I Don't Know How To Fix a Flat Tire | On Not Shaming Those You Offer to Help

Cast of Characters

Erin and her daughter, B.

Me and my daughter, C.

“Pete” – the stranded motorist on the road.

Bit part – random PCT through-hiker.

Scene 1: early morning, headed north of Walker, California on highway 395.

“Sorry, buddy. Car is completely full,” I said this out loud in my friend, Erin’s, Toyota, as we zoomed past what looked like a Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) through-hiker trying to hitch a ride north on the 395.

One of our seven year olds piped up from the back seat, “We never pick up people on the side of the road anyway. That’s dangerous.” I can’t remember if it was my daughter or Erin’s daughter who said it, but I responded the same,

“That’s not quite true. I’ve picked up people before.” I glanced over at Erin, who was driving.

She nodded but kept her eyes forward looking ahead to the curvy portion of the roads we were headed into. “Me too. That kind of thing depends on the situation. And right now, we don’t have any car seats anyway to help that guy out.”

“The important thing is, if you can help someone, then do. As long as you can do it reasonably safely.”

In the back of the car, the girls returned to the world and conversation of seven year olds and Erin and I went back to the conversation of two 30-something moms who were driving 2.5 hours north to “the city,” that is Carson City, Nevada, the closest ‘large’ town to where we live. Mammoth Lakes, California doesn’t have stores like Target or Costco. When you want to do shopping at stores like that, especially back-to-school shopping, you head north (or south, if you feel like an even longer drive to Los Angeles or San Diego.)

Brief interlude for bacon:

We stopped for brunch in Gardnerville, Nevada and ate at an all-American diner called Woodette’s.

WOODETTE’S.

The diner was called Woodette’s.

Woodette.

I kind of love it, don’t you? Woodette’s.

Okay. I’ve said Woodette enough now, I think.

Damn, I love the English language.

Scene 2: Target, Carson City, Nevada

Then it was straight to Target. I was determined not to spend over my budget so the day prior my daughters and I had done a clothes inventory and determined how many more of each of the items you see below they needed for the upcoming fall and winter.

That’s right. I’m at least at Mom Nerd Level +15 with this spreadsheet and clipboard. And I gotta tell you, it was pure magic to have done the inventory before setting out and to have the list. My daughter stuck to the list and I’m so doing this again for future shopping trips. My youngest, L, age 4.5, didn’t go with us on this trip, but C and I did the shopping for her easily with the inventory/list combo.

Favorite qualifiers: some, several, and ‘maybe’ :)

Favorite qualifiers: some, several, and ‘maybe’ :)

C and I each got new cups too. Mine says ‘First I drink the coffee, then I do the things.’ And hers reads ‘Chase Dreams, Not Boys.’

“It IS okay to chase boys, C, as long as they want you to, if we’re talking about a literal game of chase. If we are talking figuratively, then sure, you can chase after a boy, but the message here is to pursue your dreams and passions first, instead of only focusing on boys and whether or not they notice you. You do you, C, and any worthy guy will take note.”

: As an aside here, I’m sure there are a few readers tut-tut’ing ‘what if she likes GIRLS, hmmmm?’ Sure thing. If C likes girls (or both), that’s super rad. We talk a lot in our family about loving, dating, and marrying (or NOT marrying, geez) whoever they’d like. I do like to keep a lot about C private, so you’ll just have to trust me on the liking boys things. If she changes her mind later, I’ll be telling her to keep her eyes focused on her goals > girls just as much :

And speaking of dreams, the only thing C wanted for her seventh birthday a few weeks ago was to get her first pedicure. Erin and her daughter, B, were happy to oblige us.

Scene 3: Nail salon in Carson City, Nevada

We went to Get Nailed.

That was the name of the salon.

You can’t make this stuff up. First Woodette’s, then GET NAILED.

C was thrilled with the entire experience. Both B and C were too short to take advantage of the massage chairs until after their toes were painted. As soon as they could, they scooted back and relaxed, enjoying the mechanical kneading while Erin and I got our pedicures as well.

No, those aren’t smart phones, they’re the remotes for the chairs. And even if they were, why you gotta judge? Pedicures are about chilling.

No, those aren’t smart phones, they’re the remotes for the chairs. And even if they were, why you gotta judge? Pedicures are about chilling.

Afterwards we all felt fabulous.

Lastly, we hit up Starbucks and Costco. Are you getting that this was a pretty prototypical mom/daughter shopping/date day? Perfect. Because that’s what I’m driving at. And speaking of driving, at this point it was 5pm and we still had a 2.5. hour drive ahead of us. With a car stuffed to the gills, we headed south.

There is a massive stretch of the 395, about 100 miles, which has no cell service. It starts just north of Topaz Lake in Nevada and continues almost to Mammoth Lakes. Yes, yes, there ARE sections where you can get service, but for most of the area there is simply no service at all. The locals know this and prepare for this. Most city folk are perplexed, or even angry when they discover they can’t use their phones and gps in a portion of California. It’s true. It’s rough being out of the city ;)

Scene 4: The Stranded Motorist

Somewhere along this stretch, deep in a curvy portion of the highway and with the raging Walker River to the left of us, we zipped around a corner and saw a large man standing on the side of the road, next to a silver Mercedes, his hands up, and waving at passing cars. He was stopped in a wide, pull-over area off the road on the north side. Erin drove a little further ahead to the matching pull-over area on the south side.

I asked her, “Do you have cables?”

“Yep.”

“Me too in my car.” She smiled. Great minds think alike, I thought.

“Stay in the car, girls,” she admonished to both C and B and then she hopped out. I scrambled after her, but grabbed my can of bear spray. I exited the passenger side and popped off the safety cap. Then I followed her, keeping the can behind me. The guy was probably 6’2” and a very big dude. If this were a ruse, he was gonna get a face full of capsaicin for trying to fuck with us.

While cars cruised between them, Erin and the man yelled across the highway.

“What’s wrong?” A gust of wind blew her long, blonde hair back away from her face.  I stood two feet behind her, the bear spray ready.

“I have no cell service. I’ve got AAA, but no phone service. Can’t call them,” he responded.

She turned to me, “do you have any service?” I shrugged my shoulders.

“Dude. I have Cricket. I sincerely doubt it.” We both went back to our sides of the car and dug around for our phones. She found hers first and when I got back to them, she was snapping a photo of his AAA card.

“I’ll drop a pin on my phone so I know where you are. Then we’ll drive on and when we get service, we can call AAA for you.” She held her phone up and then realized that without service, she wasn’t able to drop a pin, or at the very least, she wasn’t able to at that moment.

I still had the bear spray behind me because I’m a suspicious person, most especially of men. Still, from what I’d observed of the man, he didn’t seem threatening, rather, he was exasperated. He kept looking at his phone and muttering. I could hear him saying, “No service. Not even a bar. I have AAA...” It was cool outside and approaching 7pm but he had a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead.

“What’s the matter anyway?” I asked. He glanced up at me. “What’s wrong with your car?”

“Oh,” he gestured back at it, annoyed. “It’s got a flat.”

“Just a flat?” Mine and Erin’s voices joined in unison.

“Yeahhh,” he drew that out slowly. “Yeah. A flat. I don’t know how to fix it.”

Again, almost in perfect unison, we sang out, “I can fix it!” The stranger, we’ll call him “Pete,” Pete’s mouth dropped open a little, I couldn’t tell from awe or surprise. I decided on awe, it could have been surprise, but it wouldn’t have been if he had actually known us. We did a U-turn and drove over to his side of the road.

Scene 5: You gotta jack?

“Mom, can I get out of the car and help?” C was chomping at the bit to see what was happening. I thought this would be a good lesson for her, and we were on a section of the side of the road that was at least three car widths wide, so it was reasonably safe.

“As long as you stay behind me, and near the metal fence far away from the highway, over there,” I pointed behind me, “you can see the river.”

Pete had pulled out his spare tire but neither of us saw any tools lying around. I was still suspicious of being near a big dude on the side of the highway where there was no cell service, and with two little girls with us. I probably have trust issues, but I like to call them survival skills. I continued to keep a wide distance from Pete and never let him get behind me. He never tried. I’m just sharing that I’m always wary. My past life experiences have taught me that I have plenty to be wary about.

I stayed behind Erin because she was really taking charge so my role quickly became side kick and body guard.

“You gotta jack?” Erin was peeking inside his trunk. Pete followed her and then handed over what could have been a jack, but it wasn’t one we had seen before. She and I conferred. “Is this missing something? Some part?”

I grabbed it and flipped it over inspecting how it worked. Behind us, C tried to see the tool. Pete offered nothing in the way of info on the way the jack worked. It had a part that stuck out and it struck me that the car might have a spot that it could fit into, like built into the frame. Pete was standing off to the side, muttering at his phone. Erin had gone to get her own jack from her car. I squatted down and sure enough, found a little cap that I popped off from the body of the car. Inside was a hole that part could fit in. Those German engineers think of everything.

Erin came back with her own tools but I showed her how the jack worked and she jumped right in and started jacking the car up.

Pete tried to make small talk; I have to give him credit for even trying. I remembered he asked us where we were from. He mentioned his line of work and how he wished he could live in the Eastern Sierras but his job kept him tied to the city. I kept wondering if he was a little shell shocked, like if perhaps something bad had happened to him recently. You just never know what is happening in people’s lives. Flat tires don’t discriminate. They can happen at the same time as your mother dying, as getting fired, or when you’re late to pick your kid up from school. Who knew what was going on in Pete’s world before the tire blew?

He helped loosen the lug nuts but Erin and I fully screwed them out. He also helped manhandle the blown tire off. We didn’t have the strength for it. The back of the tire was ripped along the seam, about a ¼ of the way around the entire tire.  “You’re lucky you were able to pull over okay; that looks crazy,” I told him. He nodded.

All three of us worked together after that, holding the spare up as a trio. Erin and I snaked our hands down and grabbed the lug nuts from the ground, screwing them in one at a time.

We worked, freshly pedicured and in dresses. I’m happy to report that while both of us got dirty, no pedicures were harmed in the helping of this stranger.

“You should tighten those up,” Erin handed him the tire iron and he followed her advice. I grabbed a baggie of wet wipes from the car and Erin and I cleaned our hands back at her car. We told the girls to get back in their car seats and as Erin stowed her tools, Pete came over,

“Can I have one of those cloths?”

I handed him my last clean one. I’d watched him during the whole ordeal get more and more uncomfortable by how dirty his hands were getting. He kept glancing at them in disgust. I wondered if he was mad that he couldn’t grab his phone, since his dirty hands would then dirty the phone. There was no cell service, but when you’re used to endlessly checking your phone, you probably are conditioned to keep checking it even when it’s pointless. I figured a guy who didn’t like to get dirty would have some napkins or the like in his car, but again, you never know what’s going on with a person. At least I had one more wet wipe to offer him.

“Thanks again.”

“Sure thing, man. Drive carefully.”

We didn’t exchange contact info. Pete needed to drive north and we needed to drive south and everybody was ready to go their own ways.

He waved at us as he pulled onto the highway.

“That.Was.Rad!” I cheered.

From the back the girls both joined in, “We helped him!” Erin was grinning and then said,

“I worked up a sweat and an appetite!”

“Oooh, ooh, let’s go to the Whoa Nellie Deli, I’ve always wanted to eat there.” She agreed.

Woodette’s.  Get Nailed. And the WHOA NELLIE DELI.

Goddess bless Americans and our deep love of cheesy place names.

Scene 6: Whoa Nellie!

The Whoa Nellie Deli is located on the 395 at the junction for the Tioga Pass (the road that takes you into Yosemite National Park) in Lee Vining. It’s up on a hill and commands an incredible view of Mono Lake. It’s nestled at the foot of the mountains that lead you into Yosemite. <--------That’s a whole bunch of words to basically say, the Whoa Nellie Deli is the coolest damn restaurant in a Mobile Mart you have ever visited. It has grassy expanses all around it speckled with picnic tables that were full of people. Kids ran between the tables like it was the 4th of July. Every single person present, except for we four, was dressed in technical gear of some sort: fisherwomen and men, hikers, climbers, backpackers, day trippers….they were all geared up, and gassing up, both figuratively and metaphorically at the deli.

It had been a long-ass day. A good one, but a long one. We ordered some food and two glasses of wine about the size of our heads and sat down at a picnic table that overlooked Mono Lake.

“Cheers,” I held up my glass to Erin’s. “We did it.”

“What did you do?” A woman dressed head to toe in Patagonia clothing asked us. Their table was two feet away and we could easily hear the other table’s conversation, likewise they could hear ours.

I gave them the long version. Truncated it looked like: two moms took two kids 2.5 hours away and shopped all day, and on the return home, helped a man who didn’t know how to fix a flat tire, but we did it, and that felt fucking great.

“And we did it in dresses!” I concluded happily. Their table cheered with us, and then the man sitting opposite the woman in Patagonia clothes, zipped up his Arcteryx jacket and asserted,

“So did you shame the fuck out of him?”

Some of his table laughed at this but the corners of Erin’s and my mouth too, turned down. At that moment, I was so, so glad Erin was my friend.

Erin and her husband moved to Mammoth with their daughter B last summer, about a month before Eric and I moved here with our girls, C and L. We met when B and C became friends and our families survived one of the craziest, snowiest winters in Mammoth’s history as our inaugural winter in the Eastern Sierras. To say we’ve bonded would be an understatement. I told her yesterday that I felt really lucky we met. When you move to a town without knowing anyone, you have to wish and hope you’ll find someone you connect with, and I have with Erin.

We both shook our head at the man in the technical gear. Erin spoke, “no, we didn’t shame him. We just helped him out.” I glanced over at our girls who had finished their food and were doing what all the other kids were doing at the Whoa Nellie Deli, running crazy, leaping off the large rocks that were scattered amongst the tables, and having a generally awesome time.

No, I thought, we didn’t shame him.

The table next to us went back to their food and I mulled over the event with Erin, “when I talk to my girls about this I’m going to make a point of not shaming Pete for the fact that we helped him out.” I gestured toward C and B. “For me, the most important part of helping that guy was that our girls saw me and you do that, we helped him, and we did it dressed in a rather traditionally feminine way and that didn’t hinder us. We knew what to do and we were bad ass.”

Erin nodded, listening. “If I want my girls growing up to break gender stereotypes, I can’t then hold men to similar ones. I mean, isn’t that why that guy next to us wanted us to shame Pete? Because he had been helped by….. : gasp : women? And women in dresses? That’s where the concept of shame is coming from here, that he should be ashamed for needing help from women, or from not knowing how to fix a tire, but some women did. I feel empowered by what we did, but that feeling does not come at Pete's loss. My empowerment should not equal his shame.”

I kept trying to work it out in my head and in conversation. We sipped our wine as we thought about it. Both of us are proponents of self-reliance. Should Pete have known how to fix a tire? Probably. But not simply because he was a man, rather, because sometimes AAA is not readily available. Men and women both should learn how to fix a flat tire. Though both Erin and I are huge fans of being prepared and being independent, sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, you need help. My family learned that first hand on our sailboat, Rebel Heart. And if you know how to help someone, you do. And if you help someone, and then shame them later for the help you offered freely, well that’s just lower than low, don’t you think?

The girls brought us flowers and then took this blurry photo. I hope they had as wonderful a day as we did. And I hope they remember the day we helped Pete. What I really hope sticks out the most is that their mothers were strong, independent, ready to lend a hand, and were also a little bit fearless. Additionally, they also had great nails and looked beautiful in dresses.

Let this post then be a PSA for watching some YouTube videos on how to change a tire and on being prepared for when a flat + no cell service may hit you. And I encourage everyone to help people when you can, challenge gender stereotypes, and do a whole lot less judging and shaming.

~ Fin ~    

Women's Writing Workshop with Amy Ferris | July 2017

Last weekend I hosted 17 women in my home for a women’s writing workshop with author, Amy Ferris. If that name rings a bell it’s because you either already follow me on social media (my writer/sewist page is here) and know all about this, or you remember my post about the workshop I attended with her in March of this year in Los Angeles. Amy wrote Marrying George Clooney

After attending that workshop in March, I messaged Amy about my hosting one in Mammoth Lakes and she agreed. This July seven local women and ten women from other parts of California and other states, descended on my home for two full days of writing and empowerment. The theme of the workshop was ‘Awakening to our Greatness.’ Amy is talented in this arena. She has an incredible skill of helping each woman who attends intuit what they need to move on in their lives. She helps people move past blocks in their writing, but also in their emotions; it’s an incredible thing to witness.

I prepared my house for weeks in advance. Knowing these guests were coming was the final push I needed to finish setting up our home. This August we will have lived in Mammoth for a full year and there have been a dozen or so things I’ve wanted to complete for a long time, like sewing a privacy curtain for C’s top bunk, printing out and hanging new photos for our photo wall downstairs, and buying outdoor furniture for all three of our decks.

The day before and the morning of, I channeled my inner Rich (my older brother who taught me everything I know about cooking and entertaining) and got the house ready. Friday afternoon Eric took the girls camping for the weekend so I had the house to myself to prepare. That afternoon my first house guest arrived, Kate Anthony.

Kathy Hurley, left. Kate Anthony, right.

Kathy Hurley, left. Kate Anthony, right.

She brought me the most amazing hostess gift, a T-rex cookie jar that I had been coveting but couldn’t bring myself to splurge on. She also immediately started helping me get the house ready for the workshop. Kate, thank you!

Amy Ferris arrived later that evening. She too was going to stay with me for the duration of the workshop. The three of us joined Alexia LaFortune, and her husband, Greg, for dinner in town (Alexia is the author of the memoir, Sex, Love, and Spirit). It was amazing to get to know all of them, to talk about their lives, and to share with them how Eric and I met, and more about the book I’m writing about Rebel Heart.

The two days of the workshop were magical. Each morning, Alexia opened for us and then Amy took over and we wrote and shared and tissue boxes were passed around repeatedly. We smiled, we grinned, and we laughed out loud. Sometimes we wept. At lunch during the second day, a local woman approached me,

“Are all of Amy’s workshops like this?”

I laughed, “Well, this is only my second one, but so far it's par for the course.”

Magic happens when Amy brings women together.

At the end, we all left buoyed up and inspired. I came to know new local women who became my friends, and I hope to create a women’s writing community with them here in Mammoth. I got to know Amy Ferris more too, which was a true honor. She has heard some of the pieces I’ve written for my Rebel Heart book and on the second morning, as she grabbed her coffee and headed down to her room to write her morning post (and If you don’t already follow Amy on Facebook you should follow her Post Coffee, Pre Wine page,) she looked me in the eye, unequivocally, and said, ‘Write . Your . Book . Charlotte.’

When Amy Ferris tells you to write your book. You do. I’m almost done with the first draft now. 

And the last great bit of news? Amy is going to come back. We’re going to do more Mammoth workshops, yes ma’am. I cannot wait.

: R O L L   C R E D I T S :

Thank you's go out to…

Eric Kaufman: for saying yes when I approached him about hosting the workshop. For immediately saying yes. For saying yes when I explained that it would only work if he took the girls camping and out of town for the weekend. Thank you. I love you.

Amy Ferris: for every bit and every ounce of what you do. For inspiring and empowering women. For awakening them to their greatness.

Maria VanLiew: my friend, for being the second woman to sign up. For coming all the way from Pennsylvania. For leading us in yoga. For being my amazing friend. For seeing me. For loving me.

Kate Anthony: Kate!!! You just rolled up your sleeves and started helping. You went shopping at Trader Joe’s for me. And the T-rex will forever loom large in our home, like your amazing presence. Thank you.

Alexia LaFortune: for telling me to remember to dream and to remember the dream if it came. That dream released me from what was holding me back. Your words and your mandalas and your magic did that. Thank you.

Linda Schreyer: for introducing me to Amy in the first place! For your Slipper Camps. For watching how you beautifully hosted Amy at a workshop in your own home. 

Erin Heilman: for listening to me and then introducing me to women who may be interested in the workshop, one of whom came! For not even hesitating when I asked if I could borrow your gorgeous chairs so I had enough seating for everyone and for driving them over and picking them back up. Thank you, friend!

Rosanne Lampariello Cameron: for your friendship since before I even arrived in Mammoth. For loaning me the chairs I needed to seat all the guests, both at the workshop and during the lunches. And for dropping them off and picking them up too. Thank you!

Photos: photos in this blog post come from me, Jennifer Derrick Adams, Kathy Hurley, Maria VanLiew, and Rachelle Jacobsen.

And for all the women who came: thank you for sharing your words and your spirit with us all.

To Eric on his 39th Birthday

I keep choosing Eric and he keeps choosing me. That’s something new in my life. Before when relationships with men got weird or hard or boring, I’d just leave. Sayonara, I’d say. It’s over! It’s been swell. Sometimes, actually, not swell at all. For that it would be, ‘you suck, sucker’.

I’ve broken up with men on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, on their birthdays, once on New Year’s and TWICE on Valentine’s. When I’m done, I’m done. I have friends who have waited days, months, even years to find the ‘right time’ to break up with someone.

What?! I’ll gasp in my head. The right time is RIGHT NOW, sister. But hey, they gotta do them, and I had to break up with jerk faces when the mood struck.

Not with Eric.

Instead, we fought. In the beginning of our relationship we fought so hard. Eric and I both don’t give a fucking inch. And he’s incredibly intelligent, and just a little bit full of himself, and let’s be honest, I’m sort of exactly like him in this regard. We’d draw a line in the sand over something stupid that we had decided was important and we’d fight. We’d go Meta about it, or get down in the nitty gritty, usually both. It would go on for hours sometimes, neither of us wanting to concede, to admit the other was right, or that maybe we were the ones who had fucked up.

This was all new. I had never spent so much emotional energy on one man. I just knew, somewhere deep down, that he was worth it. Finally, I suggested we go to couples' therapy. We’d been together for about a year. I expected him to say no, just flat out. But he said yes immediately. And he googled around for someone and he made the appointment and all of that told me, he thinks I’m worth it too.

Sally saved us. She taught us how to fight nicer and how to fight better. She gave us the grown up tools that neither of us had received from our parents. These tools, how to respectfully disagree with someone you loved, were never modeled by our own parents, but Sally showed us how. Technically her title was therapist but really, she was the wise, loving, fair older family member that didn’t exist in either of our lives, the one who should have been showing us this stuff as we grew.

Eric and I are not perfect, neither as individuals, nor as a couple, but man, when I think about the type of home my daughters are being raised in, compared to the homes that Eric and I sprung from, I feel happy on a deep, deep inner level. I think, what will these children be able to accomplish in life growing up with humans who love them? Who respect them? And parents who love each other? Who show them that it is okay to disagree with, and be angry at each other, but who still work it out, and at the end of the day, or the end of the fight, come together in love. They are growing up watching people who say, ‘I fucked up, I’m sorry’, and, I forgive you, and I love you.’

I hope I live long enough to see the seeds of love we planted with our children and watch how they bloom.