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Flat tire conversations: radio, smartphones, and minor league baseball

How one conversation about topics as simple as radio, smartphones and minor league baseball bonded total strangers.

Lee Warren

Alice Cooper's "Eighteen" blared on the radio in the garage of the auto repair shop I pulled up to on Saturday evening. My mom's van had a flat tire and I was happy to find a place that was still open that late on the weekend.

"I'm eighteen and I like it, love it, like it," sang Dave the auto mechanic as he prepared to pull the tire off the van. "Wouldn't it be great to be eighteen again?" he asked me.

Yes and no. There's that whole not knowing what you want thing that doesn't sound all that appealing to me. "Do you ever wonder if songs like that will be on oldies radio stations one day?" I asked. "Can you imagine listening to Alice Cooper on an oldies station in the nursing home?"

"This is the oldies station."

I thought it was a classic rock station, but who was I to argue?

As Dave, who looked to be in his late 50s, talked, he worked on the tire, dipping it into a tub of water, examining it for bubbles. We exchanged a series of radio station call letters and while I consider myself to be a radio guy, I'm a novice compared to Dave. He named radio personalities and stations that have changed format multiple times so easily that I think he's been waiting to have this conversation for a while.

"Are you a radio app guy?" I said. "Do you listen to iHeartRadio or TuneIn? Or maybe Pandora?"

Over the next five minutes he rattled off his opinions about all three. For the record, he's a big fan of TuneIn, not so much of the other two.

"Ah, there it is," he said. He pointed to a place on the inside of the tire, next to the wheel. "That can be fixed." 

"Good to know."

As he pulled the tire off the wheel, the conversation flowed naturally toward smartphones and the waning need for personal landlines. 

"I kept my landline at home while my parents were still alive," he said. "I was always afraid of missing that call in the middle of the night and I didn't think I would hear my cell phone. They are both gone now, so I didn't need the landline any longer."

"Sorry to hear that."

"So you look old enough to have gone to concerts when Rosenblatt Stadium was still around," he said.

"I saw a few in my day."

"Some bands just sound better in outside venues, you know? I loved going to concerts there. Have you been to the new stadium?"

"Werner Park, where the Storm Chasers play?"

"Yeah," he said.

"I'm out there quite a bit. I'm a sportswriter. Have you been out there?"

"Not yet."

The stadium is in its fourth year of existence and there was a core group of people in town who weren't in favor of tearing Rosenblatt down in favor of two stadiums (one for the Storm Chasers and one for the College World Series). I didn't ask him if he was one of those people, but if he was, he didn't seem bitter. He just had not visited the new ballpark yet.

"The Storm Chasers are in Oklahoma City tonight, right?" he asked. He chipped away corrosion from the wheel and then applied some sort of sealer. 

"They are."

"They have played awfully well since moving to the new ballpark," he said. "And they are marketed well."

"Winning two Pacific Coast League championships in the first three seasons they have played there certainly hasn't hurt their brand, but yeah, the general manager of the team does a great job of keeping the team and the game of baseball in the consciousness of the city."

He nodded, slipping the tire back on the wheel and then re-inflating it. "Tell Brad at the front desk that you have a $20 tire repair."

I paid Brad, and as I drove off I was struck by the way topics as simple as radio, and smartphones and minor league baseball can bond total strangers. 

If I stopped back into that shop today, Dave and I could pick up our conversation right where we left off. And that's pretty cool.