Summer in Maine is almost perfect. Early on, the bugs make it less than perfect. Later in the season, it’s the people. Let me clear that up. It’s not the people, but rather the volume of people, that takes away some of the charm. They also clean out the antique shops. There will always be plenty of antiques as we make more in the winter.
On a Sunday in July of 2014, I was driving back to my home from the camp. The word "camp", in Maine and much of New England, speaks of a humble abode that might be located on a lake, pond, or stream. It is where Mainers hide from the people that are buying all the antiques.
One way to determine if a summer place is a camp or whether it is a cottage is to ask if the facilities are located inside or outside. Mine are outside; thus, it is a camp. A huge benefit to the use of primitive waste facilities is that you tend to have far less company during peak weeks of summer. Something about an outhouse paints a less than glamorous picture for the squeamish traveler. Even if you do not have an outhouse, there is a method to vaguely alluding to the fact when folks call looking to cut into your holiday plans. Sprinkle the words, outhouse, loose boards, Raccoon and rabid into conversations with those who drop hints at swinging in on July fourth. Seriously. The driveway will be free of sport utility vehicles from “away.”
I was driving on Route 182 toward Franklin, Maine when I noticed a faded, maroon colored Oldsmobile. The car had a very flat, driver’s side, front tire. A well-bearded, elderly man was staring at his deflated inconvenience. He did not appear helpless but I knew it would be mere seconds before the kind lady in my passenger seat would be using the unspoken power of disgust to help me complete the three point turn in order to stop and help. In Maine, you stop to help other motorists. The more remote the area, the sooner you should make the decision to stop. When riding with your wife you have far less time to make that decision. She is a nurse practitioner who specializes in caring for seniors. The motorist had gray hair and that called for immediate action. The fact that I have gray hair did not seem to cause her any concern.
She has suggested, “Just for Men,” but I have avoided using any post-shower hair care products for my entire life. It shows. It will remain gray now that I have seen the benefits it can bring when hoping for assistance on the roadside.
I turned the Honda CRV around. It was loaded with exactly nothing that I would need to help the gentleman change his tire. My truck had been abandoned in our home driveway so that we could drive to and from camp on 6 gallons of Shell rather than 12. Smart. Except when you need the tools that you keep in your truck. I crossed my fingers as I pulled up and hoped that the gentleman would have all the accoutrements necessary to get him back on the road. He didn’t.
If you used your fingers to count up all the good roadside locations to change a tire in Maine, you would not need your pinky finger. We were in a low spot and on a curve. It was a perfect place to meet your demise by coming into contact with the business end of a custom built, railroad tie bumper, on a pre-90’s Chevrolet half ton pickup truck. It was hot. 85 to 90 degrees. I have a personally set limit of 76 degrees when it comes to changing tires. My limit was temporarily raised by my passenger. Little did I know that I would soon be celebrating a birthday with a man named Phil.
I walked up to him and introduced myself and told him that I could easily help him with the tire. He was from Mapleton, Maine. He was heading to Eastport. He was in no real rush and I determined by the look of the rim and tire that was a good thing. Hubcaps serve a purpose. They protect lug nuts from road salt and grit. There had been no ornamental protection over these rusty wheels for a long time. I asked Phil to direct me to his jack and lug wrench and we started an excavation into the trunk of the Olds. Sleeping bags, blankets, dirty laundry, and lawn chairs were removed. The screw jack and a lug nut wrench sat at the bottom of the musty abyss. The spare was not available within. Phil pointed out that it was in the back seat. It was holding air.Phil turned 85 years old that day. He was a widower. He had been visiting his kids in the Belfast area and had set out to see some of Washington County before returning to Aroostook County. I worked and Phil talked. I enjoyed myself. Suddenly, I did not feel like I was in the vestibule to Hell. My profuse sweating did not slow Phil’s stories. It had turned into a fantastic day. Right up until I found that the wheel was rust-welded to the hub of the Oldsmobile. I had no hammer.
I sought a rock to use as blunt force persuasion. Nothing suitable was found. It was clear to me that palm strikes and violent kicks of from my low quarter, size 10, Merrill hikers were doing no good. Angry words from sweat lubricated lips, did nothing. Phil looked totally at ease with the situation. I’ll have what Phil is having.
Lois arrived. She pulled out from a nearby side road. Lois lived nearby. She was dressed beautifully and I assumed she was returning from church or dinner. She asked if we needed anything. I did. I asked her if she had a hammer. She said, “how big a hammer do you need?” Lois was my kind of lady. I told her that a bigger hammer would make the wheel come off faster, so I would take a large. Her Corolla buzzed up the dirt lane and she returned a very short time later. She held two hammers and both were appropriate for the intricate work I would be performing. The hammers came with complimentary, cold, bottled water. Poland Springs. Perfect. That was the first woman named, Lois that I ever met. I live a sheltered life.
The number of strikes needed were far less than the number of candles that it would take to light up Phil’s cake, but it felt like I struck the back of the wheel at least half that many times. The wheel broke free. I was back on track. At least I thought I was.
I began to jack the car up to a height that would allow the installation of the fully inflated tire that we had liberated from the back of the Olds. As I jacked the car up, I could see the gravel compacting under the pressure as the car moved higher.
Phil was absolutely unconcerned about what time we finished. He was a wonderful storyteller. I watched the Oldsmobile sinking into the jack. You read that correctly. The slot on the sill of car was slowly enveloping the jack. The car was a bit “soft” in that area as many cars are after navigating the brine-like slush of winter-salted, Maine roads. I watched with the horror of a man that could do nothing.
I slid the flat tire under the car as cheap insurance for future use of my arms. I asked Phil to back away and I leaned against the front bumper in a futile attempt to stop the inevitable. The Olds dropped like a a coconut from a tree on Gilligan’s Island. I was Gilligan and Phil was the Skipper. He didn’t hit me with his hat. He just took it in stride. I could tell he was confidant in my abilities. I could hear the a/c compressor in my wife’s Honda cycling on and off. I asked if Phil would like to go and sit with her to cool off and this time, he took me up on it. It was his birthday. Only one of us should be sweating this profusely.
Now that the jack had become part of the car and the Olds had shifted forward and was resting nicely on it’s rotor, I began to strategize. Something I might have done earlier if I was not so interested in the stories of my new friend, Phil, who was cooling down and sharing tales with my wife. Happy Birthday, Phil.
This adventure was just about to be cancelled by the judicious use of my American Automobile Association card (member since 1988). Finding one bar of a cellular signal in this area was another miracle. Explaining my location to the dispatcher was almost ridiculous and sounded like a Bert and I skit. I estimated our location’s distance from Route 1 and while Phil and my wife lounged comfortably in the cool breeze of a recently recharged cooling system, I contemplated creating a kit of tools that would be kept in her car for future trips when she notices someone that needs my help.
A Hyundai-load of Maine ladies pulled up. The cream colored Elantra held a driver who l would not want to arm wrestle or any kind of wrestle for that matter. She looked at my predicament and made solid eye contact with me. I can’t say that I feared her but I was hoping she would not notice the pile of rocks and broken asphalt that I had collected earlier with intent on using them as tools for the wheel removal. Her tone was not quite at the level of mockery but she was looking at the Oldsmobile’s position of despair. I could see the disappointment in her eyes.
She asked me if I needed anything and I told her that I had called AAA. I said that I really needed a floor jack but did not have one (or a hammer, wrench, or pride for that matter). She stated the expected response from a Maine woman in a Hyundai. “I have a floor jack in the trunk.” I felt less than handy. I felt dirty. She left but I know she and her friends were going to talk about the unprepared guy on Route 182. Probably over whiskey. Straight.
Within 20 minutes, an old Chrysler mini-van, serving as a road service emergency vehicle, arrived. The driver had multiple and various sized floor jacks. We dug like groundhogs with larger paws and slid them under the car and raised it enough to get some blocks under it and in short order, Phil was ready to continue his lone journey to Eastport. He thanked me and offered me financial compensation. I refused as it was the least I could do on his 85th birthday. I told him to get the spare repaired as soon as he could. I knew he wouldn’t. I recalled that the car would need some reconstruction in the area where the jack was to be used and mentioned it to Phil. He seemed unconcerned.
I returned the hammers to Lois and thanked the mini-van driving, roadside assistant. Phil powered up the Cutlas Sierra and headed east.
My wife and I headed west, confident that if we had a flat tire, there were ladies out there that would be able to help us.