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Little Spouse On The Prairie: Spare Me

Valerie Brown-Kuchera

My 16-year-old daughter and I were in a neighboring town for a little shopping when the low-tire indicator light popped on in my compact car, Goldie. We looked at the tires and noted that they appeared fine -- just fine. What was that silly indicator light thinking? We figured we could make it the 50 miles home. I called Joel and told him, and he said he would check when we got back. In fact, Joel’s confidence that we could make it home was even more effusive than mine!

We set off, but that persistent light was really getting on my nerves. Regular listeners might remember that the heat indicator on my oven has been shining red for over a year now, and I regularly fight off the urge to take a sledgehammer to that stupid thing. I wouldn’t consider sledgehammering Goldie, of course.

We got out on the interstate highway and drove for about 15 miles, chatting about this or that. My eyes continually darted to that red light on the dash. I tried to fight my twitch, because I have already passed along plenty of my anxieties to my teen daughter; what would she think if I couldn’t focus on her during our mom-daughter trip because of what was clearly a false-positive indicator light?

Suddenly, the interior noise increased dramatically. We were driving at around 75 miles per hour, but a rumbling reverberation started to interfere with our conversation. I’ve experienced a dull roar in my ears when staring at that stupid oven indicator light before, so at first, I thought maybe I was experiencing one of those episodes. But Millie heard it too, and we pulled over.

Of course, the rear passenger tire was completely flat. This seemed impossible to me. If the situation had been this critical, why didn’t Goldie insist I take it seriously by flashing the light or beeping loudly? I am pretty loyal to my car, but I was miffed. There should be levels of intensity on flat tire indicators. I mean, in this day and age, why can’t we have a light that says, “Not a huge deal, but you should probably check your air pressure within the next couple of weeks,” and another one that says, “Pull over now and get this stinking tire changed already or your *$$ is stranded”?

I’ve owned Goldie for ten years, but I had never had to change a tire on her before. But my handy daughter and I dug out the owner’s manual and, step-by-step, we followed directions. The directions said to “chock” the car. What the heck does “chock” mean? The illustration showed the car surrounded by twisting arrows. We decided to skip the “chocking” step. We moved on to, “Loosen the lug nuts one or two turns.” One of the lug nuts was so tight that we both had to stand on the wrench handle and jump up and down. I’m sure we looked pretty sophisticated to the drivers of the vehicles zooming past at 85 miles per hour -- especially when the nut finally popped loose and we both tumbled down in the ditch upon release. Now covered in grassy sandburs, we moved to the next step, which was to make contact with the “jack point.” Again, the illustration was a photo of the car surrounded by arrows. Our ingenuity won out, and we found the jack point and proceeded to remove the flat tire.

We were feeling pretty smug, but I was trying not to be overconfident. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in my nearly half-century of life, it’s that the more arrogant I am, the harder the rug gets yanked. So, I was playing it low-key as we placed the donut on and tightened the lug nuts.

I’m thrilled to report that we got Goldie back on the road. Joel was astounded at our success. His confidence that the tire would hold until we got home was apparently much higher than his confidence in our ability to change it. I had a good time bragging to him about our mechanical skills, but I think next time Goldie shoots me a warning, I’ll pay attention before I drive down an interstate highway at high speeds.

Host of Little Spouse on the Prairie, a regional comedy feature that airs Sundays at 8:35 a.m. during Weekend Edition.