Mini Disaster on Tiny Island

A couple years before I moved to Orcas I was on a summer visit to neighboring Lopez Island. One day I was visiting a friend’s farm. Their house had just burned down. No people were hurt but the friend and his family were still dealing with the aftermath. I found them surprisingly upbeat, even their young children. Later I met one of their workers, a girl in her early 20s. She mentioned her house had burned down three months prior.

She didn’t seem too traumatized by it. She described fleeing the house on a spring evening. Waiting for the volunteer firefighters to arrive. My cousin—a longtime Lopez resident—once told me a joke. What does the Lopez fire department do? They put out the ashes. A unfortunate reality of a rural place with just a handful of volunteer firefighters.

So her (rented) house burned down. But she said that within minutes neighbors began arriving. Soon she had clothes, food, a place to stay. In short order she had a new place to stay. She told me, “The island is a good place for a disaster.”

So nothing bad happened to me but I had a mini disaster yesterday. I am participating in a community theater event called PlayFest. I wrote a play for the event and I’m also directing somebody else’s. I was driving to rehearsal last night when I heard a terrible thup-thup-thup noise coming from a wheel. I pulled over and got out and looked at my right rear tire. There was a 4-inch nail in the tire. I heard an ominous hissing sound.

My buddy Kevin—an actor for PlayFest—was in the car and he leapt into action. Very quickly we had the spare tire out and and the lugnuts off the busted tire. Then we couldn’t get wheel off. It was stuck to the axle.

Then a van pulled up, and I heard someone say, mock-seriously, “I can’t fucking believe this.” It was Frank, another PlayFest participant. At first I was surprised to see him there. Then I realized there’s really only one road on the island, so of course he came upon us on the way to rehearsal. Soon he had his tools out and we were hammering on the tire with rubber mallets.

In the end we were only 15 minutes late to rehearsal.

Not exactly a death-defying scenario but I’ve been dreading a flat since I bought the car. I’m not used to maintaining a car because until recently—as a longtime city resident—I did not own a car. I bought my Subaru shortly before moving to Orcas. I find the idea of a breakdown very unnerving. I don’t like be stranded. I don’t like asking for help.

Luckily, on the island help often arrives unbidden. Where else could I have a flat and have two friends help me fix it in just a few minutes? I’m sure a motorist would have stopped if I had been alone. Motorists stop when I’m out walking just to see if I need a lift.

Today I took the car to the mechanic and they happily patched the tire and sent me on my way. Like everything else on the island, even the gas stations are cute. The gas prices—not so much. We just broke four dollars a gallon for the first time.

At the cash register they had three mason jars full of screws and other metal shards. The jars were labeled: 2015, 2016, 2017. She told me my nail would be added to the 2018 jar.

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