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Flat tire victim: "I felt both scared and violated"

During my undergrad years at St. Lawrence University, I made the drive between Saranac Lake and Canton hundreds of thousands of times. Consequently, I came to know State Route 458 the most barren expanse of pavement in New York better than I care to admit. See, 458 isnt one of your scenic, populous State Routes, like 86, and it doesnt lead anywhere useful, in the way that State Route 3 leads to Plattsburgh. Instead, it leads to Hopkinton and while Im sure that Hopkinton is a nice place to come home to (as the sign welcoming travelers to the hamlet declares), it also smells distinctly of manure. In terms of mileage, Route 458 is relatively short. But what it lacks in length, it makes up for by feeling like a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Its the last place youd want to get a flat which is why, when I got a flat on 458 one gray, drizzly Friday afternoon during my senior year, I wasnt surprised in the least. I was somewhere in the wilds of Santa Clara, heading toward Saranac Lake, when I heard a pop, followed by a God-awful rattling and thudding. Id never been the victim of a flat tire before, and I felt both scared and violated. Nonetheless, I pulled onto the crumbling shoulder, stepped out into the light rain, and faced the fact that I had no clue how to proceed. The problem wasnt so much that I didnt know how to change a tire (though, humiliatingly, I didnt) the problem was that I didnt even know if I had a spare. I popped the trunk and found an array of useful items jumper cables, first-aid kit, ice scraper but no comically undersized tire. The concept of a spare-tire well was foreign to me, so I didnt think to check the spare-tire well. Had I done so, I would have found what I was looking for and saved myself a smidgen of humiliation when the tow-truck guy arrived a few hours later. I took out my cell phone, planning to call Triple-A, then remembered that 458 is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and thus completely void of cell-service. I overcame the urge to crawl under the car, curl up in a ball, and await hypothermias sweet embrace, and walked back the way Id come. After a mile or so, I spotted a one-story house set back from the road. I walked up the gravel drive and knocked on the door, and what sounded like a thousand outraged dogs began barking. One hurled itself against the window next to the door, lips peeled back in a demonic, slobbery snarl. Startled, I backed away, certain Id made a horrible mistake. Clearly, this place was home to a covey of deformed sociopaths, who would now unleash their dogs on me, hunt me through the woods until I collapsed from exhaustion, and have at me with rusty chainsaws and/or rusty axes. The door opened, revealing a skinny white-haired man holding a growling Doberman by the collar. What do you want? the man asked, squinting. I pointed over my shoulder with my thumb. Car trouble, I said. I was wondering you know, if its not a problem if I could maybe, possibly, use your phone. I willed him to refuse me, because I had no intention of entering this maniacs abattoir. Its not working, he said. Relieved, I thanked him anyway, hoping my good manners would discourage him from chopping me into bite-sized morsels and feeding me to his dogs. He closed the door firmly, and I made like a tree and left. When I told my mom the story later after Id found the only gas station between Potsdam and Gabriels, convinced Triple-A to send help, and returned to civilization she suggested that when Mr. Doberman said its not working, he was referring not to his phone, but to my story. I pooh-poohed my moms theory at the time, but in the years since, Ive decided she was probably right. I figure Mr. Doberman was as spooked by me as I was by him. I doubt he was used to unexpected visitors, and he probably regarded my car trouble story as the oldest trick in the scam artist/door-to-door serial killer book. And while I dont think I give off a scam artist/door-to-door serial killer vibe, Mr. Doberman probably doesnt think he gives off a deranged-woodsman vibe. But the obnoxious truth is that what we think rarely matches up with what actually is except, of course, when it comes to New York State Route 458. Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at dpleonidas@yahoo.com or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.

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