The shaking began slowly, like a shimmy in the steering wheel when the tires are not properly balanced or the front end is out of alignment. My initial response was to laugh a little (not out loud). "My old car has early onset Parkinson's!" But soon the joke ended as the tremor evolved into a serious shudder as we began to literally bump down the freeway. It was as if one tire was oblong instead of round. My friend, Gord, and I, looked at each other. We knew what it was.
It was past 5 PM on Sunday, day two of our road trip to California. Until that moment my ‘67 Camaro had performed like the true classic she was. We had carefully checked radiator level, engine oil, automatic transmission fluid and tire pressure (even the spare, which had a habit of losing air). We had driven her carefully, averaging 55 to 60 miles an hour. Every car on the road passed us, but that was fine. We just wanted to enjoy the adventure. Well, the journey, like a good adventure, had just become a little less predictable.
We were 17 miles north of Sacramento. We pulled over onto the shoulder to inspect each of the rare, red striped tires. It was the left rear tire. The tread, despite having little wear, had separated. We surmised that it was likely the heat from highway speeds. A bulge the size of a large egg had developed in the middle of the tread of the tire. It could go no further without potentially sending us into some guardrail. Pulling out the somewhat leaky spare and the somewhat rusty jack, we soon realized the old-style wheel nut wrench was no match for the pneumatic impact wrench that had tightened the lug nuts. They would not budge. We could not change the seriously damaged tire. We needed a better tool.
Limping our way to the next freeway exit with a gas station, we tried, in simple English, to explain our predicament to a Punjabi-speaking immigrant employee. But as the sole attendant he was struggling with a more dangerous issue. While the gas station was open, a blazing beacon of hope, it had no gasoline, only diesel. This was not going over well with prospective customers, the bulk of whom were driving monster, 5 mile per gallon farm trucks, which explained why gas was $4.01 per gallon and why California was in serious financial trouble. Fighting off constant mosquito attacks, we approached everyone who was willing to talk to us in an effort to find a better tool to remove the wheel. Finally, after 15 minutes and an equal number of mosquito bite welts, two Hispanic young men wearing crocodile skin cowboy boots agreed to loan us the crossbar tool we needed. It took a while to find the wrench, as the trunk space in the late-model Mustang convertible was almost completely filled with throbbing speakers.By the time we reached the next sizable town, Woodland, California, no tire stores were open, it being after 6 PM on a Sunday. We knew that we needed new tires or face the potential of roadside desertion. We did not yet know how difficult finding the right tires would be. Deciding it was safer to stay rather than go on to our planned destination, the ubiquitous Motel 6, at $49 a night, presented itself as the most logical overnight accommodation.
The next morning brought sunshine, but our enthusiasm was dampened immediately at the national chain tire shop where we were told, "These are very rare tires. We will have to order them in and it will take two or three days". We chose to venture back onto the I-5.It was 3 PM on day three when the familiar shaking began again. We were 15 miles out of Bakersfield California, with time running out on finding a solution to our tire problems. But, after numerous stops, we came upon a kind soul who phoned the owner of a local but out of the way tire shop for us. He, in turn, located, complete with a layer of dust and ample evidence of a spider’s comfortable home, two mismatched, old stock, black wall tires that fit Babe’s 14 inch rims. They must have been the last two in the State of California. We were obviously desperate, traveling through, once-in-a-lifetime customers. Despite Gord's able negotiation efforts, we doubtless paid too much for something the tire shop was only too glad to be rid of. Still, we were happy to have them.
By 6 PM we were back on the road, headed towards the Mojave Desert with two new (sort of) tires and one leaky spare. My tremors (the Parkinson’s variety) were worsening as I considered the ominous information gained about the two remaining, red striped, ready to blow, front tires. What were the chances of another two tires developing a bad bout of STD “separating tread disaster”?