I met a superhero over the weekend.
Not the kind in “The Avengers,” as enjoyable as that entertainment was (I actually saw it that first huge weekend, which is unusual for me). More like… did you see “Unbreakable,” about a very ordinary guy who gradually comes to realize he is invulnerable (except to water) and far stronger than a normal man?
More like that.
We had an eventful weekend. My little grandson had to go into the hospital on Friday night. He had a virus that his sister and cousins had been passing around, with fever, and because he was only three weeks old, they put him in Children’s Hospital and did a spinal tap on him. I would have thought that excessive, except his father, my elder son, actually had meningitis when he was only two weeks old, and it was caught just in time.
The good news, the wonderful news, is that he’s OK (except for a temp slightly over normal) and is home now.
Anyway, Saturday, we were visiting him, and when we got out to the car, it had a flat. I got out all the gear to change it, including one of those ridiculous little dogleg tire irons that never work. And true to form, this one did not. Oh, I got three of the lug nuts off, by standing on it to loosen them. But by then the too-soft metal at the fitting had bent, and it wouldn’t grip the remaining nuts.
So we called the roadside assist number on our insurance card, and waited.
After awhile a man parked next to us in a plain dark-blue pickup. No markings, and certainly not the wrecker we had expected. Very unassuming vehicle — a secret identity pickup truck, if you will.
Out of it got an ordinary, unassuming man in regular streetclothes. He looked sort of like Reginald VelJohnson, the actor known from “Family Matters” (the guy whose life Steve Urkel made miserable) and the first “Die Hard.” No uniform or coveralls or anything. It was when we saw him open his tailgate and start putting on kneepads — serious kneepads, like the ones that the Delta team wore in “Black Hack Down” — that we asked, “Are you here for us?”
Yes, as it happens, he was.
We showed him the tire. I showed him the useless, bent tire iron.
He reached into his unassuming pickup, and revealed his super power. It was … having exactly the right tool for the given situation!
He pulled out a heavy, 25-inch socket wrench with a 3/4-inch drive mounted on its rotating 1/2-inch drive. It gripped the nut tightly enough, and provided sufficient leverage, that it was easy to remove the nuts even one-handed. Like butter. Or like Superman, depending on your preferred metaphor. (I went out the next day and purchased one exactly like it. I works beautifully. Why, oh why, don’t cars come with these, instead of those useless little junior crowbars?)
Oh, but you say, any ordinary mortal could have the right tool once, in a given situation. But he went on to show that this was no fluke. We were wondering how we were going to get that tire repaired over the weekend, when the man said he could do it right there.
He opened his hood, and used jumper cables to power a small air compressor he had in the truck bed. He had the hole from a broken-off screw plugged in a couple of minutes, and slapped the tire back on. Then, he drove off into the streets of Columbia as quickly as he’d come.
The perfect wrench was one thing. The MacGyver-like rig to repair the tire was something else. I resolved that I wanted to be this guy when I grew up.
This is the kind of superhero the world needs, and I was glad to have met him.
Unfortunately, there is a postscript.
With the baby getting out of the hospital this morning, we headed to the beach. At a stop to walk the dog, my wife noticed a bubble popping out of the side of that same tire.
I checked it with a gauge, and it had 40 pounds of pressure in it, instead of the usual 30 or so. I let some air out, and we drove to a tire place (fortunately, in my iPhone I have a computer of comparable power to the one Superman had in the Fortress of Solitude, and found the biggest tire place in Aynor was 1.4 miles away). We had a new tire in about 40 minutes.
Superheroes aren’t perfect. Sometimes, in the midst of struggling against supervillains, or merely life’s pedestrian vicissitudes, they forget a key step. In this case, checking the pressure before putting the tire back on.
As Uncle Ben put it so well: With great power comes great responsibility.