My, how times have changed since the early 1970s. A recent problem with my car reminded me of a trip from those days, when my mother and I went to bring my older sister home from college for the summer. On the way home, we picked up a hitchhiker.
By "how times have changed," I don't mean the risks of picking up hitchhikers. I mean the fact that a car could be loaded with all a college student's stuff, plus three people, and still have room for a hitchhiker.
Anyway, he was someone we knew, a guy from my sister's high school class who was also on his way home for the summer. He had one arm in a cast after breaking it in what I vaguely recall as a bicycle accident, but which may have been a fall down the stairs or a barroom brawl for all I know.
Close to the end of the trip, a tire went flat. We hauled stuff out of the trunk until we uncovered the spare, the jack, and the tire iron. With three perfectly able-bodied and competent women and one one-armed male hitchhiker, who do you suppose changed the tire?
None of us were exactly helpless females. I'm sure my mother could have easily changed the tire. After all, she hauled grain to town during harvest season (and, as the elevator manager once told my father, "Lots of women bring grain in, but she's the only one who backs up her own truck.")
But our guest insisted. We let him, with as much help for his one-handed state as he would allow. All three of understood that this wasn't simply a matter of getting the tire changed as easily as possible. It was about letting him be chivalrous, even with one hand tied behind his back, as it were. It was about allowing him pay us back for the ride. It was, to some degree, a matter of his self-respect.
Maybe it was foolish. Maybe we were being overly-sensitive to someone's fragile male ego. Maybe Gloria Steinem and other true-blue feminists would not have approved. Maybe, as times have changed, a young man today with his arm in a cast wouldn't feel as obligated to do the manly thing. Which is probably just as well.
Still, the tire got changed. We finished the trip and dropped the hitchhiker off at his house with thanks on both sides. Impractical? Maybe. Old-fashioned? Possibly. But I remember it as a mutual exchange of respect and courtesy.
Sometimes a flat tire is more than just a tire.