Does it take a "real man" to change a tire? (Puh-leez!)

Far be it from me to complain in any way about a "lack of manhood" in anyone. Despite the fact that I managed to summon the balls to criticize GQ magazine in the last post, I don't generally believe in such concepts (at least, not in having them defined for me).

So, while this isn't a complaint about emasculation or anything like that, an incident I witnessed in front of my house yesterday reminded me of the decreasing ability of men to be what is called "handy." I initially saw this discussed by Glenn Reynolds and the Wall Street Journal, and the journal linked another post by Glenn, and that post linked a long list of basic tasks that today's men can no longer do.

What I didn't see anywhere was something I always took for granted was a basic task: changing a tire.

Late yesterday afternoon, I heard that vaguely scraping "thwack-thwhack-thwhack" sound that I associate with a tire that's gone so flat that the car is being driven on the rim. Mildly curious, I went outside to investigate after a few minutes, and sure enough, an SUV was disabled just a few feet from my driveway with a tire that was beyond flat. A gaping square hole in the side had ripped a tear two-thirds of the way around the rim, and the rim showed clear signs of damage from having been driven too far. The driver was visible a hundred yards down the road, and appeared to be walking aimlessly (as if trying to figure out where he was), but came back when he saw me staring at the beyond-flat tire. Wanting to be as helpful as I could, I volunteered that I had a floor jack and tools, and asked if he had a spare. He refused all help and immediately and hurriedly insisted that the car had no spare, so he had called for help. I figured he must know what he was talking about, but it struck me as very strange that this perfectly ordinary looking SUV would have no spare (not only do most cars come with them, but Pennsylvania law requires spare tires, and cars which don't have them flunk the annual inspection). Meanwhile, this perfectly healthy young (25 or so) man stood around looking helpless. I had this sneaking suspicion that he had no idea whether there was a spare tire or not, and that he didn't want to be bothered looking for it, but it wasn't my business so I went back inside. (I could watch the whole thing easily from the house, though, and I strongly suspected total incompetence and rather enjoy live comedy.)

After a half an hour or so, an older guy (I'd say 45-55) arrived, not driving a tow truck, but another SUV. Obviously, his first question was the same as mine, for the next thing that he did (in seeming irritation) was to open the back of the SUV to look inside, and started rooting through the stuff to expose the spare tire set-up. Sure enough, there was a spare and a jack and the older guy busied himself throwing stuff to the pavement in disgust while the young guy watched. Of course, the older guy's inefficiency was painful to watch (it took over an hour to change the tire -- a problem I could have solved in ten minutes with my floor jack and spinner lug wrench), but I was so irritated at my offer to help being spurned that I resisted the temptation to just wheel out the floor jack and barge in.

What irritated me the most was the absolute cluelessness of the healthy young man, who I could tell was in good physical condition and of at least normal or above intelligence.

Again, this is not meant as an indictment of today's youth. Surely, most young men can change a tire, can't they? And if I can, and I'm a 53 year old who has conceptual difficulty with the "manhood" concept, then maybe it's not a manhood thing at all. I mean, surely women change tires just as easily as men, right? Is this really about manhood? Or does it involve some form of creeping decadence? It occurred to me that I would never hire this young man to cut my lawn, as I'd be afraid he'd take all day, or else cut his foot off and sue me.

And right after that I read about using old guys for military service. Or something. No, it was public volunteer service, detailed in a post by Ilya Somin:

One of the most interesting (and in my view sinister) aspects of proposals for mandatory "national service" is that they virtually always target only the young, usually 18-21 year olds. This might be understandable if the proposals were limited to military service. But most current proposals (including those by Charles Rangel, John McCain, Bill Buckley, the DLC, and Rahm Emanuel noted in my last post), incorporate civilian service as well. When it comes to office work and light menial labor, there are many elderly and middle-aged people who can do the job just as well as 18-21 year olds can, if not better.
"If not better" seems like understatement in light of the ridiculous performance I was unable to avoid witnessing yesterday.

What I can't figure out is whether changing a tire is an age-related skill, or whether it's a generational thing.

posted by Eric on 09.25.07 at 09:51 AM


Neither age nor generational related: just dumbass. Not only did he not know there was a spare, I'll bet it never occurred to him to look in the owner's manual under 'tires' or 'flat' or 'spare'.

Then you have the people who know about the spare, but never check it, and when it's needed find it flat. "You have to check them?" I've got one of the small plug-in air pumps in my truck; never used it for myself, half a dozen times for people with flat spares.

Firehand   ·  September 25, 2007 10:34 AM

I think a lot has to do with the improvement in tire quality.

Very few have the experience as children any more.

When I was growing up in the 50s you could expect to have to deal with a flat every year or so. You had to learn how to do it.

Now it is just something for gear heads and old farts.

M. Simon   ·  September 25, 2007 11:30 AM

I think we are just getting lazy.It is so much easier to call On star or AAA.Also as a man we are embarrassed to ask for help with such a simple thing.I know I would be embarrassed to ask for help with such a simple thing.

ethanthom   ·  September 25, 2007 12:42 PM

Since you brought up the subject of manliness, perhaps the man was a metrosexual and just didn't want to get dirty. But then who knows how many perfectly good but dead batterys have been thrown away because someone did not know how to use jumper cables.

Gregory   ·  September 25, 2007 6:39 PM

I think M. Simon has a good point. I don't remember my family's car ever getting a flat when I was a child and never saw a tire changed.

Also, cell phones - you pull out the cell and call AAA and there you go. I've never changed a flat tire myself. (I do at least know where the spare is, though. Sheesh.)

jaed   ·  September 25, 2007 9:16 PM

I'm 22. I'm male, and I don't know how to change a tire on a car. I've had my drivers license since my 16th birthday, and I had been driver places my entire life before that. I have never been in a car with a flat tire. I know how to clean a drain, paint a house, or do shit with electricity without killing myself, but I never had the opportunity to learn how to change a flat.

I don't drive right now, I bike everywhere, and I do know how to change a bike tire (I even carry the tools with me every time I ride).

I suspect it's a generational thing. Roads today are too good. Flats are too rare. I know one guy (late twenties) who was conned into paying several hundred dollars for a new set of tires when he got a flat (although to be fair, that guy is an idiot). I can fix your computer, because mine had problems constantly when I was growing up. I can't fix your tire. It's the same reason you don't know how to use every part of the buffalo.

Dermanus   ·  September 25, 2007 9:23 PM

My kids are now 35 and 32, and the first thing that this old lady taught them when they got their learners permits was how to (i) change a tire, and (ii) put on tire chains for the Evergreen, Colorado, winters. 'Course, they also knew how to drive a stick shift, and plow snow. It's all about being self-reliant. PS: you don't have to WAIT until you get a flat (where there's no cell phone service) to teach yourself how to change one.

ColoComment   ·  September 25, 2007 10:30 PM

I'm going to wager that this is an Urban issue. If you live in a more remote area, you could find yourself walking a spell (and probably getting lost) if you do not have some fundamental survival skills. Let's make a conceptual leap ... Most residents of large cities are democrats of sorts. Progressives. They believe that the state should do this kind of thing. Organize, manage and create specialized guilds. (Rand:Anthem) So, we have a colony of specialized insects doing what they know to do.

mdmhvonpa   ·  September 26, 2007 10:01 AM

Being able to change a tire or jump start a car is just like being able to check oil, water, or tire pressure; all parts of being a prepared and responsible auto operator. MY kids won't get permission to use my car until I have taught them, and they have demonstrated the ability to do all those things, and drive a manual transmission as well. HArd to believe manual cars are becoming harder to find in this day and age.

As for the old folks doing national service, I'd almost agree except that old folks have generally already given time to their government in the form of work, taxes, etc. Flat out, old folks have generally "paid their dues".
Personally, I don't think anyone should be conscripted into any form of national service, but I really do wish leaders at all levels as well as just plain folks would put an emphasis on service to others, then maybe more people would volunteer to serve others. (I am sure a lot of people volunteer, but I perceive them to be the exception rather than the norm.)

SFC SKI   ·  September 26, 2007 9:17 PM

Great comments all. It probably does involve changing times, but Sgt Ski, I have to say I'm with you on the parenting aspects. AND manual transmissions.

Eric Scheie   ·  September 26, 2007 10:26 PM

For what it's worth, I'm a hardened Marine vet, and a wussy blogger, once threw out my back changing a lady's tire.

Made my year.

Kadnine   ·  September 27, 2007 7:30 AM

It's fear of failure. He would rather stand there and look helpless than risk getting it wrong. It may also be a class thing. I grew up lower class, and while I have no natural aptitude for working on cars, I know how to change tires (hell, I know how to mount tires), how to change oil, hoses, belts, brakes, plugs and plug wires -- pretty much anything short of an overhaul or electronic/timing issues.

It isn't rocket science. It's auto mechanics.

Phelps   ·  September 27, 2007 5:47 PM

A very good point made above "It's fear of failure. He would rather stand there and look helpless than risk getting it wrong."

This is not an indictment of the younger generation, just an observation from years of working with 18 to 25 year olds. For whatever reason, many in that age group seem to want to appear that they know it all that they won't ask questions. The worst cases are those that blow of the problem, or the solution with a very dismissive, eye-rolling "Whatever!". Anyone else agree.

Sidenote, one of features of military service is that I have to spend a lot of time, say nearly 20 hours a day for more than a year, and interact extensively with people 15-20 years younger than I am, and they with me. I can't think of a similar situation that presents itself in the civilian world.

SFC SKI   ·  September 27, 2007 6:10 PM

While in law school, several fellow students seemed somewhat clueless about how to jump start a car. Of course, I'm not claiming my experience was necessarily representative, but it would be interesting to know what percentage of people in various age groups can handle these tasks.

Peter Parker   ·  September 27, 2007 10:05 PM

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