My husband and I set out on a familiar road trip a few weeks ago. We drive many distances where others might fly, partly for financial reasons and partly because Jim likes to drive. His father was an over-the-road trucker, and Jim says he has trucker in his blood. For me, going by truck means I don’t have to pack light.
And we do usually travel by “truck”—a Ford F-250 pickup with a second seat and a sizeable bed. We use the second seat for our luggage, a cooler, and a container of snacks. There’s always a toolbox in the bed—just in case.
That day, we expected to be on the road for 11 to 12 hours. Jim isn’t much of a talker, so I settled in the passenger seat with a book—and my thoughts.
A few days before, I’d received some unsettling feedback on one of my novels, and was still trying to sort out its effect on me. It bothered me a lot more than it should have. It left me questioning all the work I’d done on that story (which was many years’ worth) and everything I thought I knew about being a writer. There was much to think about and process.
About seven hours after our departure from Cincinnati (we’d already stopped for lunch, fuel, and a stretch-our-legs break), Jim started to complain about the interstate’s condition.
“What did they do to this road? It’s making the truck vibrate.”
“Could it be the heat?”
“Heat would buckle the road, not make it do this. Can’t you feel the way the truck’s vibrating?”
“Are you sure it’s the road? Maybe it’s the truck.”
Bam! The driver-side rear tire blew. Jim eased the truck onto the interstate’s right shoulder, but couldn’t get very far off the road without putting the truck at a weird angle, where changing the tire would be impossible.
It was a hot day, not as bad as the 104-degree heat we’d left back in Cincinnati, but the kind of sunny day that can make a vehicle get extremely uncomfortable very quickly. I saw an overpass not far ahead, so we limped on the flat tire to the shade.
Jim took out the jack and a lug wrench and prepared to change the tire. Our flashers were on, but tractor trailers zipped by within a few feet as though we weren’t there, making changing a tire on the driver’s side a very precarious proposition. But what other option did we have?
Before Jim could make any real progress, a thought fell into my brain in “well-duh” fashion. I said, “Hey! We have AAA!”
We’d signed up with AAA a few years earlier when we began a cross-country road trip, not so much for the emergency road service as for the hotel discounts. We’d never used their roadside assistance, but figured this was a good time.
I called, told them our situation, and gave our location. I spent ten minutes on Hold while they contacted a branch in our vicinity. When I told them about the trucks whizzing by, they put us on “high priority” for safety reasons. But we still prepared for a long wait.
We spent the next not-quite-an-hour in the shade of the overpass, eating dust raised by the aforementioned truckers, inhaling their exhaust fumes, and joking about what activity the tow truck driver was being called away from on a Saturday afternoon.
He was there in just under an hour, and he voiced our own thoughts—loudly and in a colorful manner—to passing truckers as he changed the tire. Even with a flare at the edge of the road and the tow truck’s flashing lights, the trucks still zoomed past without caution.
The tow truck driver was efficient, and the whole incident, from Bam! to back-on-the-road, took about an hour and a half.
It made me think about that writing feedback that had upset me. When I had been overwhelmed and confused by comments I’d received, I’d called for assistance in that case, too. I contacted two experienced writer friends, who know my work and me, and who refused to let me (metaphorically) get splattered on the pavement, bake to death in a hot pickup, or remain stuck by the side of the road. They made me “high priority,” reassured me of my value as a writer, and gave me sound advice on dealing with the criticism I’d received.
I am prepared for a long wait on good news about the novel, but I am extremely grateful to AAA, and to two very special writer friends who were there for me when I needed them.