Flat busted

It’s all about perspective, right? Your cup is either half-full or half-empty, and it’s entirely up to you to decide which.

But what happens when your “cup” is a front passenger-side tire? And when “half full” actually means broke-ass flat?

I’m on the city’s south side, near Midway Airport, when I’m assaulted by the pothole—a gaping chasm that I’m certain could have been followed to the Earth’s inner core. There’s no avoiding it, not without tossing around my back-seat riders like a basket of hot wings. I take on the beast directly. I lose.


An artist’s rendering of the offending pothole.

The car diagnostics, taunting me, broadcast the tire’s plummeting PSI from the driver’s console. I mutter something filthy under my breath and limp into a parking lot across the street from my riders’ destination.

In back, Jessica and Matt are a comfortably affectionate, late-20s couple with chill for days. They’re casually dressed for a night out, which I dig. Matt—who has the trim build and easy confidence of the undersized, overachieving linebacker on your high school football team—wears a biker’s jacket and a single hand tattoo without irony. Jessica, a pretty blond with a tiny nose stud, accents a red flannel top with jeans and jacket that tastefully accentuate her curves. They’re South Siders—I don’t need the GPS to tell me—so there’s no bullshit, no pretense. They’ve been cordial and appreciative of my taking their recommended route over the app’s recommendation. When the sidewall slashes open, they’re only concerned for my welfare.

“Dude,” says Matt, as we assess the damage. “I can help you fix that.”

I already feel bad that they’ve been put in the position to choose whether to bail or to play the Good Samaritans. The neighborhood isn’t too shady, the parking lot has decent light, and this isn’t my first time changing a flat.

“Nah,” I say. “I appreciate it, but don’t worry about it.”

“It’s no problem at all,” Jessica says.

“C’mon,” Matt says. “Let’s take care of it.”

Turns out the couple aren’t just playing Good Samaritans. Matt won’t be shooed away. Through no small effort, he loosens the lug nuts while I set up the jack. We trade off once or twice without a word. Jessica, who has never felt the need to procure her driver’s license, laughs and admits to knowing nothing about changing a tire. But she’s game. She asks how she can help, holds the hardware, and provides staunch moral support. Strangers a moment ago, we’re now a well-oiled pit crew.

Thirty minutes later, the donut is snugly attached and the useless wheel is tossed in the trunk. Matt asks for a favor.

“You mind taking us just down the street? Looks like the place we were headed to is closed.”

“Of course,” I say. “Wherever you wanna go.”

As we roll gingerly into the street on the spare, I hear Jessica dig through her purse and whisper to Matt. More shifting in the back seat. When I drop the couple off a few blocks away, Jessica hands me a small wad of cash. “Hopefully,” she says, “your night gets better.”

“No, no,” I blurt out, waving the money away. “I appreciate it, but I’m just glad you guys were around to help. Don’t worry—”

“It’s yours,” Jessica says firmly. “If you don’t take it, I’ll leave it here anyway.” She wedges the bills between the front armrest and passenger seat. That’s it. End of discussion. I pivot around to face them, nod and shake hands.

As they walk away, Jessica grabs Matt around the waist and pecks him on the cheek. Matt turns and smiles. They stride through the street light’s beam and out of sight.

All in all, I lose about an hour. The delay costs me two fares, which is the exact number that I fall short of nailing my weekend bonus. And the next day’s repair isn’t cheap. I figure I’m out at least $250—or roughly what I would earn for the night and the previous day combined. It’s a colossal nut punch.

But I can’t help but feel a sort of contentment about the whole episode. I meet some weird folks doing the Uber thing. Some cynical. A few genuinely awful. Jessica and Matt are the sort of people who—with a few kind gestures and an utter lack of self-congratulation—restore the balance.

My cup is full.


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