This was a few years ago, and you and your companion were on a road trip from Minneapolis to Vermont by way of Canada. Yes, that’s right, by way of Canada. Back roads. Chip stands. Poutine. Canadians with that beautiful “eh” on the end of their questions.
This was in the time of the medium-size white car, the one that you bought used, the one that always gave you problems. Then again, all your cars give you problems. Mayhap you’re the problem?
At any rate, you and your companion had made it to the outskirts of Mississauga, Ontario, where you stopped at a Tim Horton’s (Canada’s equally ubiquitous but oh-so-much-better alternative to McDonald’s) to purchase a couple of Always Fresh sandwiches. Ham and swiss, as you recall.
You and your companion and the dog were sitting on the curb by the Tim Horton’s, enjoying the Always Fresh sandwiches, when you noticed that your front passenger tire was bulging. Seriously bulging. A big bump, as if it were a pregnant tire.
A bulging tire. BULGING. This was terrible, right?
Knowing little about the white car other than that a) it was white, b) it had four doors, c) it was problematic, and d) that it was paid off (paid off! paid off! beautiful phrase), this was the sequence of thoughts that ran through your mind: Bulging tire = bulging can of corn = botulism/explosion = certain death.
The tire must be changed immediately. That was clear. You and your companion unloaded all the road-trip contents of the trunk. You retrieved the flimsy-looking little spare tire, the jack, the lug wrench. Your companion, a brawny big-muscled man who had changed many a tire in his day, could not remove the lug nuts. (Lug wrench, lug nuts, what great words those are.)
You, being an idiot, can’t remember what the exact problem was. Was the lug wrench not the right size? Something like that. A Canadian emerged from the Tim Horton’s and saw you and your companion stymied.
“Tire problem, eh?”
The Canadian, as it happened, was a tire salesman! He retrieved his own lug wrench and gave it a go. Nothing. Whatever the lug problem was, it was severe.
“Do you think it’s okay to drive the car to a repair shop?” you asked the Canadian.
He shook his head sadly.
“I wouldn’t drive it more than two miles,” he said. “You’d be risking your lives.”
Confirmation from a tire man himself: Bulging tire = certain death. What were you going to do?
It was at that point that a brown station wagon pulled up.
“Tire problem, eh?” said the driver, a Canadian man with a smiling Canadian wife next to him and three obviously tired Canadian children in the back seat.
You pointed to the sinister tire. The jack, the faulty lug wrenches, the spare tire, the duffels and backpacks and various road trip detritus were strewn around the car. The tire man and your companion explained the situation.
“Stay right here!” said the driver of the brown station wagon. “I’ve got a friend with the right tools. He’s about thirty minutes away. I’ll go get him and we’ll be back.”
Thirty minutes away? An hour round trip? The obviously tired children, the patient and smiling wife, the driver telling you just to stay put?
You were strangers to these people. Strangers from a strange land, trying to get away from the hellish traffic of your own country, sitting on the curb at a Tim Horton’s eating a couple of Always Fresh sandwiches. You protested. No, it was too far. No, you would figure something out. Please.
He waved you away. The brown station wagon took off. You and your companion and the dog sat beside the white car, the bulging tire, the detritus. It was getting late. No shops would be open, and you couldn’t get to one anyway. You saw your future: a tow truck. A cab. A motel. The weekend spent waiting for a repair shop to open on Monday. Days lost.
An hour later, the Canadian in the brown station wagon was back, minus the wife, minus the tired children, plus a friend with lots of tools. Out they leapt. You stood holding the leash of the dog while the two of them and your companion set to work.
Filthy hands. Smudged clothes. Various attempts with various tools. Much chatter and laughter. Half an hour later, the spare was on.
“All set now, eh?”
You tried to give the Canadian and his friend some money. They laughed and waved it off. You thanked them. They laughed. They jumped in the brown station wagon and drove off.
Two hours of time. Sixty or seventy miles round trip, with gas at $4/gallon. The tired children, the patient wife. All for strangers from a strange land, stuck at a Tim Horton’s with a problematic white car.
This is why you love that Canadian tire man, the Canadian driver of the brown station wagon and his Canadian wife, his Canadian children and his Canadian friend, Canadian Tim Hortons, Canadian lug wrenches, Mississauga, Ontario, and by extension, all of Canada and everyone who lives there.