air conditioning. And we tried to watch the other car, somewhat distant in our rear view mirror, to see if they were making progress changing their tire.

Apparently they weren't, because they started driving toward us in the shoulder with their hazard lights on. Just before they reached us, their tire completely blew out and they had to stop. So two young men got out of the car and started walking toward the overpass for shade.

We all introduced ourselves and started chatting. We had been given an ETA from the Auto Club of just about a half hour, due to our call being considered a priority. And the two men were given a similar estimate. An hour passed. We called AAA again and were told that the driver "couldn't locate us." At one point we noticed a third car pulled over on the side of the road. They were overheating, but they eventually got back on the road. By this time, a CHP officer had stopped and was waiting with us. He gave us a location to pass along to AAA and we continued to wait.

Another hour went by as the five of us stood on the side of the road in the heat, wind and dirt. Finally, a tow truck! But it was not our tow truck, it was the truck for the two men, Victor and Brandon. Again we called the Auto Club, while they walked back to their car and got themselves hooked up. The towing company still did not understand where we were and had been unable to locate us. And at this time their driver was still several miles away.

Victor and Brandon's tow truck finally started to drive toward us and we prepared to wave goodbye to our fellow travelers. But they had asked the driver, Martin, if he could take us as well. Luckily, he was driving a flatbed that also had a tow bar.

So Martin proceeded to change the tire on our car from the back to the front, then hook up our car to be towed. We all piled into the cab and headed for the nearest garage, 27 miles down the road in Coalinga. It was now exactly two hours past the time we had called AAA.

Unfortunately, we are only "basic" members with AAA, a fact that we had neglected to notice only allowed for seven miles of towing. At the garage, we paid more for the one tire and labor than I paid the last time I had two tires installed. And we paid a hefty fee for the towing.

We said goodbye to our driver, and to Victor and Brandon, who very generously shared their tow truck with us, and who both had premium memberships allowing them to be towed all the way to Los Angeles. They also had a laptop so they could watch the NBA finals all the way home!

By the time we got back on the road, we had been delayed for four hours. It felt like heaven to get back into our car and continue our journey home. At one point, I sighed and said, jokingly, "It's almost like it never happened." Rudy looked at me, with my red shiny face and sweaty disheveled hair, and laughed.

We could have been really, really upset. Auto Club basically left us hanging, out in the middle of nowhere. When we spoke to the representative, she told us that, because we're members of AAA in Southern California, and because they are "not affiliated" with AAA in Northern California, SoCal therefore has no jurisdiction over what happened. The experience could have been a real nightmare.

We could have been on the side of the road even longer.
We could have been left behind by Victor and Brandon.
We could have been standing in the sun instead of under an overpass.
We could have been without water.
We could have been without cell phones or coverage.
We could have been stranded at night.

But we weren't. Instead...

We met two nice guys and kept ourselves entertained talking with them.

It was only a flat and not a bigger problem like transmission.

The tow truck was able to take both of our cars.

The garage was open after 5:00 on a Sunday and they had my size tire.

We made it home at a reasonable hour, not in the middle of the night.

And the most unbelievable good fortune of all. While we waited for our tire to be replaced, we came upon a Mexican restaurant -- at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere -- that actually had a couple of vegetarian items on the menu! It wasn't the best meal I've ever had, but the veggie burrito, quesadilla and horchata were welcome respite from the heat and from the fast food places across the street.

So here's a shout out to Victor, Brandon, Martin, and Cazuela's Restaurant. They kept it light and helped us get through what could have been a truly horrible experience, but instead turned out to be more of an adventure. And now we have a great story to tell.

2 comments:

joel said...

Your reaction proves what a natural born optimist you are. :)

Lisa Braithwaite said...

I'm lucky that way. :-)