Last night at midnight I had a flat tire and ended up in no man’sland between Philadelphia and my home in Swarthmore.

I returned from New York at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, 2 March in order to go that evening to the performance of Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio at Kimmel Center. The musicians played beautifully, in particular, the haunting Shostakovich E-minor Trio (op. 67).

Usually, I go to an event in Philadelphia by train. But it was a bitterly cold night and, moreover, I was going back to New York the next day. So, in order to make the trip efficient and save time, I decided to drive in even though I don’t like driving at night. But it seemed a good idea. There was no knowing that it wasn’t.

After the concert, I steered the car down from the 7th level of the parking garage and went merrily on Spruce Street. But I realized that this way leads to the South Street entry to the Schuylkill Expressway, and it is from the left side, which I don't like because it is hard to see the right lane. So, I turned north on 20th and drove on Walnut. It seemed a good idea. But it wasn’t.

The car fell into a deep pothole that I failed to see in advance in poor light. It made a racket and I suspected a trouble. I might have pulled the car to the side to inspect. But I was too close to the entry ramp to the highway, so I drove on and, in no time, I started to hear light grumbling sound. I knew I had to make the nearest exit. By the time I got there, the car was limping badly. I found the nearest establishment that seemed inhabited and there were some men in the parking area. The brightly lit sign read Risqué Video, an adult entertainment store. I parked the car and walked out to inspect the situation and saw that the left front tire was mangled up like a pretzel. I was going to walk into the store to ask if there was a service station somewhere in the area. But one of the men working on a wheel of the only other parked car, came and said if he can help. He was a huge African American, in his fifties, and he looked genuinely helpful. He asked me if I had a spare. I opened the trunk and he took out the spare. As the Volvo jack is a peculiar contraption, he had some trouble jacking up the car but managed
to put on the spare for me. When I asked him how much I owed him, he said twenty dollars will do. Since the wind chill was in the teens, I gave him $30. I was going to call a road service but if I could make it home with the spare, this was no huge expense, and for the same reason, I gambled on the risqué in this no man’s land. So far so good, it seemed; but it wasn’t.

The spare went flat the moment the jack was removed, though it wasn’t when it came out of the trunk. The man indicated to me where the nearest service station was. I drove there slowly, found an air pump, fed two quarters, and tried to pump air into the spare; but I couldn’t make the nozzle fit the spout on the tube. The convenience store was open but there was no one who could help me. I got the address of the station, Sunoco #7573 at 2751 Passyunk Avenue so that I coud call the road service for which I was covered by the Volvo On Call Service.

But, inexplicably, the cellphone wasn’t in my purse. The only time ever I walked out of the house without it was just when I needed it the most. Luckily there was a pay phone; but it was outside. Arranging a tow truck took at least twenty minutes standing in the cold. When I returned to the store to warm up, it was closed. It locked up at 12:00 though customers could get stuff through a window. So, I sat in the car, with the engine running and the heating on, and all the doors locked. Cars came by to get fuel from the self-service pumps; so, the place was not totally deserted. The truck was promised in an hour but finally it came at 1:45. I had the car towed to my house and rode on the truck. I would deal with the tires later; it was 2:30 a.m. To add insult to injury, I couldn’t find the cellphone at home; I must have lost it somewhere. The thought of losing the cellphone with the huge personalized data on it was devastating. But I was too tired to think where I could have lost it.

Thursday morning, in the light, I discovered that the left rear tire was also flat. I had a theater ticket to Schnitzler’s play, A Lonely Way (Der Einsame Weg) in New York; but I chucked it. First thing first. I called a road service and the truck came and loaded the car to be taken to the Volvo dealer, Keystone Volvo in Berwyn. I was going to ride with the guy and wait for the car to be ready so that I could drive it home. But the fellow left promptly without me while I was on the phone.

I was on the phone inquiring about my cellphone because I couldn’t find it at home. I thought I took it out of the purse and forgot to put it back. But I remembered having taken it out at the concert hall to turn the sound off.

So, I thought it that it might have fallen out when I put the purse under the seat. Otherwise, it might have slipped out in the car; but I couldn’t find it there. I called Verizon Hall and asked for Lost and Found and was directed to the Box Office; I was put on hold for 20 minutes and was given another number and I was finally able to report the loss. The truck came just when I was connected to the Lost and Found number, which was the Security.

Everything went wrong every step of the way. But, then, I was thankful that I was not in an accident, I was neither molested nor mugged, I had enough gas in the tank and some cash on me, and I got home safe and sound. And I was fortunate to find the neighborly couple across the street; they are lately as often away from their house as I am from mine as they bought a small house to retire in across the state line and go there often to set it up for a move. But Gary was home, and he drove me out to Berwyn even though he was on a tight schedule. At Keystone Volvo after three-and-a-half hour and $750 my Volvo got a new set of tires installed; and though the job took up my Thursday, I read Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and was cheered to realize the absurdity of life. Then, it occurred to me that, though unlikely, the cellphone might have fallen out of the purse when I opened the trunk and leaned over to help pull out the spare tire last night. I mentioned this to the man at Keystone. He went right away to look for it, and came back with it. He found it deep inside the bottom of the trunk.

I was totally jubilant. Regaining the cellphone turned the misadventure instantly into an absurdist adventure.

Still, the fear remains. Felt more vividly after the event, it lingers and haunts.

T. Kaori Kitao 03.03.05