Head Injury: Where the Rubber Meets the Road by Ron Harnett

Ron Hartnett

Head Injury: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

My wheelbarrow tire suddenly goes flat. With the spring thaw, dirt and debris to be loaded on and carted around, not good timing.

What to do? What turns out is a classic TBI exchange. Mike, a fellow TBIer—he a car crash back in ‘96, me a fall off the iron in ’73—will come to the rescue. Mike repairs, fixes and changes tires on cars and trucks—and now a wheelbarrow—that pull up to a single-stall garage attached to a busy truck stop, Crystal Café.

And, with my penchant not to drive if I don’t have to, what a good time to just hop on the bike to pick up the tire—three miles later and I’m there. Sure, Mike said yesterday, looking at me with clear blue eyes, dark stocking cap pulled over his head, “I should be able to fix it for ya.”

So, it’s a nice ten-speed ride to the Crystal. There’s Mike, hard at work, rotating the tires of a blue and white late-model GMC. Looking up, the 30-something mechanic takes me to our rubber patient. He explains how the inner tube had weathered, then split.  A new one had to be inserted. We both looked at the small tire, firm and steady, ready to hit the gardening road.

Then, feeling like my bike tires need a little air, can I use the hose? “Be careful,” Mike warned, going back to the GMC. The owner, young, thin and pale skinned, stood there, regarding us, smoking a filter cigarette. “That air comes out pretty fast. I don’t want you to pop your tire.”


Of course, immediately I manage to deflate the front tire. This pulled Mike away again from the Jimmy. I note how I used the end nozzle—air out—instead of the side one—air in. I watch as Mike spins the front wheel and sticks the nozzle over the stem. I hear a strong air whoosh into thin rubber.  “Okay?” Mike asked, heading back to the truck.

“Yeah, I think I got ‘er. Thanks.”

Sans hiccup I get air in the back tire and away I go. With a beautiful spring day, warm at last, I’m happy, almost giddy: the wheelbarrow tire is firm and steady. I’m ready to get to work. However, after a quarter mile, I realize that I’d strung the hose back up but hadn’t given back the gauge tester. Which is something I always hate—people just drive off and leave the tester laying around. What would Mike think, me just taking off like that?

“Oh,” I said, watching Mike let down a dull red hydraulic jack from the front passenger side tire, not seeing the tester where I thought I’d laid it. Now where did I put that darn thing?

Mike looked over.

“I thought how I didn’t get your tester back to ya.”

“That’s okay,” Mike said, turning from me and back to the Jimmy, “I got ‘er.”

“Well,” I said, “thanks. Thanks again.”

I hop back on and take off. In a congratulatory, small carbon footprint mode, I swing by a small liquor store. I grab a Gatorade which I immediately stick in the backpack. However, opening the top zipper, I notice there is a lifting belt and a pair of gloves but no small tire. I think Well, it must be stuck down in there. I’ll take a closer look when I get home.

However, despite reaching down deep, spilling out the contents, no tire. Prattling on with Mike, paying, getting air in my bike tires, had I left my patient behind, awaiting dismissal?

Feeling Father Time pushing me, I hop in my car and jet back to the Crystal. No way do I want to bother Mike, still toiling near the Jimmy, the owner watching Mike and regarding me with a nod—we’d almost become acquaintances. (Even though I don’t smoke, I felt like asking for a cigarette.) I go back near the cash register where Mike but moments before had rung up the bill. No tire, however, was in sight.

“Uhm Mike” I begin, feeling dread and desperation creeping over my body as if it somehow had disappeared, “did I happen to leave that tire here?”

“Yeah,” he said, “you did. I set it out right there.” He pointed to a tiny tire dwarfed by an over-the-road semi type leaning against the outside wall.

A sense of relief enveloping me, I clutch the patient tightly to my chest, ready to dash home.

Mike said, “I tried to holler at you but you were already gone.”

Making light I said, “Yeah, you no doubt were running down the road hollerin’, ‘Hey, you forgot your tire!’”

Mike just looked at me and turned and walked back to the Jimmy.

“Well,” I called, still clutching the wheelbarrow tire, “thanks again.”

“No problem.” Mike looked up from a lug nut. “Come by if you need anything.”


Two TBIs doing business. Like the song says, “Just keep on truckin’.”

May 10, 2013


One response to “Head Injury: Where the Rubber Meets the Road by Ron Harnett”

  1. Janet Cromer says:

    Hi Ron,

    Thanks for an entertaining and illustrative story. You belong on Garrison Keiller’s Prairie Home Companion with these stories. There are so many ways to raise awareness of what life is like with a TBI.

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