Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tire Repair in El Valle - "Se Reparan Llantas"


As just about everyone knows, our car has experienced problems in the past and for a long time was out of commission with two flat tires, a rear tire and the spare. It's working fine now, but I never shared the tale of how I got the tires fixed. So here is the story:

Twice I paid Cleo the crafts seller to buy me tires on his weekly trips to the city, and carry them back on the bus. The first one was too small, and the second too large. He had written down the tire size on a piece of paper, and I could not understand why he could not bring back the right sized tire.

Finally I asked him to simply return the tire and forget about it. For weeks the car had been sitting there in the carport! I was disgusted with the whole situation and I blamed myself for relying on other people to solve my problem. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

I remembered that we have a small tire repair shop - actually sort of a shack - here in town. It's in a wooded, lightly populated area. You find it by following a series of signs. The first sign is a truck tire standing on its side next to the Hong Kong market, with the words "We Repair Tires" painted on the side in white, and an arrow indicating the direction. It's shown in the photo at the top.

Then you go down a potholed road for a ways, until you see a dirt road marked by a car tire, again with the words "We Repair Tires" and another arrow.

You follow this road a ways - there is nothing around at this point but trees and shrub, and a few small houses under construction - to a hand painted sign pointing in a new direction. The shack itself is identified by another painted tire.

I put our tire in a wheelbarrow and walked it to the repair shack. Every now and then I paused to let my shoulders rest. As I walked, I listened to a book on tape on my cassette walkman. It's a fascinating story about an old ex-con trying to make it in L.A., trying to work his job and not lose his cool under the constant harassment from local cops who want to hold him responsible for every crime in the neighborhood.

When I'm listening, I become immersed in the world of the story, and I could walk miles without noticing the passage of time or distance.

I was pleased to see that the repair shack was manned today. The man, a tanned, muscular Panamanian named Sol, set about repairing the tire while I looked around. On the wall were two pieces of rebar welded into the shape of a cross, along with an actual painted wooden cross, a plaque of the Virgin Mary, and a framed page of printed material with a photo of a priest.

A sign advertised sodas for sale for 30 cents, eggs for 10 cents, and another sign said, "We Repair Bicycles."

Two coconut trees next to the shack were bursting with dozens of immature coconuts.

The tire rim was bent, allowing a trickle of air to escape. Sol hammered it into shape with a ball peen hammer, the sound ringing out loudly while I covered my ears. He patched two holes with putty and put the tire together. It seems to be in working order now. I'll put it on the car this afternoon and test it. Repair cost: $3.

Salma has an appointment for her four month vaccinations tomorrow. It would be really nice to be able to drive rather than take the bus. My cold is just beginning to dissipate. I have been sick now with one thing or another for over two weeks - very unusual for me - and I am not willing to risk another bus ride.

Postscript: So the car was repaired, and we drove to Salma's doctors appointment in comfort. Ah, the little luxuries we take for granted.

1 comment:

Laura in Panama said...

Finding this particular repair shop reminds me of a scene from a fairly recent American comedy by the name of Rat Race. In the film two women who are racing other competetors to win money stop to ask driving directions from a "squirrely" looking woman beside the highway.

The squirrel woman is put off that the two women asking for directions will not buy one of the many actual squirrels she has in cages (no squirrels were harmed in the making of the movie). Nonetheless she gives driving directions to the two women--a shortcut!

The so called shortcut leads the two women off of the main road, through some bushes and eventually off a cliff all the while passing small hand-made signs declaring "You should have bought a squirrel!"

Finding your way to the tire repair shack, following the hand-painted signs through the brush and over the potholed roads (I have said more than once that one will inevitable require a tire repair by the time they arrive at the repair shop due to the condition of the roads)takes me back to movie every time--smiling.