The scary shoulder of the interstate

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

I really appreciate it when Debbie does something to save my life.

Last week we were heading toward Kansas City. As we sped westward along I-70 in southern Illinois, I hit the mother of all potholes. The gaping maw of this hungry, tire-eating pothole was hidden along the seam of a small bridge crossing the East Fork Shoal Creek.

As soon as we hit it, I knew we were in trouble. The humming of our tires on the asphalt changed pitch and tone. The sound told me we were in trouble. I pulled off the right side of the highway and turned on my flashers.

I checked the front tire on the driver’s side. No problem. Then, as I walked along the left side of the car and looked at the rear drivers-side tire, I saw where a huge bite had been taken out of the tire. It really did look like a bite. That pothole must have been hungry.

Despite the flashing lights on the Buick, interstate traffic kept flying by at 75 to 80 mph. I had a flashback to the years I volunteered as an EMT with Port William Fire and EMS. We had many close calls on the interstate when traffic would ignore our flashing lights.

Debbie and Beth helped as I pulled the suitcases out of the trunk. It’s never easy to get to the spare tire, but as we dug through jackets and hats, I could feel the cold wind from the passing vehicles pulling at my jacket and pants legs.

It had been raining. Everything was damp, including where I had to sit on the asphalt.

Despite the NASCAR pitstop speeds we see on TV, changing a tire on the family car while parked beside the interstate just takes time. After clearing the truck and unleashing the spare (a tiny little doughnut, mini-wheel), I have to find the exact jack-spot under the car frame.

Good luck finding this information in the owner’s manual. Where did I find the jacking instructions? Where else? It was printed on the side of the jack. Like most average Americans, I’ve only had to change a flat tire a few times. This was my first time on the interstate.

I had Debbie and her sister stand in the grass away from traffic. I jacked up the car a little to get the pressure off the flat tire. Then I loosened the lug nuts. The car jacked up fairly easily. I pulled off the flat. Debbie rolled the spare toward me. Everything was working well.

Then, despite the flashers and an obvious roadside emergency, a couple of cars got my attention by driving far, far too close to the edge of the road and far too close to my backside sitting on the asphalt. The wind from the second passing car was so strong I practically scooted an inch or two.

I automatically looked up the road to see what was coming next. It was a semi hauling half of a double-wide house. On the front of the truck it said, “Wide Load.” It sure was, but he was staying near the middle of the road, straddling the middle line.

Right behind that big boy was the second half of the double-wide convoy. Only this guy had a vehicle to his left so he was hugging the inside lane, very close to where I was sitting.

It was too late to get up and move. Debbie yelled, “Lean forward.” I did. The semi driver gave me as much space as he possibly could. I waved at him as he approached.

He smiled and waved back. We both knew it he was going to be close, but he would miss me. His draft rattled the Buick on the jack, but we made it.

Many states now have a law that requires drivers to move into the left lane whenever there is an emergency vehicle on the right side of the road or if any vehicle has their emergency lights flashing. It’s a good, common-sense rule. One that should always be obeyed.

The moral of this story is that everyone needs to know how to change their tire and when your wife tells you to lean forward – do it. It could be life-saving advice.

Just ask Debbie.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and a local resident of more than 40 years.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist