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.


The diner was called Woodette’s.


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?”


“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 ~