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It sometimes seems as though all your plans goes off the track at once. First one thing goes wrong, than another, and before you know it you’re standing on the rocky shoulder of an offramp, just east of Tucson, sick as a dog and wondering if you somehow pissed off the Gods.

We had been on our way to Florida, pulling out of the driveway shortly after sunrise, ready for a quick 700-mile dash to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico – Carmela with Henry the Wonder Dog on her lap and me at the wheel.

We were on our way to Florida to visit family. We had planned a quick two-night stop in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to see my pal Jonathan Beaty and his wife Linda. Seven hundred one miles, but that was OK because I was feeling strong as I pulled out of the driveway and headed east.

Except, of course, for that slight, early-morning sore throat, that I was hoping would get better as we cleared California and pushed east across Arizona. But it didn’t get better. In face, it got worse as we drove.

So I did what all manly men do. I ignored it and pushed on. I’m not a sissy. A little sore throat was not going to slow me down. Mind over matter. Blah Blah Blah.

So we got to Truth or Consequences shortly before sunset, checked in, ate and fell exhausted into bed. I planned to meet with my pal – no women, just us – for breakfast early the next morning. Then we’d all get together later – ladies too – for an early dinner.

Jonathan and I disagree about many things, but he is an extremely intelligent man and his opinions are never cookie-cutter crap that was hand-fed to him by a teacher, a preacher, or society in general. I have never had an extended talk with Jonathan that I didn’t come away a better perspective on life and the nature of all of us sharing the same planet.

Our talk over breakfast extended until well past noon, sitting in his truck, looking out over Elephant Butte state park and lake and sharing stories and opinions. It was a good talk, both enlightening and enjoyable. But by the time it came to say good-bye, I was feeling so ill, so tired, and so drained that all I could think about was lying down in bed until I either felt better or died – whichever came first.

I begged off getting together that evening, and returned to the room, where Carmela and Henry were waiting. I was hoping to feel better the next morning, when we planned to make the long drive to Fort Stockton in Texas. But when the time came, I was feeling worse than I had the day before.

If you’ve never been to Fort Stockton, it’s a nice town, but not the place you want to get stuck, especially if you’re sick and trying to get better for the drive across country. Don’t get me wrong. I like Texans and I like West Texas, but it’s a long way from everywhere, not where you want to get stuck, especially if you’re feeling like chipped beef on toast (SOS to you former jarheads)

So we decide to head back home – seven hundred one miles back – although we didn’t think we’d be able to make the entire journey without overnighting somewhere along the way. But then the hours passed, and so did the miles, and we were really cranking westbound along Interstate 10, thinking if I could just hold out, maybe we could make it all the way home.

And then it  happened – in the fast lane, just east of Tucson at 80 mph plus – our left-rear tire gave up the ghost with an explosive poof and our mad rush became a wobbly disaster. We made it slowly across four lanes of heavy traffic and down a half-mile-long, off-ramp to no where.

And there I was. Sick, stranded, and wanting more than anything to just crawl off to the far shoulder into the litter and weeds piled against the chain link fence, and lay there until the Gods decided what to do with my stinking and rotting corpse.

But that wasn’t really an option since Carmela was there and she wasn’t feeling sick, and she would never allow her husband to feel so sorry for himself that he would even think such a thought, so I bucked up.

I had no choice.

We were parked on an rocky incline, I had never changed a tire on the truck, the spare was tucked and locked up under the bed of the truck, I had no idea of where the jack was stowed or the lug wrench, so as Carmela called the Auto Club, I went through the manual that came with the truck, and discovered the jack and lug wrench was stowed against the rear wall behind the seat inside the cab.

In the end, the Auto Club sent roadside assistance to us within just a little more than half-an-hour. The story didn’t end there. Getting the spare unlocked and lowered was a job in itself that required both the keys to the truck and a crank that fit through a special portal at the read of the vehicle.

Even with the lovely man from the auto club – a 59-year-old former resident of San Diego who sold his home, bought a similar brand new home in Tucson for a couple of thousand grand less – it was a tough job. The ground was all hard and jagged stones, the truck was parked on a steep slant, and the temperature was in the mid-90s – cool for Tucson, but a little warm for sissies like us.

But he got it done. Then there was a decision to make. Spend the night in Tucson and try to get the blown tire replaced the next morning or head for home. For Carmela and me the decision was clear. We would go for it. If the spare or some other tire failed on the way home, we would cross that bridge when we came to it.

So with sunset just an hour or so away and 424 miles still to go, we started driving. I drove first, then in Phoenix, Carmela took the wheel. The sun was down, but the western sky was aglow for a couple of hours afterwards as we sped east along the interstate.

I was still sick, but it was almost a magical time – Carmela and me racing across the desert, passing trucks and slow-pokes on our long dash home. We traded off again in Quartzsite, Arizona with a last minute fill-up of cheap Arizona gas, then headed west with me at the wheel.

We arrived home, exhausted, at one-minute before midnight. I immediately collapsed on the couch, Carmela unloaded some essentials from the car, then fell asleep as well.

As sick as I was, and as tired as I felt, it was a lovely and loving experience as well as an adventure.

We didn’t get a new tire until almost a week later, but it didn’t matter. We were home, we were safe, and I was once again feeling strong.

Carmela is my hero, and I hope that I will always be hers.

– George Lee Cunningham

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