Harry Vs. The AAA Guy (Spring Street Revisited)

Cullen Murray Kemp

My Dad just turned 66—an age so seemingly ancient that, as his son, I am starting to feel my knees creak with the early stages of arthritis setting in. I guess that’s sort of a shitty joke to begin a blog dedicated to Dad because: (1) he just had knee replacement surgery and (2) I probably shouldn’t start a gift blog with a semi-insult. But he knows, as well as I know, that he’s my idol, hero, and just an all-around role model whom I strive to emulate. So with no further adieux, Dad (and my other readers alike) here is a brand new blog. Cheers to you, Dad. Happy 66th!



Don’t think that because I haven’t posted a Spring-Street-Street-People blog in a few months that my neighborhood has taken time off from its shenanigans, because it certainly hasn’t. The owner of the property next to mine, where an abandoned/run-down house sits, has opted to renovate the place. In doing so, he has put to work about 20 street folk that frequent my block. The result is a mind-numbing mixture of lively arguments over which nails are designed for which wood, how to properly lay cement, and what the purpose of the pink stuff (fiberglass insolation) is.


One day, after a day of working on the house, eight or so street folks stood on the sidewalk—shooting the shit and enjoying a (or maybe 6) well-deserved cold ones. I pulled up on the scene in a prickly mood due to the flat tire I had caught over on East Bay.


“Son, looks like you have a flat tire.” The Charleston Police officer had told me while I was kneeled examining the damage in the East Bay Street Harris Teeter parking lot.


“Thanks, Captain Obvious, how about you go do your job and arrest an underage college kid for having fun.” I had thought, but lacked the cojones to say. I ended up just nodding to the cop, as he pulled away not offering any additional help, but feeling as though he had just protected and served.


As I stepped out of my Toyota Avalon that limped on its rim all the way from Harris Teeter back to house on Spring Street, I received my usual wave of happy hellos from the drinking folks on the sidewalk, “Heyyyy, BIG BUBBA! You play some basketball today?”


Then Harry chimed in: “Cohen, Cohen,” he exclaimed with a toothless shout. (Harry knows my name well, but for some reason in times of panic or when he is rushed he reverts to calling me Cohen—not really sure why). “Boy youz got a flat tier. Izz OK though, Ima fix it up right now for ya,” Harry finished, grabbing for my keys.


I had already called AAA and someone was supposedly on the way here to change the tire.


Side note: As I write this story, it's dawning on me just how un-manly I am by not just changing my own damn tire. 


Annoyed, but knowing Harry was just trying to help, I gave Harry the keys. He popped the trunk, and removed my spare that was buried beneath my obnoxiously big speakers. (I bought the speakers back in high school for popularity reasons, but they have since been an amazingly impractical, leaving me with literally zero trunk space).


Harry found the jack and a wrench in the car survival kit my godmother bought for me many years ago, and shifted his focus to the tire.


Just as Harry bent down to remove the lug nuts that held the tire in place, a AAA truck rounded the corner with its lights flashing. A white man, who looked to be in his 40s and quite busy, hopped out of the truck ready to work.


“Thank you very much, but I doing this,” Harry said glaring at the man as if he was encroaching on Harry’s beat.


The AAA guy had a puzzled look on his face, probably never having encountered such a situation. “Well, sir, this is my job… If you don’t mind moving I will have this tire changed in 4 minutes,” he boasted.


“Ut uh, no sir! I do dis for my friend Cohen. We don’t need you. Bye!” Harry said looking my way for confirmation.


“Yeah, Harry know what he doin, sir. You OK to leave,” chimed in another construction worker turned beer drinker/cheerleader.


Meanwhile, I stood watching the whole situation in amusement. Having the men argue over who was going to change my tire was almost like having two women bickering over who was going to buy me a drink (which never really happens). My loyalty stood with Harry, but the frustration of having a flat tire had left me eager to just get the damn thing changed.


“OK, if you going to change the tire, where would you put the jack?” The AAA guy quizzed Harry.


Harry, now on the spot, wandered around to the front bumper and began setting the jack up.


“Nope. I’m taking over. You’re going to mess this man’s car up,” scolded the AAA guy.


I recoiled knowing this would offend Harry. Harry looked up at me with pleading eyes, “Cullen?”


“Why don’t you all work together?” I suggested.


Harry was pleased and the AAA guy pissed. All in all, the tire-change took about 25 minutes (21 minutes longer than the AAA guy would have taken by himself), but by the end Harry and the AAA guy had become friends of sorts.


The man realized that Harry was just a harmless handyman that wanted to help his friend, and this unearthed a soft spot in the man.


We all shook hands, and as the man pulled off in his AAA truck Harry looked up at me, “Cullen, you know I coulda dun dis way faster if dat guy wasn’t in my way, right?”

“I know, Harry, I know.” I replied.