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A broken circle, and an unbroken one

I had a flat and few Spanish words. Would they help me?

Zina Saunders
  • Kate Erickson

I was driving straight through, from my house in Los Angeles to the set for a TV show in Mexico. After three weeks of prepping and shooting, back and forth every weekend, I could do the drive without GPS, and watch the fog recede from the hills without worrying over the difference between a carretera (highway) and an autopista (freeway). I ate my cheese puffs, looked for migrating whales, and dodged the familiar potholes.

I passed Rosarito, where our studio sprawled along the flat shoreline, and continued south, to San Miguel de Allende, where I stopped for a pancake lunch. We were on location that afternoon, picking up a few scenes from the last episode I’d written. I paid my bill, said goodbye to the coastal tourists, and for the first time, started northeast, up Carretera Federal 3, toward Tecate.

The approach to Mexico’s wine country is beautiful: grassy hills occasionally ripped apart by crags, communities of flowers protecting each other from the wind, vistas of the disappearing ocean. I gunned my little hybrid forward, but still the pickups rattling toward retirement passed me, because when you know a road, really know it, your car flies faster than explanation. The coast had taught me this.

As I descended from the hills into the valley, a local rode my tail. I accelerated a bit. I could afford more than 40 miles an hour. And yet – I couldn’t. I pushed the gas pedal to the
floor – nothing. I careened off the road toward the back entrance to a ranch. The local blazed past. Standing in his dust, I discovered one of my tires, limp on its rim, hubcap-less. I checked my phone. Two hours until my call time, and I was an hour from set. I could change my tire in an hour. I opened the hatchback, lifted out the floor panel, and surveyed the tools. No jack.

On the ranch nearby, two teenage boys were building a fence.

Hola!” I shouted, blanking on the words for “tire,” “jack,” and “flat.” The rough translation of my circumlocution was this: “My car isn’t working. It has three circles. It should have four. I don’t have the thing to make the car taller. Please help.”

One of the boys loped over, jumped the fence, and frowned at my situation.

“I don’t have a jack,” I said, giving up on Spanish. 

The boy motioned for me to wait and loped off back to the farm. He waved to his friend, and the two of them jogged to the barn, a field away. A few minutes later, they were jogging back, arms full of short  two-by-fours. At the car, they stacked the wood and lifted my car on top of it.

“Careful, you’re going to hurt yourselves,” I said.

The boys weren’t satisfied with the height of their makeshift jack, so they wedged another board under my car’s frame. The tire now floated just off the ground. A few twirls of the lug wrench, and my busted tire was off, the spare on. 

Llanta,” the first boy said, touching the tire.

Llanta,” I said.

He nodded. “Allá hay una llantería. Tres kilómetros.” There is a tire shop over there. Three kilometers.

“That’s awesome,” I said. “Thank you.” I dug into my wallet, where I only had two American $20 bills. I held them out. The boys recoiled. “Here, please. Really, you’re my heroes.”

The boys waved the money away.

“I took you away from your work. Please,” I said.

The first boy leaned toward me. In Spanish he said, “Save it, so next time you can buy a better tire.”

They lowered my car to the ground, closed my hatchback, and off the teenage boys sent me, to the tire store, three kilometers down the road.

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