Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Wheel Lock Nightmare

Leaf peeping is a favorite pastime during our famous Indian Summer. For a few short weeks, the forests around New England are ablaze with the most radiant shades of red, yellow and orange, and there is a mad dash by city dwellers to get a peek at all this beauty before the trees turn into mere skeletons and prepare themselves for a cold harsh winter.

I had practically dragged my husband out of bed that morning to get an early start, since we were just going leaf peeping for the day. A quick stop at Starbucks and we were on our way to the Berkshire mountains. The sun was shining, the trees were waiting, everything was perfect.

After an hour or so of uneventful driving, our car started to make a strange and ominous sound, so we drove off the highway, just in time to reach a shell gas station. Sure enough, the right back tire was flat as a pancake. Our hopes that we would find a mechanic on duty evaporated when we only saw gas pumps.

When I am confronted with the prospect of having to forego something I really want to do, I don't give up without a good mental fight. As a die-hard wishful thinker, it goes against my grain to accept the harsh reality of a situation.

My husband and I stared at the tire for a while, frozen in disbelief. This only happens to other people, not us, not with a brand new car, not two days after a general inspection. This must be a mistake that we can quickly make go away.

'No big deal' I told myself. 'It's only ten o'clock and Hans knows how to change a tire faster than a speeding bullet. After that, we can quickly drive to a Walmart, which is undoubtedly around the corner in this place that is not even marked on our map. And Walmarts are known to be the working man's store, so they are sure to be open on a Columbus day week-end. They will decidedly stock the exact matching, oversized tire that fits on our CRV. All of this will certainly not take more than an hour, two at the most, and we should be back in the saddle before lunch time. Besides, there is no way in hell I lugged my camcorder, hiking boots, raincoat and backpack, just to turn around and drive back home at 40 miles per hour on a spare. The word defeat was not in my vocabulary during those first minutes of our predicament.

Hans started to assemble the jack, a small, mickey mouse looking contraption that looked like it could barely lift a toy car. But it did the job and the wheel slowly inched its way off the pavement. Things were moving along positively.

The first dent in my wishful thinking came when Hans tried to take off the bolts. One of them served as a wheel lock and it could only come off with a special key. The key, of course was sitting on Hans' desk at home. It took me great effort not to strangle him on the spot.

The young gas station attendant who had intensely followed our progress from his booth, asked if he could help. We explained. 'Oh, sure, I know just the guy'. He made a phone call and the confidence in his tone assured me that he had found the answer to all our problems. Soon we would be on our way to the Walmart that I had dreamt up, where they would mount the oversized tire that I had wished in their stock room.

The recipient of the phone call appeared a few minutes later, carrying a tool box. Aha. See? A few turns of a powerful hand and the wheel would be replaced in no time. But the wrench he produced was identical to ours and he didn't get anywhere. He left, looking almost as deflated as our tire.

It dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, I had to accept that we weren't going to the Berkshires that day.

We called AAA. Our membership had expired, so we rejoined and were told to expect roadside assistance within the hour. While Hans paced back and forth on the asphalt, I googled 'removing wheel lock without a key' on my cell phone. AYouTube video immediately popped up. See? No big deal, all you need is a socket slightly smaller than the lug nut and a sledge hammer. Since Hans and I did not belong to the group of humans who think ahead and carry a tool box in their car, it was now all up to triple A.

I cursed the sun, shining shamelessly on us, indifferent to our tragedy. Now that our idyllic ride along winding roads, as we listened to soothing music, occasionally stopping to take pictures of the colorful hills, had gone out the window, I wished for rain and hail storm on the rest of humanity.

Triple A arrived, two burly guys in overalls. One flopped down next to the pancake, looked at the bolts, uttered the words 'wheel lock' and shook his head. 'Aren't allowed to take them locks off without the key'. 'What about the sledge hammer method?' I asked. He looked at me with this 'I forgive you, you are just a woman' look. 'Never heard of that. You need the key is all.'

The remnants of my wishful thinking had now completely evaporated. Forget the Berkshires, my mind was now juggling dollar bills, realizing that our only option was to tow the car back home.

I dialed triple A again. 'You are in luck, Ma'am, as a new member, you are entitled to 3 miles towing, free of charge. Anything beyond that is $4 a mile.' The words 'wheel lock' had now reached the status of most despised words in the English language. We were looking at a 200 dollar towing charge, all because of a 2" bolt.

Time passed slowly. Finally a large tow truck arrived and the CRV was hoisted onto the flat bed. As I climbed into the cabin, I was debating whether I should be morose and quiet, fretting about our stupidity and the dent in our wallet, but realized it wouldn't cost me anything to just go with the flow and enjoy the ride. I took a Selfie with our car and the pancake in the rear view mirror, I took a picture of Bryan, our driver, but when Hans pointed out how nice the trees looked alongside the road, I shot him such a dirty look that he stopped in mid-sentence.

Back home, the cause of all our troubles was innocently waiting in an unopened case marked 'genuine Honda Wheel locks'. Beside the key, the package contained 4 regular bolts which the dealer had so generously replaced with the wheel locks, thinking he was doing us a favor.

For those of you who have the misfortune of having wheel locks installed on your car, remove them. As Lao Tzu wisely predicted so long ago: 'A journey of a thousand miles begins without wheel locks'. leave comment here