When he was younger we liked to play Mille Bornes with Alexandre. It's the French card game where you try to be the first player to rack up 1,000 kilometres of travel. Just like real motoring, though, there are hazards – accidents, running out of gas... and flat tires. In the game all you need to fix a pneu crevé is a roue de secours card, a spare tire. Real motoring is a little different.
One Saturday morning we pulled out of Sablet in the Côtes du Rhône wine region of Provence, heading for nearby Beaumes-de-Venise. (If you know us you can probably guess why.) About a kilometre outside of Sablet we noticed a cyclical noise while driving – dit, dit, dit, dit – whose frequency increased with speed. Ding! A warning symbol then appeared on our dashboard screen with a message something about pneu and pression. (“Pression,” we first thought. "Is there a beer available someplace?”)
The tires looked fine, but we had those two warning signals, so we turned around and headed for the other side of Sablet, towards Vaison-la-Romaine, where there is a solitary petrol station along the D977 that we knew did tire repair. (There are surprisingly few petrol stations in the region.)
But, it was a Saturday, so, of course the station was closed, and the same for Sunday. We did manage to find a working air pump at a gas station in Vaison, but by Sunday the warning light was back on. Dit, dit, dit, dit continued.
The car was a rental, but we were forty minutes away from the nearest Europcar office. Worse, we were scheduled to leave on Tuesday morning for a week in Burgundy, a four-hour drive along the autoroute. We held our breath until Monday morning, hoping the tire was doing the equivalent.
Monday morning we got up early, memorized a bunch of phrases about tires and leaks and rental cars, preparing ourselves for a challenging day of tire repair translation, and drove to our nearby petrol station. It turned out to be a breeze. The guy who owns and runs the station was helpful, didn't bat an eye at our bad French, and immediately set to removing and repairing the tire. It was easy to see what the problem was – there was a foreign metal disk hanging onto the treads, obviously with a shaft sticking into the tire and causing the slow fuite. (One of the new vocabulary words we had picked up.)
Our problem was easy to see, but the station was very busy, and the guy was mostly working on his own. When we arrived there was a small bus from Germany, filled with a dozen or so German tourists, gassing up. (The bus was gassing up, not the tourists.) It took a while to pump in €450 of gas. Cars were pulling in, gas and diesel was being pumped (no self-service here), the phone was ringing, and our tire was being repaired. Even with all that, our repair took only thirty or forty minutes. What could have been a trial turned out to be just another adventure in France. The repair cost us €15.
– Diane & Mark
photographs copyright by Mark Craft