This story comes with a bit of a backstory.
It starts like this: Last June, on our way to a remote little beach, we popped a tire. The sun was hot, it hadn’t rained in months and everything had a layer of red dust on it. We moved the car under a tree and promptly learned that our jack didn’t lift the car high enough to remove the wheel. A small round of wood and some ingenuity came to the rescue and we were back on the road within 30 sweaty minutes, the spear tire temporarily humming along while the injured one was nested in the back. Since neither one had ever changed a tire before (seriously), it made for a great story ending to a night of thunderstorm car camping.
A few days later I took the car to the tire dearlership, an hour away from my home, and asked them to please patch the almost new tire, put it back on the car, and place the spare back in the trunk. I sat in their fancy-ish waiting room while they worked on it and as I left confirmed that all had been done. I drove away feeling good about my decision to have bought my tires from them, a reputable international company that offers a guarantee and the feel of American reliability. The rainy season was coming and I was glad to know that I was ready to tackle the river beds and rough roads that would be my daily fare for 3-4 months.
Fast forward to this week.
On our way to another town, the car feels a little funny. We both notice it and I make a mental note to bring it to the mechanic the next day. I think about what it could be and ask my mind to be gentle and please not make up stories. It kind of works until it becomes obvious that something is really not quite right. Thank goodness we have left the jungly part of the road and I am able to pull over, get out, and come face to face with a very, very mangled tire. Carlos has a bus to catch, I am simultaneously horrified at the look of this thing and relieved that “this was what was going on and not the engine having a fit.”
And now what?
We open the trunk, ready to perform our second-ever tire change, and notice that strangely enough, there is no spare waiting there for us. Instead, we are pretty sure that we are looking at the tire that popped three months ago - still with a hole in it.
I am quite confused and also aware that the bus is not going to wait. Plus, it’s hot as heck.
My mind goes into how-are-we-going-to-solve-this mode while Carlos’ goes into what-the-heck-happened mode.
I pick up the phone to call the closest llantera while Carlos puts some unpleasant mental pieces together.
“They never fixed the tire,” he tells me. Followed by “You have been driving with the spare for the last three months.” Over river beds and rough roads. No wonder the poor spare looks like this.
Minutes later, Miguel the llantero arrives, confirms that we are indeed looking at a badly hurt spare, and also confirms that the “good” tire has a sizeable hole in it. Very much unpatched.
I am thinking about how lucky we are that this happened when it did, how it did. And I am in disbelief of whatever it is that happened, or rather did NOT happen while I was sitting in the fancy-ish tire dearlership waiting room. They lied to me. They told me that they did the work and did none of it. They sent me out onto the jungle road with a temporary tire and put my life in danger. I feel betrayed. Especially when I realize they took the time to pop the little Mitsubishi hubcap cover I handed them - onto the spare. Deception.
We sit under the shade of a tree and shake our heads. I’m hurt.
Meanwhile, Miguel takes the tire to his shop a couple of miles away and brings it back in record time. Pretty soon we are ready to go, patched tire on the car, mangled spare in the back, and on his advice, we follow Miguel to his office so he may write us a receipt which he feels we should present to the tire shop and get refunded.
A few minutes on the road and Carlos tells me that he smells rubber.
But before I can start to go too far down the road of what-is-happening-to-us-now, pieces of what appear to be Miguel’s tire are flying towards us. From his car. From HIS tire-fixing car!
Oh yes. This is very much what is happening. Chunk after chunk of rubber shedding as though it had contracted some odd form of leprosy, possibly from … us?
I can’t believe what I am seeing and just as Miguel gets ready to pull up in front of his shop, his tire dramatically spews out a final, huge piece of rubber as though wanting to make a point.
We park, I walk to his car and see that his tire looks even worse than ours.
This is all so darn weird.
But Miguel is unphased. He laughs, says something about nails on the road, and walks into his shop to write us a bill. Me, I can barely talk. Also, the bus is definitely gone by now.
As we get ready to leave, Miguel hands Carlos the bill and we notice that it is written for almost three times the amount of money he charged us.
“This is what I would normally charge,” he says. “See if they’ll pay it.”
Just. Like. That.
No “Hey, what do you think if I pad the bill a little?” or … I don’t even know … some sort of checking in about entering into this … agreement. No, just business as usual. Let’s see if we can out-cheat the cheaters type of thing. I am both thankful for his loyalty and disturbed. Carlos hands him an extra 50 pesos, we pass his mangled tire on the way to our car and we are back on the road.
The bus is gone, we have the whole day in front of us and I need to get some words off my chest. So we drive the hour out of the jungle and into the city where I walk into the dealership and announce that I have some complaining to do.
They listen, they don’t seem shocked enough to my liking and ask me what I would like. I tell them.
Eventually, we drive away with a nice spare tire tucked into the trunk and a date to talk with the manager next week about refunding the bill.
I won’t hold my breathe and also, my karma/integrity mind says that really, a third of the bill would be just fine.
SCARED OF THE SACRED