My Dark and Stormy Night Story

It was a dark and stormy night. Whoops! Correction. Last night was a dark and stormy night. The meeting I was attending broke up around nine pm. Downstairs, the rain stopped long enough for me to reach my car parked a few minutes away. I hadn’t wanted to take the train. I wouldn’t get home until well after eleven pm and I didn’t feel safe on the public transport at that time of night.

I punched ‘home’ into the satnav, which proceeded to wind me around suburban streets in a zig-zag pattern, right, left, right, left – when all the time my innate sense of direction told me the main road was straight ahead. The rain was falling heavily again, and cars were parked on both sides of the darkened back streets. It was difficult to pick out exactly where my side of the road actually was. Finally, the satnav merged me onto the main highway, much further south than where I would have joined left to myself, and just beyond a wide curve which hid the traffic I was joining.

On familiar territory at last, I relaxed and turned on the radio. It was a political panel discussion. Last week our (Liberal) Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, fought off an internal leadership spill. The word on the street is that he ordered his front bench to vote for him, meaning that when the votes were counted, something like 60% of his back bench voted against him. He prevailed. Partly because no one actually stood against him. In a television interview that night, he told the reporter “I know how to beat Labor Party leaders. I beat Kevin Rudd, I beat Julia Gillard, I can beat Bill Shorten as well. What I’m not good at is fighting the Liberal Party and that’s why I say to all of my colleagues: we will now go on together to build a better Australia and to point out that Bill Shorten has no answers; he just has a complaint.” (Translation for non-Australian readers: Bill Shorten etc are the opposition Labor Party)

I sighed. When will we ever have a government that stops focusing on beating their opponents into power, and concentrates instead on governing the country? Visionary Australian Prime Ministers who can actually lead seem a distant memory. Maybe they were always a myth.

The rain was pelting on the roof and I had the radio volume up loud. I passed a railway station lit brightly enough to be seen from space. Whenever I pass this station I wonder why it is so well fitted out in comparison to others on that line. Although it is close to the end of the Sydney suburban rail network, it is not a connection hub. I found myself wondering about who was their local parliamentary member and how much clout he or she had.

Five minutes later I slowed to go through Heathcote, the gateway to the Royal National Park and a landmark on the freeway drive south to Wollongong. Moments later, we all accelerated again, striving for the 100klm (60mph) limit, except the rain was so heavy and visibility so poor that most of the scant traffic was doing less than that. No one could put their high beam on though, as we would dazzle oncoming traffic and the light only bounce back at us in the rain. Every so often a flash of lightning lit the way ahead.

I became aware of an unusual sound from the tyres. For a minute or so, I told myself it must be the sound of the wet tarmac. I strained to see if the road surface was different on this stretch. Then I turned the radio off and listened harder as I drove. The cabin was filling with a howling noise. Not normal. Not good.

Last year, I had a flat tyre on exactly this stretch of highway, going in the opposite direction. Could I really have a flat again? In the old days, you knew immediately, the car would wobble, almost out of control, and the steering wheel would drag heavily. In my more recent experience, with tubeless tyres, the only signal is the weird noise.

There is bushland either side of the freeway at this point, and no lights. In the darkness, with the rain still lashing down, I tossed the alternatives in my mind. Trash the tyre by driving on – or stop the car here and risk getting hit by a following car when I got out to see what was the problem? I chose to drive on, slower, but still covering about a kilometre a minute. A couple of minutes later, I pulled over onto an unlit, deserted side road that leads up to a pet hotel. No traffic going there at this time of night. Out of the car in a break in the rain – sure enough. Driver’s rear tyre, flat as the proverbial tack.

When the road assist arrived about thirty minutes later, he didn’t bother to greet me. He looked at a cement dividing strip at the entrance to the side road. “S’pose you managed to hit that?”

“Well, no, actually,” I replied. “This happened a couple of k’s back.” I didn’t know whether to be more mortified at the suggestion that I had driven straight off the road into a cement bollard, or to be admitting that I had knowingly driven the tyre into the ground.

When I was much younger, I used to change my own flat tyres, although in reality it was a two woman job. One to hold the crowbar and another to jump on the handle to loosen or tighten the nuts. These days, there is no point trying it yourself. Another break in the rain gave him the ten minutes he needed. All I did was stand by with umbrella at the ready as he placed his jack – which looked more like a breathing machine – under the car, attached it to a compressor, sent the car shooting in the air and then got out his racing car style zzt-zzt machine to unscrew the nuts.

I’d run the hazard lights while waiting for him to show up, so I asked him to wait while I checked that hadn’t flattened the battery as well. Then he decided to stand on the cement bollard with his torch while I reversed up to get in position to drive back on to the highway. It was a kind gesture. Can you imagine if I had hit it and caused a second flat? Then I really would be in trouble.

I still had thirty minutes of high speed freeway driving to reach home. I left the radio off and imagined every odd motor sound as more signals of trouble on the horizon. The rain came again so heavily that all the southbound traffic bunched into a congo line, snaking along below the speed limit, all with our hazard lights on. We left braking distance between each other, but none of us dropped so far back as to lose sight of the lights in front. “Visibility was poor” is an understatement, and there was still the steep descent of Mount Ousley to negotiate.

Eventually I walked in the door sometime after eleven pm – around the same time as if I had taken the train. Bill commented that he’d heard “a bit of rain” and seen the occasional flash of lightning.

“Bill,” I said, “Out there, it is a dark and stormy night . . . ”

 

 

 

 

 

33 thoughts on “My Dark and Stormy Night Story

  1. Pingback: Day 12 of our Victorian Road Trip: Melbourne to Bright | The Reluctant Retiree

  2. Very intriguing story that turned out to be a true one. Never had a flat tyre myself, fingers crossed, I’m sure it’ll be a wet and dark and lousy night or a stinking hot, humid, 45 degree day where I won’t have any water and will wait for an hour for the NRMA guy. Well, it’s on that list of things that just happen in life: loose your keys, sit on your glasses, lock yourself out, have your heart broken, get a flat tyre ….

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  3. I haven’t driven down to the “Gong in quite a while now, the next time I go it’ll be a one way trip, and I doubt the weather conditions will worry me,my cadaver is donated to your alma mater the Wollongong Uni. 🙄 O_o o_O

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    • Hah, that’s a career path two of my forebears (pun – get it?) also chose. Not heard of so much these days. By the way, I was listening to something on Richard Fidler’s Conversation Hour this morning and the interviewee commented that so far in recorded history, mortality has a 100% event rate. That’s profound logic. So I guess none of us have any excuse not planning for it! GG

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    • I was certainly very glad that my phone was working immediately. I did get to talking the other day with someone about what we would have done in the “old” days. I probably would have had to walk up to the pet hotel, hoping someone was on duty, and beg them to use their phone. Either that, or trudge through the rain along the highway until I came to a breakdown emergency phone. Thank goodness I didn’t need to do either. Having AA membership is worth every cent.

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      • I’ve just gone through my own dark-and-stormy-day and night with Cyclone Marcia and what an experience it was! Not keen to repeat that in a hurry. I didn’t prep beforehand, thinking the media loves to beat up a good story.
        Post Marcia and with no power, food and limited water, we evacuated south to Boyne Island. I went shopping in Gladstone on Saturday for all the necessary items (one-burner gas stove; decent torches and lanterns; and a phone that will work when power cuts out). Bit like closing the gate after the horse has bolted, but at least I’ll be ready for the next apocalypse!
        I must say, though, some good writing has come out of it all! There’s always a positive to come out of every negative situation.

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  4. More than just a dark and stormy night – breakdowns in the pouring rain in the dark typically a mini cluster of bad luck – upside was it happened on the way back from your meeting and it makes a good post. I used to change my tyres, but if you’ve got breakdown why get wet and dirty? Last time I called them out for a tyre they were a bit sniffy, but it’s quick and easy for them to fix. Don’t see why they should comment on how you got the flat – guess it’s a man thing similar to how they think women can’t park!!!

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    • I agree his attitude seemed at bit odd on arrival. Perhaps he is a proponent of “mainsplain” (https://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/resources/view/word/of/the/year/). In fairness, it was a horrible night for him to be on breakdown service, and at least he did acknowledge the wisdom of me getting completely off the road. Given he would have been exposed to the traffic while changing the tyre, you would hope so too! And he did redeem himself at the end when he waited to see me safely back on to the highway.

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      • Yes, I guess there’s always a real human behind the breakdown service. I think perhaps we suffer from seeing the job instead of the man which is compounded if the person is wrapped in a uniform. Like the new word – haven’t heard it over here yet, but we certainly have plenty of remarks to which it’s applicable!!

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  5. Oh dear Gwen I can soooo relate to that story. I had a flat on Heathcote Rd pitch black. Dec 2013. I drove for 4 km (praying out v loudly) no way was I stopping – by time I got to Engadine Motel the tyre was shredded and metal was slapping across the paint work of the car. Got NRMA – home midnight. Had to drive 80 km (no faster) on some sort of pretend tyre. I have actually been turned off driving that road by myself at night. That night I had been coming home from book club and only just this week I have pulled out of that book club because of the drive. Not many people I know would do a drive like that by themselves.
    I was thinking your story was going to b a thriller in the beginning – it turned out to b a real life thriller. No one seems to understand just how scary an experience it is you’ve had!!!

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    • Oh Fran. Getting right down to the rim must have been horrible. I wonder how much further before I did the same thing? I am also thinking of giving up this particular meeting. Happens about six times a year, and I like knowing the group – but THAT drive . . .

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  6. Hi Gwen, I enjoyed reading this as usual….hope all is well. Often think fondly of our days in Paris…fully involved back in Tas and dismayed as the year seems to lurch forward so quickly. Email from Marion asking if anyone is interested in Patties book launch. She had seen it scheduled on Glebe Books website….are you and Chris planning to go…in April I think, or perhaps May… Fond regards Do keep in touch

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    • Great to have your feedback and glad you liked the story. Well, is it still a “story” when it is all true? Anyway, I couldn’t remember the right word for that machine they use on the tyres, so I just came up with the sound instead 🙂

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