Man, oh man. How I wish President Trump had been riding with me last Friday … said no one ever. 

Until now. Because, without an ounce of facetiousness, I surely wish the president had been hanging with me when my truck broke down in Durham. I’ll explain why directly. 

As I was heading out to 15-501—must’ve been about 4:30 p.m. on a Friday—a huge tanker that had just dropped off gas at Costco pulled up to the intersection and blocked my path. 

Before I could start cussing and ask the driver what the [insert expletive here] he was doing, he leaped from the big rig, ran around the front of his truck, and came up to my driver’s side door. “Hey, man,” he informed me, “you’ve got a flat.” 

Sure enough, I’d been blissfully tooling along down the road, obliviously grooving to Otis Redding singing “These Arms of Mine,” with my left rear tire as flat as three-day-old beer. I mean, that sucker was on the rim, Jack. 

I thanked him, limped up to the gas station half a mile away, and asked the attendant for a bag of pork skins and change for the air pump. He gave it to me, but warned, “I don’t think it’s working.” People, he said, had been coming in to complain about it for the past week. “Here’s a number to call if it takes your money.” 

Forewarned and disgusted, my tire busted, I eschewed the air pump and spied—like the mirage of a water fountain in the middle of the Sahara desert—the full-service service station across the street. I dashed—if a truck on a flat can be said to dash—across Guess Road and pulled into the RDU Car Care center. 

The mechanic there was just sitting down to eat, so I apologized for interrupting and told him to finish his meal. He could finish his meal any time, he said. “What’s your problem?” 

When he inflated the tire, the air seeped out only slightly less quickly than he’d put it in. 

The tire was shot, he told me, noting a gash in the sidewall. “Wait a minute,” he added. “I think we’ve got one of those in the back.” 

He then went into the back, climbed a ladder, and proceeded to toss down or push aside twenty or so tires before finding one that fit Otis (that’s my truck). The used tire was in terrific shape, so he went in and talked with the shop’s owner. He emerged a minute later and offered to put it on for less than half of what the tire and job were worth. 

Right on, I said.

I was, like Willie Nelson, on the road again within minutes. Happens every day, right, people getting flats and Good Sams rushing to help?

Sure it does, but this is why I wish the president had been riding with me. 

You know how President Trump seems to prefer a monochromatic vision of America? Well, the people who helped me get back on the road represented a rainbow coalition of auto angels: The tanker driver who leaped out of his truck to tell me I had a flat was a black guy. The cashier who saved me the trouble of filling up the tire temporarily was Latino. (Had I pumped in two minutes’ worth of air, I’d have gotten onto the highway and possibly had a blowout at 55 mph, endangering many other motorists. I also would have had just enough air to drive past RDU Car Care.) The mechanic who went hunting for a tire was a white dude. And the owner of the service station who sold me the tire at such a bargain was a Hindu from India.

None of this occurred to me until later. 

Oh, it immediately struck me that each of these men had gone beyond what was required, but the fact that they represented four distinct parts of America didn’t hit me until later.

Remember how, in Easy Rider, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper went riding cross-country to find “the real America”? I found it, and I only had to drive eight miles from my house. 

That’s the America I want the president to see.

Barry Saunders is a former News & Observer columnist who, over his two decades at the paper, wrote extensively about Durham. He now publishes

Next Week: T. Greg Douchette, a local criminal defense attorney, justice reform advocate, and host of the podcast #Fsck ’Em All.

INDY Voices—a rotating weekly column featuring some of the Triangle’s most compelling writers and thinkers—is made possible by contributions to the INDYPress Club. Visit for more information. Comment on this story at

2 replies on “What the Bull City Could Teach the President About the Real America”

  1. Great story. Thanks for sharing! So much good in Durham. Might add … and we have a Jewish mayor. Who, too, celebrates diversity.

  2. I’m sure if you had called the number gas station attendant gave you, the person on the other end would have been trans. And somewhere along the way you passed a child with a disability.

    There should be another tag at the bottom of this article that says “Fiction”.

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