BEFORE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD

With the unofficial holiday titled “Employee Appreciation Day” observed on the first Friday of March this year, I can’t help but recall the first real job I ever held.

During the summer months in the early 1960s when I was home from college, I worked at the Firestone Retread Shop on the corner of Jefferson Blvd. and Fairfield Ave. in downtown Fort Wayne. That same building now is a popular Starbucks café with the old Firestone tower still standing.

“Where the rubber meets the road” originally was part of an advertising jingle for Firestone tires. I worked on retreaded tires before the rubber met the road, mainly cleaning whitewalls – a messy, dusty job requiring a mask and eye protection. I also helped load finished tires on the flatbed truck that made deliveries daily throughout middle and northern Indiana. Many of the tires were for trucks and tractors so they were heavy and cumbersome to handle. I learned to work well with others so no one got hurt. Two instances stand out:

Be a witness!

The eastside of the shop was nearly all plate glass windows facing Fairfield Ave., which was a one-way street south. One day I heard a siren and looked out to see a firetruck heading north on Fairfield, the wrong way! As I was thinking this could cause a problem, sure enough there was an accident a block away at Washington Blvd. As the fire engine entered the intersection, a car struck it broadside. After the firemen stopped to make sure there were no injuries, they continued on to their emergency, which must have been minor, because they returned very soon and parked their truck along the west side of Fairfield, facing the correct direction!

When I told the boss what had happened, he encouraged me to go to the accident scene and “Be a witness!” And it’s a good thing I did, admittedly with some reluctance. A young man about my age was driving the car with his Dad beside him in the front seat. They were stopped at the red light, but when it turned green, the driver hesitated because he heard a siren. However, as he looked to his right from where traffic was coming, he didn’t see an approaching emergency vehicle. The father glanced out the rear window and saw a police car going through the intersection a block away, so he told his son to go ahead. With many buildings several stories high in the area, the sirens echoed making it difficult to distinguish where they were coming from. As he stepped on the gas, the car immediately struck the fire truck on its right side, damaging the front end of the car but with little damage to the firetruck.

When the police arrived at the scene, I gave them my account of the accident. Subsequently, lawyers visited me on a couple of occasions but the trial kept getting postponed because both the driver and I returned to schools out of Fort Wayne.

When the trial finally took place the following summer, it was a good thing I had “volunteered” to be a witness. The police officers at the accident scene basically testified the young man’s car struck the firetruck so hard that it knocked it against the curb on the other side of Fairfield. Therefore, he must have been speeding and ran the red light!

My testimony cleared the driver of any wrongdoing, especially when I pointed out where the initial impact occurred and that the firetruck was driving in the wrong direction!

The Tortoise and the Hare

Aesop’s Fable certainly applies to this incident. After waiting two summers, I finally was assigned to drive the tire delivery truck. I loved it because I got to go a different direction each day, meet new people and be on my own. One sunny day while heading west on U.S.20 in northern Indiana, I drove over a slight hill and was most surprised to come upon a horse and buggy. The rig was in my lane. There was not a separate path to the side of the two-lane road as there often is today for the Amish community.

I had to swerve to miss the horse-drawn vehicle and, admittedly, I was driving too fast. As I passed the driver, I’m sure I yelled something unkind to him and also gave him a coarse jester!

Shortly after I had passed him, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw what appeared to be black dots rolling across the road. Suddenly I realized they were my newly retreaded tires! When I swerved to miss the buggy, some of the load must have come loose and was rolling off the truck.

I turned around and sure enough, there were most of my tires leaning against a field fence and scattered along the side of the road. As I was lacing the tires back on the truck, I heard the clip clop of horse’s hooves approaching. It was the horse and buggy I had passed in such a fury.

Fortunately, the Amish are not prone to violence or revenge. The driver just looked at me as if to say, “Haste makes waste.” Or, more appropriately, he was applying the biblical observation that “the race is not to the swift” (Ecclesiastes 9.11).

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer