I found myself Monday both literally and figuratively in no man’s land.
My car — my faithful source of misfortune — was at it, again.
The problem this time was essentially a flat tire — a flat tire that turned into a Kafkaesque black comedy.
I was driving to Napa from San Francisco Monday morning on Highway 80 when a certain sound caught my attention.
Anyone who has ever had a flat tire knows what I mean.
First, there was a loud flapping sound, followed by a shuttering vibration coming from one side of the car.
I pretty much knew what was happening. What I didn’t know was what lay ahead as a result of my right rear tire rapidly losing air.
I was approaching the Carquinez Bridge, and had already driven past the last highway exit before entering the span.
I found myself white-knuckling the drive across the bridge as the sound and vibration grew louder and stronger with every passing second and rotation of my wheels.
My car managed to clear the bridge and the toll plaza. My Fastrak allowed me to cruise past the toll booth on the far left side of the highway without stopping.
I then immediately pulled off the roadway and into a Caltrans parking lot situated near the toll plaza and in between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Highway 80.
It was a veritable no man’s land in the middle of the highway, and I would soon realize it was not the ideal place to park with a flat tire.
I got out of my Honda to inspect things. The right rear tire looked as though it had been stabbed repeatedly by a large spear.
Three gaping holes in the sidewall told me this tire has seen the end of days.
I opened my trunk and pulled out my donut spare tire.
But my lug wrench was nowhere to be found, and my jack — which I’ve never used since getting the car four years ago — was stuck to the bottom of the trunk as though glued to it.
With no wrench or jack available to use, I got on the phone to AAA roadside service.
That’s when things took a turn for the absurd.
After going through AAA’s automated system, which resulted in me eventually speaking to a human representative, I was told that AAA couldn’t send someone to my location.
My car was on Caltrans property, and apparently and for whatever reason that wasn’t made entirely clear, AAA roadside service was not authorized to venture into the area where I was stranded.
The rep put me on hold while she contacted Caltrans. She came back on and told me Caltrans would send someone out to assist me with my flat tire.
OK, I figured. There were plenty of Caltrans vehicles in the parking lot, so this shouldn’t take long.
But as I waited and looked around, I noticed there weren’t any Caltrans employees in sight. Lots of vehicles, but no drivers.
After waiting nearly 30 minutes, I walked over to a small building located next to the toll plaza, thinking I might find someone there to help me.
The building, however, was locked, and there was no one visible inside it. A sign reading “Lobby entrance this way” included an arrow pointing to some imaginary door that didn’t exist.
So I walked back to my car and called AAA a second time.
Again, I had to wade through their automated system before reaching a person, who started to tell me, again, about the problem of being on Caltrans property.
I explained to the AAA rep that Caltrans hadn’t come out to help, and I couldn’t find anyone here to speak with.
She acknowledged the dilemma I was in, and said AAA would send out one of their vehicles after all to assist.
The estimated wait time was an hour before the technician would get there.
So I waited some more, and after about half an hour, my phone rang. It was AAA saying their driver had been unable to find my vehicle on the bridge.
My eyes nearly rolled into the back of my skull from the frustration.
I explained I wasn’t on the bridge and insisted I told them previously where my car was parked.
The rep apologized, and said she would contact their driver and send him out again to look for me. Apparently, he had gone back to the shop.
The wait time was again pushed back, while my urge to scream surged forward.
Finally, after an hour and forty minutes of waiting since I first parked, a truck pulled into the lot and stopped behind my car.
A Caltrans truck.
The driver, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, got out and immediately set to work jacking up my Honda and replacing my tire.
The Caltrans worker was very cordial while he quickly got my car back into driving condition.
I got back onto Highway 80 heading towards Napa. It wasn’t until I reached American Canyon that AAA called me again to see if I still needed assistance.
I curtly said no, and hung up.