One glaring lesson that I have learned in my life is that hardships can be strong preparation tools for future success and blessings. On stepping out of the house yesterday morning into the garage, I got into my car and noticed that the right side was unusually low. I got out of the car to check the tires and saw that the front tire was flat. I was initially disappointed and thought about calling for roadside service. I thought my day was officially ruined with this setback and it could be a bad sign for how my day would play out. What hardships are in store today?
But then I snapped out of my downward spiraling thinking process and remembered all the many, many times I had changed the flat tires on my parents’ cars while growing up in Nigeria. I had never changed the tire on this car and I had not changed a wheel in many years! The car’s tire pressure sensor would warn on low air pressure and then I would take it in for service. I took my shirt and shoes off and got to work.
My father, Chief Oluwole Salako did a fantastic job teaching and raising us, his sons, to be self-reliant, self-sustaining and independent. I remembered how excited I was for my first tire-changing lesson in my early teens while living at the Delta Steel Company flats in Warri, Nigeria. It felt like I was being initiated into an elite group of cool guys that knew more about cars. I was also excited because it meant that I will be driving soon.
My dad showed my brother, Ayo Salako, and I the safety measures and precautions. With his peculiarly strict and disciplinary approach, he showed us how to make sure the car is in gear by depressing the clutch and manually shifting the stick into the first gear or reverse position. This would keep the wheels locked in case the parking brake fails. He showed us how to properly chock the diagonally opposite wheel to prevent the car from rolling. We had a modest collection of rocks laying around to choose from for this purpose. These are important rocks that also serve as brakes.
Loosening the wheel nuts, preparing the spare tire and jack came next. I recall many times when I had removed a flat tire only to realize that the spare was also flat. Jacking the car was also an exciting feat. I am sometimes terrified of the car falling off due to defective jacks. Ayo and I learned to place a secondary object underneath the car as soon as the jack lifted it up. My mother’s outdoor cooking pot stand (adugan) served a great purpose for this. We survived and were contented with what we had regardless of any hardships. We made a way out of no way. I remember an occasion in our later teenage years when the car jack was broken and we had to lift the car by hand! It took innovation and a form of desperation to accomplish this. We would strongly rock the car on the side, bouncing it on its springs and then slip rocks underneath each time it raises a bit higher. We learned through hardships. Those were the days!
Even with the large differences in technology between the developed and developing worlds, I truly appreciate the manual and sub-standard way of life in Africa. As a daily car-starting ritual, we were taught to check the radiator coolant level (water level), engine oil level, brake fluid level, tire level, battery acid level and then we pray for a good engine start. If the car engine starts, God in heaven must be happy with us. If not, we were ready for a morning workout of pushing the car until it starts. For some reason, car batteries in Nigeria seemed to have an issue holding a good charge overnight. They seem to conspire to ensure we get our morning exercises. Who needs a treadmill? The hardships of a push start is another art by itself that involves manually pushing the car to a certain speed and then kicking it into gear.
When we first moved to Nigeria as a child, I remember seeing it done and my mouth dropped wide open. I thought I had seen the coolest thing ever! It was quite a spectacular stunt. We eventually mastered this art very well. Ayo and I, and sometimes my younger brothers, Yinka Salako and Tolulope Salako, would push the car while my father would push from the open driver’s door. Once it reaches the right speed, my dad would jump into the driver’s seat, turn the key to the “on” position, depress the clutch, shift the transmission into first or second gear and then release the clutch slowly – all within 5 seconds or less. Dad was a superman in this process! The torque from the wheels would turn the engine and force an ignition of the spark plugs and fire the pistons. It was so cool! Our next door neighbors back then, Ochuko and Akpesiri Onosode, were resident experts in changing tires and pushing their father’s Fiat car to start each morning. It was a near daily sight seeing them push their father’s car by. Sometimes we woke up to a nasty combination of two flat tires and a low battery! What hardships! We could start cars and change tires in our sleep!
We got so good in this beautiful art that we could single-handedly push a car to start in our late teenage years. How? Very simple: on a slight slope, push the car yourself via the driver’s side door, reach the right speed, jump in and work your magic. It was beautiful!
But some cars proved difficult and uncooperative. My father’s Audi 100 (early 80s model) was notorious for being unpredictable and especially wicked! It caused us many hardships. My mother especially does not like this car – do not bring up the Audi in a conversation with her. That car showed us pepper! I remember when my brothers and I ran this car through our concrete fence in attempts to get it to start after it had been sitting idly for several months. We had pushed, I jumped in and started the engine but the brakes did not kick in fast enough to stop the car from hitting the fence. There was dead silence. No one spoke for at least 5 minutes. We were pondering how to explain the broken fence to my father and get away alive. Even the wicked Audi shut off and I could have sworn it winked at me. The car was not damaged thankfully. I was a college freshman at the Obafemi Awolowo University back then and I had come home with my college dorm mate and neighbor, Shola Adebowale, and thought perhaps I should escape back to the college campus. But I needed that pocket money from my dad.
The deep self-reliance, self-sustenance and independence my father taught us kicked in right away. We put our little money together and bought some bricks from the local brick-maker. We mixed sand and cement and then we worked hard at rebuilding the damaged fence. I recall neighbors and passers-by laughing and shaking their heads in sympathy as they knew our disciplinarian father well. We finished fixing the fence in a few hours, but there was still visible evidence that a damage had occurred and we knew this would not escape the eyes of my father. As leader, I was nominated as the bad news bearer – the one to explain the situation to my dad when he gets back from work that evening.
My dad returned home later that evening in his company-issued, chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz 230E baby (this car always had the best of everything – tires, battery, air conditioning and even sound system). We greeted him but he did not respond very warmly – Taju, his driver, must have seriously annoyed him during the drive home with his improper driving practices. My brothers and I looked at each other – not a good sign or atmosphere for delivering more bad news. Perhaps it is not too late to run back to school? My brothers of course disappeared into their bedrooms while I stayed and watched my dad eat his dinner. I was left to my fate. Maybe he will be in a better mood on a full stomach?
He finished his meal, washed his hands and I cleared the dishes immediately like a good son. Then I started some small talk to lighten the mood a bit – something about making sure I washed and ironed his office shirts. He gave me a suspicious look as if asking “what is this boy up to now?” Then I made my move. I explained how we thought it is a great idea to warm his Audi in order to make sure it is in good shape and to prevent it from rusting. As good sons, we wanted to protect his “investment” and ensure the family’s transportation needs are secure. We were just preventing future hardships from this car. I then explained the very minor mishap with the fence.
On hearing this, my dad flew of his chair and went outside to look at the fence. It was somewhat dark at this time. He asked “Where is it? Where is the damage to the fence?” I showed him the repaired section but he kept asking for the damage. I explained that we had repaired it ourselves. He looked at the fence more closely, shook his head and then walked back into the house. It was a major celebration for me and my brothers that night!
Changing my car tire yesterday morning made me realize how much has changed in terms of convenience and technology. I can’t recall the last time I checked battery levels, brake fluids, engine oil or coolant levels. These things are computer-monitored now. Some luxury car models (mainly BMWs) do not even come with spare wheels today; the owner is expected to call for service. Who changes tires themselves these days? There is a wheel replacement kit in a hidden compartment in the trunk of my car. It contained nice instructions, a foldable steel wheel chock (what? No stone needed?), some wrenches and even these cute hand gloves to wear (oh common!). The automatic air suspension on my car actually retracted itself to give more floor clearance just as the car was lifted above a certain height. Almost too convenient! Zero hardships!
I never thought I could experience so much joy from the hardships of changing a tire simply by a shift of perspective. It was great reliving the experiences of my childhood — it is so different from my current lifestyle that I felt like I had physically traveled through space and time to relive the experiences. I am grateful for yesterday’s “misfortunes” — they made me the strong man I am today. Also thankful to Sal Tolla and his crew for fixing my flat tire and swapping out the spare. Please visit his shop at Alpha Auto Service in Southfield, Michigan. He is a car doctor literally — he actually has a “stethoscope” for listening to car engines.
Most importantly, I am really thankful for my life experiences and all the seemingly difficult moments. I am very thankful for where I have been, where I am and where I am going. Especially my experiences in boarding school in Nigeria (read about it here). They are all a part of who I am.
Have a fantastic life full of adventure, my friends! Everything is fun if you make it so.