It’s mid summer, but Mike has flipped off the AC for more power. We have the windows down for the drive up White Bird Hill.
“Yup, hang on,” he says. We pull over.
I’ve never changed a tire, but could write a manual; I’ve seen Mike change so many on our own, worn vehicles.
Not on this car, though. This isn’t our ‘74 Suburban, with the odometer stuck at 190,000 miles and a hole rusted in the floorboards, nor is it the faded pickup we’d driven home from college the year we started dating. This is a red, sporty thing. We are cruising stylishly to my high school reunion.
“That’s not right,” I hear Mike say from rear of the car. “Huh.”
We’d had snow tires switched out last spring, apparently with jumbo-sized lug nuts that didn’t match our standard wrench. Bad news for travelers stranded in blazing sunlight without cell coverage. We’d passed a town some time earlier.
We look back that way, now, dreading the walk.
The highway had bypassed the town of White Bird, Idaho, population 91, twenty years earlier. We’d never had reason to stop. A kind stranger does so now, offering a ride.
In town, empty storefronts and a worn post office precede the bar – a cinderblock building with neon signs and high windows. Inside, six guys and a woman in leather biker chaps stop talking and stare when we borrow the phone. The mechanic will be an hour. We sit and order beers.
The countertop is worn formica, with a pickled egg jar near the register.
A fan rotates near the door keeping cigarette smoke from filling the room. We’re wearing Birkenstocks and shorts. A Depeche Mode t-shirt. I wonder about the biker clothing. I hadn’t seen motorcycles outside.
Conversation resumes. Sunlight streaming through the high windows travels up the wall. I try to ignore sidelong glances. Would a quick escape be possible?
“Hey Sam,” someone yells. “What the hell?”
Sam enters and sits at the counter. He examines the back of his bloody hand.
“Hell of a fight, you guys.”
“Need something for that?” The guy behind the counter nods at Sam’s hand.
“Yeah… A beer.”
I glance at Mike and pull my sandaled feet under my chair.
The light from the door dims again. Our savior from Grangeville.
He is big and amiable. We chat on the drive up the hill.
“Where you headed?” he says. “Sorry for the wait.”
His hands have dark grease in the cuticles. He is missing two front teeth.
“Good thing I got you,” he says. “Gets scary here after dark.”
Don’t wait for a tow from Grangeville. Vote now. Thanks.