It’s fascinating how we can go through weeks, months and years of our lives remembering nothing in particular about any of them. We can go through our entire adult life repeating the same routine day in and day out, wearing the same out-of-date fashions and sporting the same unfashionable haircut until we arrive at our finish line with only a small pea pod’s worth of memories that haven’t faded with the passage of time.
And many of those events lasted for mere seconds!
What’s up with that? A confluence of the sun and the moon? Did the ying and the yang suddenly get together? Was it a rare glance out of shadows into bright sunlight? Or perhaps an epiphany we bumped into along the way?
It’s hard to tell. Often it’s so ephemeral that we don’t even know it happened until after it happened! We remember seemingly trivial events vividly for our entire lives, mundane happenings like running down a street or waiting in a line or … well, you name it, we’ve all had them.
Many of them seem ordinary in retrospect. Simple everyday occurrences that somehow got mixed-in with a mystical elixir of an unknown sort. But of course they’re not all what you’d call ordinary.
Take, for example, the look on Doug’s face when the front-right tire of my VW exploded into a hundred tiny sheds. He looked a lot like Edvard Munch’s painting called the Scream … a guy cupping his hands over his ears with a distorted face displaying fear, terror, horror, fright, panic and a realization that in a split-second his life will never be the same again … ever!
We’d been making good time up to that point, ripping down a blistering hot autostrada not far south of Modena cruising at about eighty miles per hour when the tire blew … well, more accurately, disintegrated.
The heat of the street inflated the bald tires to their bursting point, which proved that the cop in Vienna had been correct … those tires were not safe to drive on!
Up to that point I’d been enjoying the drive, one of those with an elbow out of an open window and an arm hanging from the steering wheel. I’d been chatting with Doug, an altogether pleasant and literate fellow whom I’d met in Switzerland, when the unexpected, violent shredding of the tire almost flipped us over … it was just like someone had kicked a leg out from under a table.
We instantly started to hurdle diagonally across multiple lanes of autostrada swerving right, dodging left and somehow narrowly missing all those irate Italian drivers waving their hands and shouting at us from their cars and trucks.
That’s when Doug, who’d been hitching his way around the world, had second thoughts about the deal we’d made back at the hostel on the Isle of Capri off Naples where we’d met. He’d offered to pay for gas if he could ride south with me. As I had no destination in mind other than south, it sounded like a great idea. So we hopped into my VW and hit the road.
Doug proved to be a great companion. He was smart, witty and helpful … and never more so than when, after we collected our composure on the side of the autostrada, we realized all four of the car’s remaining tires were as bad, or worse, than their shredded mate.
We mounted the spare and limped into Bologna, a major Italian city not far from Modena, driving past its many architectural wonders hardly noticing any of them at all. We were looking for the grubby part of town, the part littered with wrecking yards that we might yield cheap, used tires … and we finally found one!
Unfortunately it had just closed for lunch and the owner’s mid-day nap. That meant a about a three hour delay for us … so, as two reasonable wanderers, we decided to reconnoiter the place to make sure the wait would be worth it.
From the alley behind the place we could see a huge mound of what looked like used VW tires! They lay just on the other side of a tall fence crowned with barbed wire. Inspired by impatience and fueled by the impetuosity of youth, not to mention situational morals, Doug said, “Hey, cup your hands.”
“Like this,” he said, bending over and making a kind of stirrup. “I think I can reach ’em!” and with that Doug stepped in the stirrup I formed, hopped up on my shoulders, leaned over the barbed wire and started grabbing tires.
“How’s this one?” he asked in a strong stage whisper.
“Looks pretty good to me!” I replied whispering back. He threw it into the alley.
He did it again and again until, by the time he got to the fourth tire the shutters covering one of the windows in the residence above the store flew open with a such a clattering bang you could hear it echo up and down the alley. Out of it popped an incredibly angry bald, red-faced man who started shouting expletives, warnings and slurs regarding our mothers and our heritage, shouting so loud and fast that he sounded like a machine gun shooting vowels!
Doug jumped and threw one tire each on my extended arms. He did likewise, and we started running like mad down the alley looking like some kind of cubist Picasso scarecrows with tires on their arms.
Other residents lining that alley threw open their shuttered second-story windows and joined in, yelling so loudly that it started to sound like the chorus from a Puccini grand opera! And all I could think of was, “Oh my God! I’m going to go to jail! I’m going to rot in an Italian jail! Damn! Damn! Damnnnnnn! I’m going to jail!”
But I didn’t go to the slammer! We made it back to the car before anyone could catch us, tossed the tires in the back seat and got the hell out of Bologna as fast as my poor little bug could go. After clearing the city I stopped at a service station on the autostrada and pointed to the tires in the back seat.
“Put those on please,” I requested.
Following a quick inspection, the attendant turned to me, “Oh no signor! No, no, no! She’s no possible. That I think I no cannot do. Those tires, she’s all different!”
“Well do they fit the rim?” I inquired.
“Oh si, si, signor but she’s not same. She’s different. All different. The sizes she different!”
But he couldn’t argue that they beat the hell out of the tires on the car, and so the guy hunched his shoulders and gave me the kind of look only an Italian who thinks you’re completely loopy can give you, and mounted the tires.
They worked fine. In fact they performed perfectly for thousands of miles over exceedingly rough terrain! However, Doug never quite seemed the same … not as relaxed as he had been before that explosive moment on the autostrada just outside Modena, Italy when he told me he saw his life flash before his eyes!
Coming next! Driving Around Europe Without A Map, Part 13 … A MOST UNUSUAL WAY TO DIE
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