Thursday, January 31, 2008


(Home-brewed studded tire image from Minnesota Off Road Cyclists)

I had to put tires on the front of Lyndsay's Blazer and I wasted three hours waiting for those two tires. If Stephen King wrote Cujo as his revenge against the Ford people for selling him a Pinto, think of this as my revenge against a big box store and its automotive department. The following story is true, except for those parts that aren't.

Number One Daughter needed new tires on the front of her SUV, a Chevy Blazer that she prefers to my fuddy old Ford sedan. The Chevy is even older, but it's 'cool' in ways that only a teenage girl would understand. I just have cars to drive. Coolness is not a factor when you're going back and forth to work. Cars are little more than an appliance as far as I'm concerned. Just like a toaster, you plug it in and it works.

The weather forecast calls for snow tomorrow. Or maybe not. It all depends on which forecaster you listen to and believe. The last time we had snow, Number One Daughter who should also be known as She Of The Heavy Foot, said the Blazer didn't handle very well. The front tires would slide rather than turn. So I took it out in the snow to see for myself. Surprise, surprise! When driven by a fuddy old man, the Blazer was fine. Sure, the tires were worn but they still worked when driven judiciously. I told her that.

Number One Daughter spoke with She Who Must Be Obeyed. I received my orders which was how I came to be sitting in the waiting room at Big Willy's Tire Emporium.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Big Willy is an alien. Oh, not the hopped-over-the-border-illegally kind of alien. No, Willy came here from another planet. He's about my height and very skinny like a beanpole. His eyes constantly dart around, making conversation difficult. I'm pretty sure he had tentacles somewhere, like one of those Japanese monsters that frightened me so badly as a kid. These days, Japanese cartoon monsters with tentacles still produce some decidedly unpleasant images.

Sometimes a fly got in through the door with a customer, but once it realized Willy was in the room it made a frantic effort to get back outside.

The waiting room had an ancient television set with a rabbit ear antenna on top. Pieces of aluminum foil had been added to give it extra 'oomph'. Next to it was a drip coffee machine with a a hand lettered sign saying “Customers Only!” I thought it was unlikely that people just dropped in to Willy's to soak up that free coffee since it looked like tar and smelled worse. The television droned, it's picture fading to static now and then as airplanes, UFOs, and migrating geese flew overhead.

But what really clinched it for me was the sight of a dead guy propped up in the corner, a Styrofoam coffee cup in his mummified hand. I made a mental note to avoid the free coffee and sat at the far end of the room.

The only other customer was a chubby guy with big staring eyes who scratched himself incessantly, his eyes seldom straying from the television set. I gave him lots of room, fearing he may be a host to a variety of insect-like fauna. “Whaddja get?” he inquired. He had the just-released-from-prison look, his skin pasty from lack of sunlight. Maybe his critters were sensitive. He wore a brand new shirt and trousers. The shirt was creased from its packaging and the trousers still had paper tags attached. “Whaddja get?” he repeated. I pegged him for another alien.

“Ah, well, I came in to get new tires on my daughter's truck,” I explained.

“Oh, daughters...” His eyes drifted away from the television as his thought turned toward...well...let's not go there. He went quiet and the beginning of a leer showed on his face. I decided that what he said in the next few moments would determine if he lived or died, and I looked around for a weapon. The coffee looked lethal enough. It would do.

“Ack! Ack! Aackkkk!” Willy yelled and stomped behind the counter. Something crunched, immediately followed by a liquid, squishy sound. Willy lifted his shoe and inspected the sole. He sniffed loudly. I really didn't want to know and I was thankful that the counter obscured my view.

With his eyes locked on the television, Staring Guy said, “I'm applying for a job here. Willy hired my brother awhile back, and he said I could work here too.” I'd noticed a pudgy mechanic out in the work bay on my way in. He was staring with relentless intensity at an I-beam. He just had to be the brother.

Big Willy's mechanics could charitably be described as eclectic. Honestly, I figured most of them were here because the circus wasn't hiring that day.

“How do you spell 'parole violation'?” he asked. He struggled with the application form, trying to puzzle out the unfamiliar words and phrases. I felt sorry for him and helped as best I could. I even looked up the courthouse number in Willy's phone book. He finally completed the form, signed it in big block letters, and went over to the counter. I figured Willie probably wouldn't read it.

“How are you gonna get to work?” Willy asked. “Your brother lives at the other end of the county so you won't be able to ride with him.”

Staring Guy looked dumbfounded. “I don't have a car. I don't even have a driver's license.”

“You could ride a bicycle to work, “ I offered. “That's what I do most days and it works out OK.”

Willy and the Staring Guy stood absolutely still with their mouths hanging open. I'd just spoken heresy in a car shop, a major sin too awful to contemplate or discuss even in the less-than-polite society encompassed by the garage.

The mummy's eyes flew open and he rose from the chair, walking quickly toward the men's room with that Styrofoam cup still in his hand. He didn't spill a drop even while giving me a baleful glare, a look so filled with malice I was taken aback.

“Oh, no, we woke Dad up.” Willie moaned.

“You mean you're not....” My voice trailed off.

“No, I'm not Big Willy. That's Dad. I'm Little Willy.”

The toilet flushed and Big Willy stepped back into the room. The glare seemed to be permanently attached to his face and he turned it on me again full force. “You're one o' them bah-cyclists.” He fairly spat the words out. “We don't like bah-cyclists.” He settled down into a chair, one further away from me, and apparently returned to his near-death state.

Staring Guy didn't say a word. He too sat in a chair as far away as possible and fixed unblinking eyes on the television set.

Moments later, Little Willy said, “Your Blazer is ready. I'll get the keys.”

I paid for the tires and was on my way shortly. The Ford needs new tires too, but I'll pass on taking it to Big Willy's.

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