November 30, 2014

Flat Tire Sutra.


As I walk out of the store towards my truck, a light rain is just beginning, but the sky is brooding and brewing storm.

There is one mass of dark gray lurking a few blocks away, rumbling in my direction.

The front tire on my truck is about two thirds flat and there is already a small stream running down the curb, making a small pool in front of the declining tire before sliding on its way. Critical thinking mode kicks in: assess, generate possible solutions, throw them into a puddle, wait for one to float to the top.

The idea of lying down in the expanding stream by the curb to change the tire is the least appealing. I have no clothes to change into once I am thoroughly soaked and with work to attend to all afternoon.

Waiting for the rain to pass would have been a great option on a lazy Sunday. But, the sky is shifting darker each minute and the October rains in the mountains of Nicaragua can last for hours, days, lifetimes. I see a fleeting image of me, the coffee shop around the corner, a book, a perpetually steaming cup of coffee…but unfortunately not on a Tuesday afternoon.

With questionable mathematical skills, I calculate that the nearest place to get a tire fixed is about two kilometers away, and if I drive carefully but quickly, I can probably get there before destroying the tire and the rim. This one floats to the top. The rain is picking up, beating eclectic rhythms on the windshield, gray to gray, drops and streams, people on the street glance upwards and hurry to dry.

Linguistically, “tire repair shop” is painfully dull and practical. Sometimes English, in its eternal confusion of whether it is sensually romantic or stoically Germanic, fails to excite with its sensible compositions. I suddenly realize that “vulcanización,” the Spanish counterpart, is an amazing word. Five syllables of pure adventure, the v leading to the z and that determined accent at the end. It is a river itself, flowing smoothly through the middle of my mind. I find one a few minutes later and pull in as close as possible.

There is storm now, insistently wild. A thin boy in oily jeans and ragged t-shirt looks up as I get out of the truck. He is already soaked but does not seem to notice. As I approach, he wrestles with an enormous, truck tire, which probably matches him pound for pound. He and the driver finally manage to load it onto the back of a truck with colorful wooden panels, probably used to haul coffee or bananas down from the mountains. He points to my tire and I give him a slight nod. I feel like I should somehow share in this undesirable task, but I am already half soaked and the boy is busy fitting the jack underneath the truck.

Instead, I choose a seat under the roofed area, next to the shop. There are three metal chairs, half broken and tilted, though inviting in the midst of the storm. Besides the soaked boy, the owner of the shop is bent over an inner tube, melting a rubber patch with heated, steel plates. The whole shop smells of grease and scorched rubber, penetrating but surprisingly not unpleasant. And in that precise moment, surrounded by tires, tools and the relenting force of the rain—everything comes into focus, into balance.

There is only one moment, this moment filled with rain and grease and wounded tires.

The rain beats a furiously scattered rhythm on the tin roof over the shop, drops falling like tiny hammers on the corrugated metal. In front of me, there are two tire rims, one on top of the other, slightly tilted and rusting. Beside them, a bottle jack stands erect, always ready, willing.

The water pours from the grooves in the roof in thin, parallel lines—gravity—sprawling in unruly pools on the concrete. Two young men scurry under the roof from a newly arrived truck, bare chested with white, plastic crucifixes on brown skin. They laugh as they shake water from their hair.

In this moment, everything is clear and perfect—the rims, the jack, the water pouring at uneven intervals, visually musical. Our world is in grayscale—sky, rain, tools; there is no need for color. For an instant, I consider a mad dash to get my camera and a notebook, but I would miss so much.

Instead, I listen to the rain, blending imperceptibly with the hushed conversation of the two young men. One punches the other playfully on the arm. The owner of the shop is stooped over another tube, getting us back on our way. The boy tightens the lug nuts on my tire.

There is no other moment, everything is as it should be.



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Author: Peter Schaller

Editor: Travis May

Image: Geograph

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