Flats Fixed

By coincidence, I get two flat tires on the same day. I discover the first one about fifty yards from where I live. Just after I unlock my bike and start to pedal, I feel the rumble of a wheel rim hitting the pavement. The back tire has no air—it is dead flat.

I believe my neighbor punctured my tire because I was joking with him. He’d shown me a photo of a high-tech bike rack that could be installed in our basement. Each bike would have a halter, like a cow in a milking pen. “Look,” he’d said, “the front wheels sit right next to the wall.”

“It’ll happen,” I’d said, “when we get a laundry room and a roof garden.”

 He found that funny, but he might have been angry because I wasn’t taking him seriously. I was calling his proposal a pipe dream. He might have punctured my tire with a sharp tool then.


A young man at a repair shop removes a sliver of glass from the dead tire, and I realize my neighbor didn’t damage my tube—I ran over something. After the repair guy replaces the tube, he says the fix will last a long time.

I get my second flat about twenty blocks from the shop. I’m about halfway to where I need to go, and I see I’ll have to walk my bike the rest of the way. Walking isn’t easy, because I have a sore foot. I feel pain with each step. The faster I walk, the more it hurts. I walk more slowly than almost everyone around me. However, I catch up to an elderly woman who is using a cane. When I cut in front of her, she says, “Nice!”

I make it to my destination barely on time, drop off my work, and leave the office to take care of my ailing bike. I carry it down a set of stairs from the street and over a turnstile, then roll it into a subway car and prop it on its kickstand.

 The woman sitting next to me says, “Your back tire needs air.”

“It’s flat,” I say. “I just got it fixed today.”

“Just today!”

“I’m taking it back to the shop now.”


I’m convinced that the first repair job was faulty, but I was given no guarantee. When I think about it, I don’t see how bike-tire work could be guaranteed. Still, I’m annoyed.

 “I left here and got this flat,” I tell the repair guy. “I didn’t run over anything; it just blew.”

He shows me a tiny hole in the rubber. “You hit something,” he says. “A splinter or a sliver.”

“Amazing!” I say. “It’s like getting struck by lightning!”

“Or winning the lottery.”


A couple of weeks later, I unlock my bike from its rack. The rack hasn’t been replaced with neat stalls, as my neighbor had suggested. The bikes are mashed together. I pry mine free, lift it, and carry it up the metal stairs.

I ride about fifty yards when I feel the telltale vibration of a flat tire. It’s the same tire that went flat twice already. I’m convinced there is some serious reason. Maybe the rim is defective—bent or flattened from misuse. I can’t have it fixed immediately because I’m going out of town for a couple of days.

I put the injured bike back in its rack and think about the tire all the time I’m out of town.


Back at the bike shop, I tell the repair guy, “The tire was fine when I parked the bike, but when I unlocked it and rode on it, I had a flat.

He removes the tube and pumps air into it. He drops the tube over his head and wears it like a necklace. He swivels it around like a Hula-Hoop.

“I don’t hear anything,” he says.

He sets the tube aside and feels the tire with his fingers. “Here’s something,” he says as he pulls out a short piece of wire.

“The wire tip is the length of the rubber,” he adds. “It lets air out only while you ride.”

“A wire?” I ask.

“A short wire, stuck in the rubber.”


A couple of days later, I experience my fourth flat tire. It comes when I’m a couple of blocks from a train station. I walk a short distance with the bike at my side. My bad foot slows me down, but I don’t miss my train.

The entire time I’m away, I’m planning my return to the repair shop.


I find that my regular repair shop is closed. I don’t know if the attendant has stepped away or if the shop has gone out of business. There is no note of explanation. There is, however, a handwritten message from another customer, complaining about the work on his bike.

I walk to another repair shop. I have plenty of time, so I don’t mind that my bad foot slows me down.

When I arrive at the new shop and point to the tire, another young repairman asks, “How long have you had this bicycle?”

“About two years,” I say. “I don’t know how long it was used before I got it.”

“You need a new tube,” he says, showing me a fragment of glass on his fingertip, “and a new tire.”

I get the new tube and tire with all of the money in my pocket.

On my way out, I say, “See you later.”

“See you,” he says, “ but hopefully not for a flat tire.”


On my ride home, I try to avoid running over fragments of glass. However, when I look closely, I see that the street is littered with glass. Remnants of mirrors, pieces of windshields, and shards of bottles are strewn across the pavement. I swerve recklessly to find a clear path. I hear the crunch of tires rolling over tiny projectiles.

I stop at an intersection and see a man walking toward me. He is staring at me—he wants to say something.

“That’s a badass bike,” he says.

I don’t see my bicycle as “badass.” It’s designed for slow riding, with only one gear.

I think the man didn’t really see the bike. He saw a guy on a bike waiting at an intersection. I might have been blocking his path. He meant that I am a badass. Or maybe he meant that he is a badass, and he recognizes all fellow badasses.

“It’s bad enough for me,” I say.


Photo at the top of the page was taken by Thaddeus Rutkowski

Thaddeus Rutkowski
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of six books, most recently Border Crossings, a poetry collection. His novel Haywire won the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s members’ choice award, and his memoir Guess and Check won the Electronic Literature bronze award for multicultural fiction. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Author's photo was taken by the Asian American Writers' Workshop.