So I was driving home after work yesterday, minding my own business, exceeding the posted speed limit by a... smidge. It had been a hairy day, so the stereo was turned up pretty high, and it was pretty warm too, so the A/C was cranking. My mind was a dozen places, trying to wind down, thinking ahead to a night of chores and a hopefully early bedtime.
Out of the blue, completely without warning, I heard an enormous WHOMP! sound. And the back end of the car bucked.
The WHOMP! was followed by thud-thud-thud-thud noises and the smell of burning rubber. I was in the middle-right lane -- I'm still grateful for that small fact. The rear end of the car seemed sluggish, a bit unresponsive as I put on my hazards and worked my way to the right shoulder. After climbing out of the car on the passenger side (fun in work clothes), I peeked around the back of the car to assess the damage. The rear driver's side tire was basically gone.
So there I was, tireless and perched on the edge of I-5 South, inches from the lane of traffic on the side of the car needing its tire changed. Well, dang.
I had no sooner hung up the phone with the AAA operator that I heard someone's steps coming up behind me in the dry underbrush of the shoulder. A Highway Patrolman. "Great," I thought, "Now I'm going to get a ticket!"
But no. He asked me (I guess he was talking to me; he kept calling someone "ma'am," and my mom was nowhere around) if he could please change my tire. Uh, pardon? "Yes, ma'am, I'd really like to do that for you." Uh, well, thanks, I guess, but I have AAA on the way. "Yes, ma'am, but it's not safe out here. I'd really prefer to do this for you." Uh, thank you (have I entered some sort of parallel universe?), but I'll be OK. Shouldn't you go help someone who doesn't have AAA or help on the way? "Ma'am, please. Call and cancel the tow. Please, ma'am." Oh all right. Can I help at least? "Yes, ma'am. You can stand over there on the shoulder where it's safe." Um, OK then.
Next thing I know, a tow truck pulls up. Not the AAA-requested tow, but a truck associated with the Sacramento area Freeway Service Patrol. These lovely young men apparently drive around area freeways during commute hours, looking for folks who have broken down. They then assist them with getting their cars up and running and back on their way.
Long story short, out came orange traffic cones, the two men changed my tire (and I had a full-sized spare, as it turns out. Love the Ultimate Driving Machine!) and sent me on my way. No charge -- NO CHARGE! And I didn't even have to cart off the remnants of my tire -- they left them on the side of the road. CalTrans picks them up once a week or so, they said.
So inside of 25 minutes, I was back on the road and headed home. I thanked the kind men profusely and promised I'd do what I could about the furloughs. And marveled at the kindness of strangers.