Tuesday, May 22, 2007

That tire is on fire!

This is about two weeks out of date, but I've been meaning to blog about it for a while, so I shall do so now!

I love cycling to work, but I'm not fanatical about it. If I need to run errands after work or otherwise have need of an automobile, I'll cheerfully switch to four wheels for the day.

Two Tuesdays ago, I drove to work because I was planning on going directly to G'Day Google afterwards. Those plans were sadly destroyed in the afternoon. Rice, my cubicle neighbor (and fellow before-9-am-arrival-person), walked into my cube and asked, "Mr. King, you drive a black Saturn, right?" "Yes," I said. "I think you have a flat tire," he responded.

Big sigh.

This is pretty much the first time I've had any problems with my ION. More than that, it was just a shock. I kind of imagined that getting a flat tire would involve some loud popping noise, some thumping on the payment, some sort of immediate feedback. I hadn't noticed anything unusual on my way to work, though, and was just finding out about this about seven hours later.

I went outside to take a look, and sure enough, he was right... there was still a good chunk of air left, but it was visibly lower than the other. I went back inside under a cloud, stared at my computer, and opened my web browser.

I remembered specifically not joining AAA because I had some other roadside assistance. I was trying to remember what that was. If I was still under warranty I would have been able to call Saturn; the warranty has been out for almost a year now, though. I was pretty sure I had some special service through one of my credit cards, but it took a little digging to find it out. Eventually I located the number, was connected with their travel service people, and after a little discussion (and a fifty-dollar charge), a truck was on its way.

In retrospect, I probably could have fixed it for cheaper. Rice suggested using a bicycle pump to put back some air and then driving to a regular service station. I technically could have changed to the spare, but I haven't done it before and don't have a lot of confidence in my abilities. All things considered, I sort of cringed at the cost, but it seems sort of worthwhile for someone else to handle it.

There was a bit of a wait before the guy arrived, so I spent a bit of time looking into the situation. I googled "flat tire" and "how to change a tire" and was stunned to see that almost every response had to deal with bicycle tires. "That's bizarre," I thought. "There must be way more people interested in car tires than bicycle tires." After a while, though, I realized what was happening: for a while now, I've participated in Google's personalized search feature, which keeps track of the history of your searches and returns responses that are more relevant to you. So, for example, someone who searches for a lot of video games and then searches for "Diablo" might have their first link be to the Blizzard Diablo 2 web site, while someone who searches a lot for landmarks in the San Francisco Bay Area and then runs the same search will instead have their first link be to Mount Diablo.

All that to say, I can't decide whether to be impressed or disturbed that Google has been observant enough of my interests to realize that I am interested in bicycles, and make the decision to focus on bicycles when I was actually interested in something else. No harm was done, though... I just started searching for "car flat tire" and "how to change a car tire" and started getting the results I wanted.

The guy showed up, along with someone who may have been his wife. It was interesting... they were real friendly and we had some nice conversation, but at the same time, it was just obvious that we were coming from totally different worlds. I haven't met people like that since coming to the Bay Area... I think "down to earth" is the polite phrase.

I'd originally requested help changing my tire, but once he saw my spare (it's a puny little thing, not a full tire), he offered to patch it instead for a few more bucks. I agreed, then stood around as he tried to find the puncture. I was kind of surprised at all the junk which was in the tire, but none of it was the culprit... and then, at last, he found a tiny hole. The way to determine if something is actually a puncture, incidentally, is to pour a little water on top; if it's leaking, the air will cause bubbles to come up through the fluid. See, you learn something new every day!

After that, he proceeded with the patch, which actually looked a little scary. He got out a knife and cut to make the hole bigger, then took a... tube or something, which may have been made out of rubber, and threaded it through. Then he doused the patch with a fluid, pulled out a cigarette lighter, and set it on fire. He let it burn for a few seconds while the rubber melted, then put it out, and went about returning the tire to my car. An extremely noisy pump was soon at work refilling the tire pressure.

Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed.

So, all's well that ends well, and while this definitely wasn't a pleasant experience, it sure could have been a whole lot worse... I'm glad it was discovered at work during the day, and not when cruising down the 880 at night. I missed the Google event, but again, it could have been much worse.

I was really nervous for the next few days after that - I'd check on my car at least twice a day (if I wasn't driving) or every few hours (if I was), just to make sure that the patch really was holding. Good news, though: the seemingly low-tech solution appears to be a winner, and I'm now two weeks out without any further troubles.

So, that's that. A big thanks to my observant co-worker Rice who spared me a potential world of pain, and the nice man from White Trash Auto (no, I'm not making that up!) who saved the day, and taught me that it's ok to set your tire on fire.

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