THE BLOG
01/29/2015 11:31 am ET Updated Mar 31, 2015

If Things Can Go Wrong, They Just Might

"Travel light" is generally my motto, except for our annual winter trek from Portland, Oregon, to Palm Desert, California. For this sojourn our portage is substantial, and involves file tubs, multiple suitcases, golf clubs, computers, tennis racquets, emergency supplies, one very sweet cat named Abby, plus her food and sandbox. Last fall we upgraded to an Escalade from our aging-but-larger Suburban. However, by packing high and deep we got everything in. This is a comfortable two-day trip, and we were cheerfully into our second day when the trouble started.

We got off the freeway to go through a Starbucks, and as I swung the car through the parking lot I hit one of those treacherous little triangular-shaped planted areas surrounded by a curb. (Entirely useless as you cannot see the curb or the plants.) It is also possible that I was going a tad fast, as my husband repeatedly suggested over the course of the next several hours. In any event, our car has humungous, indestructible tires with 100,000-mile-tread, but it seems that I hit the sidewall on the invisible curb and have ruined the tire. It is Sunday afternoon in Los Banos, California, and nothing is open (except Starbucks).

We have subscribed to OnStar and Triple A, which I immediately suggest we call. But husband Jerry is adamant that it will be faster and easier to just change the tire himself. "How hard can it be?" asks Jerry who has changed many tires in his long life. We get out the manual and discover that the instructions to change a tire require 12 pages! Steps 1 through 9 and tools A through K are devoted only to the removal of the spare tire which must be cranked down from under the car but only after locating several secret compartments and assembling multiple tools and cranks.

Before we could begin step 1, which involved secret cavity A, we had to unload all of our piles of luggage and athletic equipment, and all the while I am clutching Abby so she won't bolt. (She likes to be loose in the car and we did not even bring a cat carrier.) It takes a couple of hours to get the tire down and out, and then Jerry is dismayed to see that it is noticeably smaller than our real tires, and there is another section of the manual devoted to the many reasons you cannot drive unless all four tires are the same size. To paraphrase, "Failure to use four equal tires can lead to problems with fuel efficiency, all wheel drive, the Pressure Monitor System, braking, and vehicle handling, most of which can lead to death." I point out that Cadillac gave us the spare, so how disastrous could it be to actually drive on it? Jerry taps the manual and points to the dire warnings.

Now it is late Sunday afternoon, and we decide to call OnStar to see if we can drive with the spare and roughly how far. Jerry is on hold with OnStar and I start researching tires on my phone. The only tire store open in Los Banos is Walmart, and they don't have the right size. But the Walmart people tell me that Carlos Tires might have the tire, but they are closed, however they might open for us if we drive over there, get the phone number off the side of the building, and are really nice. But it is Sunday night and they might be having a family dinner party. (Everyone seems to know everyone in the Los Banos tire world.) Three separate people come by to see if they can help us, and we politely decline, whereupon they ask if we could lend them some money. We dole out all our cash and hope that Carlos takes credit cards.

OnStar comes back on and says that all their experts are home with their families as it is Sunday night, however the operator has a brother-in-law who knows "a lot" about cars, and she is trying to reach him. Jerry and I figure if we can't drive far, we will try Carlos. However, if we can drive a distance of 100 miles or so, we will try to make it to Bakersfield where there is a Cadillac dealer. We figure they are our best shot to get the right tire.

OnStar comes back on and says we should not drive "far", however they are waiting for a second opinion from someone they know who works for a Cadillac dealer. The help line folks have exhausted the official channels and are now calling their friends. You have to give them credit for spirit and attitude if not hard facts. It is getting dark and we are thinking our next step is either Carlos or food when OnStar calls back and says we can probably make it to Bakersfield if we drive slowly. Meanwhile, Jerry has installed the spare and reloaded the car, so we creep down the road after stopping at In-N-Out Burger for our animal-style double cheeseburgers which cheer us up immeasurably.

We inch along highway 99 toward Bakersfield ignoring the flashing Pressure Monitor Alert and bravely traversing the Tule fog that hits us like a wall. With our dueling smart phones set on navigation, we manage to find even more food and a hotel before midnight. Up early, we get to the Cadillac dealer before they open. They were very friendly and helpful, but unfortunately a few dozen other people have actually made appointments for service, so while we are there first, we are served last.

They do have the tire we need, also a comfortable waiting room with free doughnuts and coffee, and they let us bring Abby inside with us. We are in hog heaven; someone else is changing the tire (and replacing the spare!), and we are into the doughnuts. We love happy endings, especially involving free food.