Spontaneous Public Transportation Utilization

September 17th, 2011

It was supposed to be a lazy Saturday filled with no adventure. Perhaps I wouldn’t even leave the house. In a rare move, my three kids had ignored the call of the sun and had slept all the way until 9. In my experience the end of a Saturday often has nothing to do with the plan you had for it.

I was defrosting into consciousness and relishing the prospect of a day off after a hellatious couple months of financial ruin and unrelenting educational torture when I got the desperate call from my wife.

I’m on the side of the road with a flat tire. I’m sure I can do this, but I thought I’d call you first.

Are you okay?

Yes. I’m fine, but this tire is in pieces.

Okay. I’ll walk you through if you’d like.


The first thing you’ve got to do is find the lug key.

The what???

Each tire has four lug nuts, but one of them requires a special key to get it off. It’s designed to keep people from stealing your tires, but it really only presents an obstacle to changing your own tire.

The locking lug nut on my wife's wheel.

I described the lug key in detail and she searched in vain – even sending me a picture she took with her phone of the contents of her trunk. It quickly became evident that the key was long gone. I’m sure I lost it when I performed a brake job months earlier. We discussed calling roadside assistance, but they wouldn’t have been able to get it off either

No problem, I said. I’ll come to Dallas and deal with it. Using an app on my iPhone – I could pinpoint her car in a fairly sketchy part of South Dallas just a couple blocks west of the zoo.

Mary's location via "Find my iPhone" app

So I got the three kids dressed and headed east towards my wife’s paralyzed car. I had no real plan except that I had this same locked lug nut problem with my car and was able to get a friend to “take care” of the problem for me, so I knew it was possible to defeat the locks somehow.

My wife, Mary is an actress and was in rehearsals for a show at the Dallas Children’s Theatre. She had one of her fellow actor’s pick her up and shuttle her to her rehearsal. I decided solving our lug nut problem with 3 children with me might just be more than I could handle so I dropped my two girls off with Mary at the theatre.

From there, my son Max and I headed to the barrio to check out the damage and formulate a plan. When we arrived, we discovered that the tire was shredded to pieces. There was no hope of patching this tire up. We also thoroughly verified the key was nowhere to be found. A quick call to Mazda about a replacement key yielded the stock, “We can tow it here and get to it Monday.” response. Plus they were closing at noon and that was ten minutes away. There have been times in my life when I had the resources to throw money at a problem until it was fixed. However, as a student with a mortgage and three kids, this was not my current reality.

Max and I headed off to Wal-Mart in search of a tool called a Gator Grip. This “As Seen on TV” tool proported to grab hold of any shaped nut and allow loosening. Unfortunately, Wal-Mart had no such tool. Max told me several times I should ask for help. As a male, I resist asking for help with much ferocity. Especially at stores such as Wal-Mart! However, I felt it necessary to demonstrate the reason for this rational resistance to asking for help. So I asked an employee for help locating this tool and/or any alternate solution. As expected, not only had the employee never heard of the tool, he completely missed the point of the question and led us on a ten minute tour of the store finally ending in a selection of vise-grips. Max and I politely purchased a pair of Vise-grips as well as a pair of glass bottles of Coca-Cola to fuel our further efforts.

Upon returning to the car, I tried in vain to budge the un-budgable lug nut. After admitting defeat, Max and I used my GPS unit to find a local automotive store. It was my hope that they would have a solution for me. When we pulled up to the auto part store we walked past multiple Mexican flags and were treated to some extremely loud salsa music. The only language we could hear being spoken was Spanish. The store shared a strip with a Mexican grocery store and I half expected to see dead chickens hanging from the ceiling and dryed hogs heads like I had on the streets of Mexico.

I wandered around the store looking for some magic tool that could save the day. I went to make my purchase and they actually had to call someone to the counter that could speak English. (Turn about’s fair play I suppose) She asked me if I needed any help and I told her about the lug locks. She asked a fellow employee in Spanish if he knew any way to defeat the locks. She translated his response. Apparently, you can break the locks by hammering a larger lug wrench on to the locked lug nut. Armed with this expert knowledge, we returned to the scene of the tire and hammered away at the locked lug nut. This method sounded great, but only really resulted in some terrifyingly loud sounds echoing through the south Dallas neighborhood.

It wasn’t long before we gained some company. A Hispanic man and his son drove up and the boy asked what in the world we were doing. I was pretty nervous about our visitors, but it was quickly apparent they were genuinely interested in helping out if they could. I explained our predicament and the boy translated for his father who had a quick and easy bit of wisdom to share. He said you could get the locks off very easily if you just attached the wrench and stood on it to bend the bolt a little bit. I was very apprehensive to try this method but was running out of options. Sure enough – first try – the lug nut came right off. We changed the tire and we were on our way.

Max waits for a bus with a Sunkist mustachio.

I had been concerned about the dangerous neighborhood, but in the end – we benefited from the sense of community there and… well… specialized expertise at defeating locks.

Of course the adventure was not over. Now we were faced with the problem of one driver and two cars in one location. I actually entertained the idea of having my 9 year old drive one of the cars, but only for about half a second. The plan had been that my wife would get a ride back when she was done with her rehearsal. Unfortunately, her rehearsal wasn’t finished until 11pm and this neighborhood would really not be the best place for her and her friend to be going close to midnight on a Saturday night.

Max and I met Mary, my girls and her fellow actors for dinner and shared a delicious pizza with them. Then the girls joined Max and I in my car and the plan was for us to go home and Mary to pick

Max at the Lovers Lane DART Rail Station

up the car. However, I had hatched a different plan. We drove my car to the theatre where Mary was rehearsing and parked it. I googled a public transportation route to my wife’s car and we all three began the next leg of our adventure. We walked across the busy intersection to a bus stop and hopped on the 583 bus to the closest DART station. The driver was amazingly helpful and friendly. He even let my son operate the door control lever. As a musician I have used public transportation in several major cities and it can be very intimidating. However, this bus driver put us all at ease. It was really fun. Max went to the very back of the bus while the girls in their pretty summer dresses sat up front with me while I talked to the bus driver.

We got off at the Lovers Lane DART station and waited for the RED Line train to arrive. We boarded the train and found seats in the last car. At each stop we moved forward a car and took in the sights. This was certainly turning out to be an adventure. We passed through tunnels and through downtown watching lots of people get on and off as part of their daily routine. Max quickly deciphered the map and figured out we needed the Dallas zoo station.

When we arrived, we all got off and began following the GPS on my phone toward Mary’s car. As we walked it was slowly getting dark. It was then that we heard a terrifying and unmistakable roar! It was a lion. Of course it was in a cage, in the zoo, but still!! That’s not the kind of sound that puts one  at ease with three children in a south Dallas neighborhood at dusk.

Rose poses at the station.

The kids were getting pretty tired of walking so I took turns carrying each of them. We had bout 4 blocks to go till the car and we were confronted by several stray dogs barking at us. Loud music poured from old houses with more cars then trees. The sun was almost completely gone now as was the battery in my phone. I was pretty sure we were almost there, but getting genuinely afraid of running into an angry stray dog.  I could and would do some serious harm to any creature threatening my children, but with three of them I was beginning to doubt my ability to adequately protect them from attack. This was the first point at which I felt I may have made a bad decision involving their safety, but there was no turning back now. So we walked on as confidently as possible. Maddie on my shoulders, Max holding my left hand and Rosie holding my right. As we turned a street corner, I asked my daughter to click her sparkly red shoes together three times and chant,

Littlest Maddie huddles close.

“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” As she did I pointed ahead and shouted – look! I clicked the unlock button on my key fob and bright yellow lights lit up the growing darkness.

There was mommy’s car! We made it! We all climbed in and celebrated our arrival just as the sun completely set and darkness consumed the sky. We drove back to the theatre and exchanged cars and I promised them each a special treat on the way home. But they were all out before I could get them a reward. This Saturday will no doubt remain in all of our memories for quite some time. You can’t plan a Saturday like this. I don’t suppose you would want to, but I loved the unexpected adventure with my three darlings.

All tired out!


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