Lessons From A Flat Tire On The Streets of San Francisco

Do you ever feel like life is handing you one batch of lemons after another? Last week, was one of those weeks in my house.

It began with our cars. My teenagers have fourteen year old cars. They are meant to get them back and forth to school and don’t get too many miles put on them. Because insurance for teenagers costs an arm and a leg, rating them on older cars with minimal coverage was a whole lot cheaper than rating them on my car and juggling everyone’s logistical needs.

Last week, what seemed like a minor repair to my son’s car, took over a week of waiting for a part, while at the same time my daughter’s car was waiting (and she, not so patiently) to get into the shop to be fixed. The ongoing pod racer sounds emitting from its engine were one thing, but the grinding noises every time she made a turn were becoming a more serious cause for concern. Just as we seemed to be getting their cars all figured out, I had my own little “situation!”

One of my former neighbors from Massachusetts was on the west coast visiting San Francisco and had called a few days earlier to let us know she was in town. About to enter her senior year of college, she has been an important and pivotal person in my life for many years, and I really wanted to see her. Unfortunately, I had to cancel an appointment I had made weeks earlier with very little notice in order to make this visit happen. There was no question that I wouldn’t find a way to see her. My seventeen year old daughter and I were driving through San Francisco that morning to rendezvous with my friend when I made a tactical driving error, blowing out my front passenger side tire.


The road had forked into two pieces and I was in the right lane, not sure of where to be at the divide. As I stayed right, it looked as if the road was going to take me off course, so I looked in my mirror, saw I had room to turn left, not noticing that there was precious little space to make the move without hitting the beginning of the curb dividing the two parts of the road. Sure enough, I hit the curb in that perfect sweet spot and immediately heard the telltale pop release of air from the tire upon impact.

I knew I couldn’t make it far without damaging the tire rims, so I took the first turn off the busy road that was available to me… which happened to be up a hill. But what else is there in San Francisco, but hills?

It was obvious that I wasn’t going to easily find flat ground anywhere. Inwardly I cursed myself out for making such a stupid mistake, while outwardly I struggled to put on an optimistic face for my daughter.

As we were stopped at the side of the road, I found a garage with tenant parking in a driveway and backed up into it. After calling our roadside service and learning it might take 45 minutes or so to be back on the road, and knowing we only had only a short window of time to see our friend, I said to my daughter, “Let’s do this ourselves.”

She hesitated as I pulled out the equipment and spare tire. When she saw me reach for the car manual with directions, I am not sure what she thought!

Half paralyzed with thoughts of “Is this safe? What if the person who lives here needs to get their car out to go to work?”, I realized that I was only wasting time – time that could be much better spent doing something other than being stuck in my head worrying about what “might” happen. 

Car manual in one hand, jack in the other, we figured it out.

Just as we finished installing the spare tire, the roadside service arrived, checked our work, gave us a big thumbs up and we were back on track. We managed to make our breakfast reservation about 25 minutes late, and enjoyed well over an hour catching up with our dear friend. Just like old times (minus the flat tire part).

The old me was lurking in the back of my mind that day, wanting to feel sorry for herself and say it was all her own damn fault for getting the flat tire. I felt her there. I knew, too, that there was a stronger and wiser woman in this body – one that knew she could change a tire, knew that she could create a more desirable outcome, not only for myself but as an example to my daughter.

I have beaten myself up over so many things in my life, and have wasted so much time while doing this damaging practice. Living in a space of negativity and bashing myself, I can’t possibly find a creative solution to my problem: I am too busy whacking myself upside the head! The flat tire last week was a reminder to me that I can course correct. There is nothing to be gained by self-flagellation, but everything to be gained by positive thinking.

And who is to say if I really made a mistake in the first place? Perhaps learning to change a flat tire will serve my daughter or myself well in another situation in the future, maybe in a time of more crisis than just being late for breakfast.

It’s amazing how your perspective and your thoughts can make all the difference in the world, even if it’s just dealing with a flat tire.


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