Hope, Faith andÖ

by Kenneth B. Lourie

Charity, it has been often said, begins at home. For me, however, during this 2002 holiday season, charity began at Tires Plus in Burtonsville, MD.

When the subject matter in question concerns automobiles and their upkeep, my lack of knowledge is exceeded only by my lack of interest. To wit, when the unexpected happens and youíre forced to trust the integrity of a man youíve never met and one with whom you have very little in common, the potential damage to oneís bank account becomes somewhat unlimited. As such, once the keys are handed over, the anxiety grows exponentially until the ultimate balance due is known. Itís dollar signs I count at bedtime, not sheep. But unfortunately it doesnít help me fall asleep. Quite the contrary in fact. And so it was from Saturday (when I dropped off the car), Dec. 14, until Tuesday, Dec. 24, when I picked up the car and paid for the repair.

The situation was that my wife, Dina, had inadvertently (Iím being understanding now) driven into/over/through (?) a pothole, presumably, on her way home from a social engagement on Friday, Dec. 13. When she cell-phoned me at 5:30 p.m., she was flat-tired near Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It was raining, the snow was melting and the traffic was horrendous. Dina offered to call AAA, but given the conditions and her location, I decided KBL (thatís me) would probably get there quicker, so I advised her to sit still and wait for my arrival.

Sixty minutes later I completed the 30-minute drive. I turned down Aspen Road Northwest, off Georgia Avenue and saw Dinaís car flashing its lights in distress. I pulled over and parked and then walked over to assess the situation. Yup, she had a flat tire all right, but the damage was not confined to the left front tire only. The left rear tire was also affected, and both wheels (rims) were bent. The front tire was pancaked. But the rear tire, although somewhat deflated, appeared driveable. I changed the front tire - not in record time - and Dina drove home without incident.

The next morning I awoke to the dry light of day and went outside to more carefully inspect the tire damage from the night before. The rear tire was even flatter than I remember, and when I popped open the trunk to examine the front tire, which I had replaced with the donut 12 hours earlier, I saw a gash instead of a fixable puncture. No $10 repair there. So I called dealers, repair shops, tire places, etc., to price tires and wheels. And based on that information, I decided to drive (on the donut and nearly flat rear tire) the 1.5 miles to the Tires Plus in Burtonsville and drop off my car.

At this point, so far as what little I knew, or was told, I definitely needed two wheels, at least one tire and probably an alignment. I was advised to call back on Monday, when theyíd have a better idea if there was any less obvious, but perhaps even more serious, damage (Oy!).

Midday on Monday I called back to learn my fate. The fix was not in, but rather reasonable (thank God!). It was not until later in the week, however, after the parts had been UPSíd and finally put on my car that I was convinced of the earlier assessment. I figured (incorrectly) that the longer the car was in the shop, the more it was going to cost. (It wasnít exactly hospitalization, but it was making me sick).

I mean, what could I have said, or done, if Steve, the assistant general manager, had told me the whichamacallit needed a thingamajig? Nothing! Thatís what! And I would have had to pay for it, too. But he didnít. He didnít even tell me I needed a new rear tire (which I half expected), which was certainly a possibility given the rim shot the wheel took.

As I waited out the 10 days, I tried to remain hopeful that the need for this donut would not lead to more dollars. And my faith was restored when I received the final bill. It may not have been charity, but it sure feels like I got the benevolence of doubt.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.