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How many lawyers does it take to change a tire?
by Joseph Patrick Meissner


I am late. I am always late. Usually I claim the lawyer's privilege to be late. But ordinary people do not want to hear that.

I have tried to deal with this and improve my punctuality. My wristwatch is set ten minutes ahead. My car clock is set thirty minutes ahead. But these tricks with time still do not heal my late illness.

I am driving to a law gathering of young lawyers who have Asian American backgrounds. It is in downtown Cleveland at the Mariott Hotel in the ball room. Margaret Wong is the scheduled "rock star" speaker and she will also receive another illustrious award. She must need a warehouse to store all of her well-deserved awards.

My car races along the Cleveland Shoreway coming east to downtown. I need to get there quickly on this bright but chilly March Saturday evening. The sun outside is glorious yellow and I revel in this unusual light despite the chill in the air.

I pass the East 28th street exit, and then round the blind bend onto the Shoreway Bridge across the Cuyahoga River. Suddenly there appears a blond haired woman standing almost in the middle lane of this busy road, with her arms waving the rushing cars to the far center lane.

What is the problem?

Then I spot a car parked close to the concrete wall, like some kind of wounded dying beast. Another woman is crouched by the right front tire, almost invisible except for her dark hair.

My brain is high gear. I must avoid this. I will pretend I do not really see them. Just keep driving. Other cars are whizzing past. I have a good excuse to maintain speed. God, please. I am late. I know you will forgive my passing these two people in distress. Somebody else will surely help them. Let them gain the indulgences from helping their fellowman, or fellow women.

My thoughts are too late. My right foot is on my car brake. I pull my car over to the right as far as I can and park ahead of their car. Then I walk back. This is just how a good friend of ours got killed. She stopped to help someone and another car came along and crushed her as she walked.

With these happy thoughts, I call out, "What is the problem? Can I help?"

"We just hit a huge pot hole," says the smaller brunette, "Our right front tire has gone completely flat."

I hobble to their car and see an absolutely flat tire with the car squashing it into the concrete pavement.

Thank Cleveland for its potholes. At least that is one category where our city shines.

"Have you called the police?" I ask.

Again my prudent thoughts. Get the police here. Let them handle it. I am late. I must get going.

"We did call," says the brunette. "Nobody has come yet."

"What are you going to do?" I warn them. "This is not a good place to stop."

"I want to fix it and change the tire," says the brunette. I can see she is holding the car jack handle in her right hand while her partner continues to wave cars over and slow them down.

I look down at the car jack. It is underneath the car frame in front of the tire toward the bumper. Something is wrong with that, I am guessing. More of my secret thinking. She has the jack underneath the wrong part of the frame. Well, this is just a woman and we can forgive her.

I walk back to my car and decide to bother the police so I can get out of here. I sit in my front seat, and find my huge blue cell phone on the other seat. l punch in 911. A lady's voice comes up.

"I am on the Shoreway and there is a dangerous situation here."

"Where is this emergency? Where are you?"

I describe being on the Shoreway going east, on the bridge over the river.

"There are two women and a child," I stress. "Their car is disabled and is pulled over to the side of the road where there really is no room for a car against the concrete abutment. This is a dangerous life-threatening situation." (Did I mention to the reader there was a kid in the back seat of the disabled car?)

"They need help now," I use my best lawyer voice. "Can you send someone here immediately?"

She asks for more information and I give it. It seems like there was no first call or at least the 911 woman does not find anything. She promises to get someone here as soon as possible.

My inner voice now urges me to go. "Time to go. You are late. You have done your Good Samaritan duty." We modern Samaritans do not wait around. We have important tasks to perform. Even the Lone Ranger would be out of here along with Tonto. I shall just wave goodbye and get going.

I walk back to the ladies and their disabled vehicle. "What are you doing?" I ask rather stupidly. The brunetet is kneeling by the tire, trying to use the tire jack to twist off the lug nuts.

"I do not think that will work," I pass judgment "Usually the nuts are rusted and are screwed on very tight. It is always hard to loosen them."

She has the jack wrench on the nut. She twists and pushes down. The nut begins to turn. She must work out regularly at the gym, I surmise. I always have to stand on top of the jack handle to loosen nuts.

Then a truck pulls ahead of my car, slows down, and stops. Inside is a bearded gentleman whose appearance fits a pickup truck. He gets out the truck door and ambles back to us.

"I have some red flares," he offers. Sure enough he pulls out two flares and sets them back on the highway beyond our trio, to warn on-coming cars.

"Thanks, say the two ladies, as the bearded one walks away. Then he gets back into his beat up pick-up and drives off.

I must join him. We have done our duty. The two ladies now have the warning flares. The police will be here shortly. I am really late. I will just say goodbye nicely, say a prayer, and wish them well.

Suddenly a police car drives up behind the disabled car. One of the two officers gets out and walks toward us.

I am hoping he will get down with the lady and help her with the car jack. But no such luck. That is not a policeman's job and some city lawyer has probably already advised the police not to get that involved. Who advises attorneys however?

I volunteer some legal advice to the brunette, "I think the jack is in the wrong place. Normally you cannot lift the car from in front of the front tire. The jack goes more toward the middle of the car behind the wheel. Also there is often a notch in the car frame where the jack fits in."

"Oh," says the lady as she leverages the jack down and then reinserts it in the front middle of the car. There does seem be a slot. She begins again to pump the car up.

The two officers have taken up their station on the approach to the car. That should save us from my friend's untimely death of being smashed when she tried to help a stranded car.

Now more good fortune. Another late model BMW slows down and parks just ahead of my black Lucerne. A young man gets out, about one-third my age I estimate. Good, we now have some young muscle to match my young brain.

"What can I do?" he cheerily greets us as he walks up.

"We need some help to change the tire," says the brunette.

Now is the time my voice of caution says to depart. The ladies have their knight in shining armor and it is getting later and later for me. I will miss Attorney Wong's always brilliant speech.

So he kneels down and tries to jack up the car. The tire lug nuts are already loosened.

"The jack is slipping, " says the young man as he tries to pump it up and lift the car.

I quickly reach out and tighten up the lug nuts. We cannot have the tire flopping out and the entire car sinking into the highway.

But then the young man gets it started up again The car is now high enough to slip off the damaged tire. The young man pulls it off and sets it by the concrete wall. I wheel over the new tiny replacement tire and together the young man and I wrestle it into place on the axle.

We work together to replace the lug nuts and then tighten these up. I can go now. Just get into my car and drive away. Let the young man clean up the rest.

We then work together to insure the tire is in place. He lowers the jack handle and the car seems all right with the replacement.

"Oh thank you so much," both the blond and the brunette gushingly echo each other. This scene has been the same since the first cave man changed the stone wheel on the cart.

"Oh, good," I state. "You know I am an attorney. Here is my card." I offer one of my golden colored business cards. "By the way my rate is $250 an hour and I will send you a bill in the morning."

"My rate is $280," says the young man. "The name is Erin O'Brien. I am also a lawyer."

I look at my watch,. The whole adventure has lasted fifteen minutes, So his rate at $280 is easy to calculate. One fourth is $70. But how do you divide my $250 by four without leaving a need for messy change?.

Yes, we are both attorneys. Have you ever heard of two lawyers cooperating to help people in distress? This must be a first in American legal history.

We all laugh. The ladies seem okay. I tell them my last valuable piece of legal wisdom, "Do not drive too far on that poor excuse for a tire.".

"We won't," they promise as they climb into their handicapped car and drive away.

The young attorney and I the old veteran attorney get into our cars. We let the ladies pass us by to insure they are all right. Then we drive away.

Mission accomplished. I get to Attorney Margaret Wong's award ceremony only twenty minutes late. Lawyers always have a thirty minute privileged cushion of time anyway.

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