Flat Tire in Panama

Flat Tire

A Very Flat, Flat Tire

I had my first scooter flat tire last Sunday.  What an experience!

Friends in Playa Uverito had asked me to help them make a screen to keep flies out of the house.  (How-to’s in a later post, OK?)  They’re the ones with the dog rescue center out there and, as you might imagine, with seventeen doggies currently in residence, the fly factor is commensurate with the poop factor, even though they play poopie-pick-up a couple times a day and dispose of it carefully.  So anyway, I drove out there on the scooter to measure the doors, pet the dogs and chew the fat.

A pleasant visit later, I bounced off down the dirt road along the beach, back through a Playa Uverito teeming with Carnaval visitors and onto the two lane highway to Las Tablas.  About seven kilometers into the fifteen kilometer trip, in the official middle of Nowhere, Panama, the back tire felt a bit squashy.  So I pulled over.  And no sooner did I think of that devil than there he was.  Pancakes-ville.

And did I – who (in spite of being qualified only as a Girl Scout) pride myself on adopting the famous Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared”- did I have a can of Fix-a-Flat or its equivalent with me?  Did I, who laid in supplies for the proposed Armageddon of New Year’s 2000, have any tools on hand for dealing with a simple flat?  Did I, who regularly preach to the choir about covering contingencies, even have more than five minutes left on my cell phone?  Not to mention more than a sliver of charge on my battery?

Yes, you’re right.  Those were rhetorical questions.  No, I did not.  I blush with shame.

So, first, I used my last few minutes of phone time to call a friend who ALWAYS has lots of minutes as well as a car, and explained my problem.  She immediately wanted to try stuffing the scooter into the back of her SUV, but I already knew it wouldn’t fit.  Too long and too tall.  I asked her to call me a taxi camión (taxi truck).

It must have been 90 degrees Fahrenheit – sorry, I don’t do Celsius – so my next act was to seek shade.  So there I am, a gray-haired moto-mama in my little red helmet and yellow gloves, solemnly pushing my scooter down the highway under the burning sun as the regular taxis and other cars and trucks whiz past.  Ordinarily, which is to say, had it not been Carnaval, I would have been alone on the road.  But not today.

The next thing I know, some really good Samaritans in a couple of big silver trucks (don’t ask, I don’t speak truck) slowed to a stop ahead of me.  A woman got out and approached.  Did I need help?  Oh, yes.  I did indeed.

So a bit of discussion, the addition of her big, strong husband and her big, strong son who was driving the second truck, a bit of maneuvering of a giant cooler, and presto! My scooter was on the bed of Big Silver Truck A along with the big, strong husband to hold it in place since no one had any rope.

I called my friend again to call her off, and she said she had been unable to reach any taxis anyway.  It was, after all, Carnaval.

My lovely rescuers, who included two grown daughters and the cutest of cute grandchildren, and I struggled along in my meagre Spanish until we unloaded the scooter at my house.  At one point the Doña gave me a Panamanian dicho (saying):  Today for you; tomorrow for me.   A Spanish version of ‘Pay it Forward.’  Or ‘Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters, etc.’

So I and my flat tire were safely home on that Sunday night.  But we had to wait until the following Thursday when life and business resumed to effect repairs.  Thursday, a taxi camión belonging to a neighbor took me to Velazco’s Taller, a moto (motorcycle) garage for $3.  There, a sweet young mechanic with an angelic smile fixed the flat.  I drove the scooter home, pleased that all was well, and planned to head for the pool in Guarare that afternoon.

Alas.  I got as far as the corner of my street.  My best friend and neighbor Soraya was outraged, piled me into her car and sped to the garage in high Latino dudgeon, where she gave the owner an earful of extremely rapid syllables.

The result was that the young man with the angelic smile came to my house the next morning and removed the tire.  Soraya drove him back to the garage, where he put it on that really cool machine such places have and pried it off the wheel.  Inside my tire, he showed our gasping selves, was a three inch snarling fang.  Where could I have picked up such a nail?  Since I had driven straight home from the garage – did not even pass go – the only two options were that it had been there since Uverito or I picked it up in the garage parking lot.  Uh-oh, either way.

We drove Angelic Smile back to my house where he put the tire on, then back to the garage, then took ourselves back to the house where we congratulated each other on a good day’s work and six trips to the garage.  I then headed off to the pool, was pleased to arrive safely and with an apparently intact tire, counted off our exercise moves, chatted, re-dressed and went to mount the scooter where I found…

Yes.  It was flat and worse, it was also 6:30 pm.  The garage was closed.  Fellow swimmer Judie lives in the Mirador subdivision where the pool is located, so I parked the scooter at her house.  The next day Soraya once more came to the rescue, taking me down to the dealer in Los Santos where I bought a new tire.  Angelic Smile was not working, so nothing could be fixed until Monday. I called my neighbor with the taxi truck and we brought my injured baby home once more.

Now it is Monday.  I have thanked U-Kno-Who for the lessons in forethought, in patience, and in appreciation of the kindness of both strangers and friends.  I have kudo-ed my Guardian Angel for her excellent work, and suggested that three times is a charm, can we please be done with this.

I have great hopes.

Angelic Smile has just been here. He came on his moto, removed the offending wheel and carried it and my new tire off to deal with them, dealt with them, returned and reinstalled my tire.  I tipped him with great pleasure and now I am going to put my trust once more in the ordinary magic of people helping each other and stuff working as it is expected to do.  I know, I do, I know that tire is now FIXED.

Angelic Smile told me the original tire was apparently damaged by a sharp rock (as well as by picking up nails and whatever else).  He said it was a tire made in China and was very poor quality.  What a shame.  I actually have nothing against China taking over the world commercially, but my attitude is under serious revision.   Nearly everything for sale in Panama is made in China, and nearly everything I have bought here in Panama that was made in China has so far turned to dust, rust, or basura (garbage).  Headphones, kitchen utensils, tires.

Ash Wednesday was just last week.  A timely reminder.  Well, karma claims its own.  Cause and effect.  Quality and consequences.  Forethought and struggle.  Choice and results.  The interconnected web of life.  Always fascinating.