Near the end of my trip, I went to Glacier National Park with a friend, and after a long day of horseback riding, we checked into a hotel in Whitefish. The following morning, we packed up my friend's Subaru and got ready to get on the road. As we were leaving the parking lot of the hotel, my friend accidentally drove over a curb, a bump up and then down, and we both laughed about that little oopsie.
After getting some gas, the car seemed to be riding funny, and I hopped out to take a walk around it. One of the back tires was settled too close to the ground: a flat.
"I'm sorry," my friend said.
"It's almost definitely my fault," I told her. "All you did was go over a curb. My mother told me once that I get more flat tires than anyone she's ever met, and it's been a while since my last one."
Oh, well. Flat tire. One badass self-sufficient Montana woman and one woman with long expertise in changing tires. No problem, right?
One of the many things I learned on this trip: certain Subarus are made with wheel locking mechanisms that you have to remove with a special key in order to change the tire. This is a handy security measure for someone, I presume, but I have no idea whom, because I've never known anyone whose tires have been stolen. For reasons that are in no way my friend's fault, she didn't have this all-important key, although we tore the car apart looking for it. The only place to get another key was a Subaru dealership, and the closest one was six hours away.
"I'll call my insurance," my friend said. "Why don't you walk over to the Safeway and ask for the number of a reliable towing company?"
"I'll get some bags, too," I offered. We had a lot of stuff in the car and most of it was sort of thrown in there willy-nilly. It needed organization if we were going to tote it home in a different car.
The customer service desk at Safeway was situated across from the checkout lanes, which were merrily busy, half a dozen customers getting beeped through by half a dozen cashiers. I stood at the desk for a few minutes waiting for someone to come and help me, and no one came. I dinged the front-desk bell that sat on the counter and waited another five minutes. No one. I dinged it twice in succession and waited another five minutes. No one. I was getting pretty annoyed, because to get to the desk I'd walked by an open-doored office wherein a young man in a white shirt, tie, and nametag sat talking on the phone. It would not have been crazy for one of the cashiers to call out to him that someone was at the service desk and needed help. And five minutes does not seem long as I sit here typing this story, but when waiting for someone to help you, when you have an unfixable flat tire and are many hours from home and are still saddlesore from yesterday and pretty frayed from two weeks of crummy sleep? Five minutes is a long time.
No one came and no one came and no one came. I went to an unoccupied register and tore a stack of bags from the hooks and walked out. I returned to the car and dropped off the bags - my friend was still on the phone - and then jogged over to the gas station where we'd just filled up. The line inside was four people long, and there was only one clerk.
The young man at the front of the line had four cases of beer and was in the process of deciding on what flavor of chewing tobacco he'd like to purchase. The clerk went back and forth between her register and some chewing-tobacco-storage-portal under the counter a few feet away probably four times by this customer's request, calling out what they had and what they didn't. Three more people joined the line behind me. We started glancing at each other in amazement that this kid was so effectively holding all of us up. This was probably another seven long minutes. Finally the kid and a girl he had with him toted the four cases of beer and whatever else he'd chosen out of the store, and the line started moving again. The clerk was seeing to the man in front of me when a second clerk wandered out from the back and moved toward a register directly to my right.
Thank goodness, I thought.
And the guy behind me, a middle-aged soft-belly who had a sort of hard-livin'-insurance-salesman look about him, stepped up to the newly opened register and said "$40 on pump 8."
"Excuse me," I said. "I was in line here."
The soft-belly muttered something and slithered away. The clerk rang him up and went to the gas gauge to start his pump.
I was trembling. My injustice meter is on a hair-trigger about this sort of thing at the best of times, but like I said before, long way from home, unfixable flat tire, frayed from lack of sleep, quite sore in the crotch. I couldn't believe that guy had cut in front of me. Motherfucker. In-fucking-decent motherfucker.
I stepped up and said in a medium-loud voice, hoping the soft-belly would hear me and be ashamed of himself before he left the store, "Do you have the number of a good towing company?"
The clerk got out a phone book and recommended a nearby company. I repeated the number to myself and ran back to the car.
"I got the number," I said. "It's just down the street and--"
"Oh, my insurance company is sending someone," said my friend. "They'll be here in about 45 minutes."
I stood there, probably with a big dumb wha-huh? look on my face. "What," I said.
She started laughing. "I'm sorry, I saw you had to go over to the gas station after Safeway. But it's all set, we can have the car towed to my cousin's house."
And I lost my temper.
To say that I rarely lose my temper is to say that the Red Sox rarely win the World Series. Later in the day, I thought back, and I don't think it's happened since I was with my old boyfriend (who invariably brought out the worst in me), which would mean it's been more than seven years since the last time. The reason for this is largely the boyfriend before that, who had an anger problem and made all sorts of scenes both public and private. He became so ridiculous in my eyes that I resolved to keep my temper at all possible times, just so I wouldn't look like an idiot three-year-old in front of others the way he did.
But this was not a possible time. I completely lost my shit. Any other day, I probably would have sat on the curb and howled with laughter at how self-important I'd been, trying fruitlessly to get help, when it turned out that I hadn't needed help after all. But on this day, it didn't seem remotely funny. I started screaming, screaming, about how no one at Safeway would help me and how the punk at the gas station found his flavored tobacco far more important than all the people in line behind him, including a stranded me, and how the shithead soft-belly had just cut in front of me because his time was obviously so much more valuable than mine, and on and on with more f-words than I usually use in an average week and a louder voice than I think I've used in years. It felt so goddamn good to let go of it. I was shrieking so loudly that a bystander across the busy four-lane road looked our way.
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As soon as I'd wound down and was breathing again, I apologized. I was still trembling. My friend knew, of course, that I hadn't been yelling at her but at the situation, but I was still so heartily ashamed of myself that I wanted to crawl into the wheel well of the impotent car and die a slow quiet death.
"It happens to everybody," my friend assured me.
I went to the back of the car and started loading things into the Safeway bags. I felt unbearably bad.
But also better. More tranquil. Able to shake off the mounting yuck of no-sleep-sore-ass-stuck-far-from-home and focus appropriately on what had to be done next. Which was to stuff things into Safeway bags and refill the car, and then sit in the passenger seat and wait for the tow truck.
I didn't know what to say to my friend to convince her that I wasn't an idiot three-year-old, but when she got back in the car, she chatted with me as if everything was normal. I apologized again, and she said it was really totally fine and moved on. Is that it? I thought to myself. Is she going to just forget that she saw me like that, and it's all going to be okay?
See, because in my family, tempers didn't get lost. When shit happened, you bottled it, or you were an animal. And episodes of lost control could be used against you.
The tow-truck driver was from Alaska and was just as beefy and sunburned as you'd expect a tow-truck driver to be. The whole way to my friend's cousin's house, we listened to a pop station full of Lady Gaga and Rihanna, and I wondered if he was doing that for our benefit or if he liked Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Ah, the mysteries of life.
My friend's cousin managed to snap off the stupid wheel lock with a pair of pliers and a pipe wrench, and changed the tire for us, and we got on the road only a few hours and $80 poorer. (This is likely the luckiest bad-luck flat-tire scenario I will ever encounter.)
I fretted endlessly on the way home about the screaming I'd done in the parking lot of the Safeway in Whitefish. I was so embarrassed that someone had witnessed it. But apparently my friend had shrugged it off. Is this how people behave? I wondered. Out in the world, do people routinely lose their tempers in front of others, and it's just no big deal, because you get over it and forgive a friend her lapses? Does shit just happen, and you move on from it? Is life really so long and so wide?
Maybe. Maybe it's really okay if you fuck up and lose your shit from time to time. Maybe I can lose my temper and still be considered human.
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Or maybe my friend is keeping security footage of this incident under her hat to blackmail me at some future date for some future favor. I guess there's no way to know.