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How Many Greeks Does it Take
to Change a Flat Tire?

Suzuki Grand VitaraI am convinced that there is a concrete bunker somewhere in Athens, where the sharpest minds in Greece sit with the most high tech computers, plugged into every aspect of life in the country, from the traffic signals, to the ferry schedules, to what kind of ouzo is carried at the local cafeneons. Their job is to make sure nothing works correctly so that any small problem metastasizes into a major catastrophe one step at a time.

There is a new ferry from Sigri to Lavrion that leaves at 1am on Monday morning and arrives in Lavrion at 8:30am which would be perfect for me because I have to go to Lavrion to catch the ferry to Kea. Except that the ferry to Kea leaves at 8:30am which gives me enough time to watch it sail out of the harbor while I sail in. Couldn't somebody looking at the schedule see that if you overlapped these boats so that the Kea ferry left at 9am, people going from one boat would have time to buy their tickets and get on the other boat? Anyone who has tried to make this kind of connection has run into a similar situation. For example there are five ferries a week from island A to island B and four of the five days they get to island B twenty minutes after the ferry that goes to island C leaves. But one day a week the ferry from island A to island B leaves an hour early which gives you enough time to catch the island C ferry. Except that is the one day of the week that the island C ferry does not run.

Anyway the Sigri-Lavrion-Kea non-connection is a moot point since the ferry is usually late anyway. But fate had other plans for me and I was not destined to even attempt the connection. I got a flat tire.

Suzuki Grand VitaraI know what you are thinking. A flat tire? Big deal. You just change it. But this was no ordinary flat tire. First of all let me tell you that right now, the village of Vatoussa and many other villages on the island of Lesvos are undergoing a massive water and sewer project that will connect every home and building on the island to one system. It's a project that was funded by the EU and apparently if they don't finish it by the end of the year they lose the funding. So Vatousa is one big construction site with entire roads having been turned into trenches ten feet deep. Those roads that are not completely dug up are still useable however there are smaller holes on the sides and plastic pipes, mountains of sand and cement and dust everywhere. It's a big mess and there is an army of Albanians digging in the hot sun, laying the pipes, covering them and replacing the cobblestones on a layer of cement bought from the guy in a coma who owns the quarry I wrote about last week.

To make a long story short I was driving back from Tryphone's Taverna in the lower platia, or what the locals call The Hani. I was a little drunk. It was my last night in Vatousa and my Albanian pal Spiro Cooper had treated me to a bottle of ouzo, while Tryphone had barbecued some provatina, which is actually old lamb, or mutton, that is a little tough but tastes like steak. Driving through the village is like an obstacle course anyway with twists and turns on streets so narrow that there is about 2 inches clearance between my mirrors and the walls and buildings, or the cars parked in any possible space they can find. There was some kind of plastic pipe sticking out of a hole in the road that I sideswiped and heard a big bang. It was a blowout. The tire had a gash four inches long. We limped to the upper platia and I put on the spare and we went home and went to bed. I was bummed. To Andrea it was just a flat tire but I know how things work in this country and this flat tire could easily snowball into a series of problems that by the time they had run their course I would have forgotten that it was a flat tire that set them off.

Suzuki Grand VitaraThe next day starts with the guy at the first tire shop looking at the car and knowing that he does not carry that type of tire. He tells me a place in Kaloni. They don't have it either. There is a huge Bridgestone shop on the outskirts of Mytilini and since the tires are Bridgestone, on a Suzuki Grande Vitara, one of the most popular cars in Greece, they will surely have it. Nope. We find another place right at the entrance to Mytilini and he doesn't have them. We ask where the Suzuki dealership is. "Don't bother. They won't have it either. They get all their tires from me." The guy says. We ask him to write down the tire number so we can call Andrea's father in Athens and he can call the Suzuki dealer and have it on hand when we arrive on the ferry to Pireaus the next morning. But when we try to call her Dad, the Greek cell phone gets captured by the Turkish system and we can not get through. Finally we get through and give him the number the guy had given us. Five minutes later he calls back to say they need another number. So we look at the tire and there are about fifty different numbers and we have no idea which ones he wants so we write them all down. TurkCell gets control of our phones again so we go to Agios Isidoros beach where it is shady and there is a taverna, only to find that not only is there no TurkCell but now there is no Greek reception either. But Andrea's dad does not hear very well so the thought of reading a list of numbers and letters with him not being able to hear the difference between F and S or C and T or 8 and A has got Andrea in a state of complete agitation even before the call is attempted. So I put all the numbers into an SMS message that I will send to her father when we get within range of a cell tower. Only I don't know how to save the message because it is not one of the options on my phone. Luckily we have teenagers with us and Amarandi's friend Natalie figures it out and we drive to Mytilini where I am able to send the message. It doesn't matter because I send the message at 4:30 and the Suzuki dealer closed at 4. We would have to stay in Athens tomorrow night.

Suzuki Grand VitaraI should mention that the spare, even though it looks remarkably like the other tires, has a big red 80 with a circle around it which Andrea thinks means it is only good for 80 kilometers, which is about the distance from Vatousa to Mytilini. What happens after 80 kilometers? Does it automatically go flat? We don't know and we don't want to find out. But it adds to the stress. Why can't they put a normal tire as a spare? Why do they have to put some kind of special tire that implodes or locks up after 80 kilometers? To punish or teach a lesson to the type of people who are so slack that they would just drive around without a spare rather than take the time to replace it? It is not fair because I am not one of them and I just happen to be at least 80 kilometers and one 12 hour ferry trip from the closest tire that fits my car. What if it locks up on the ferry and everyone behind me is stuck, honking and yelling at me because they can't get off the boat because the stupid American drove more than 80 kilometers on a spare tire? (It turns out that it means you can't drive over 80 kilometers per hour)

The next day to avoid any foul ups I drive to the Suzuki dealer on the way to our apartment from the ferry so he can choose the number he wants. He says he will call when he gets the tire. We drive to the garage where I kept my car this year. I had told them earlier that I was not going to need to park because I would spend July on the islands, so when I pull in I ask the guy if I can just pay by the day. "The boss won't let you", the guy tells me. I guess he is right, after all if you rent an apartment and then you go on vacation for a month you don't tell the landlord that you are not paying for the apartment because you didn't use it. So I pay my 170 euro a month parking fee for what would hopefully be one night, though by now I want to get my money's worth for the garage and don't care if it takes a week to find the tire. At a few minutes to 4 Andrea calls Suzuki. Maybe they would have it tomorrow they say. That's OK. We get to spend a night in our apartment and Fokionos Negri is alive with people and music. We go to Foibos and have a drink with our friends Elizabeth, Mihos and Vassilis from Fantasy and then to Rena's for dinner and everyone is so happy to see us that I don't care if we go to Kea or not.

At 1pm today we get the call that the tire has arrived and I drive the car to the shop and wander around the neighborhood while they replace it. The cost is 200 euros. That's the end of the story. I think. Now it does not seem like such a big deal, unless you compare it to being in the USA and no matter what kind of tires you have or where you live you go to a shop and in twenty minutes the story is over. It does not turn into a three day adventure involving ferry boats and cell phone messages captured by Turks, or sending coded numbers. But you never know where a story will end and how many others it will spin off. The last thing the Suzuki guy tells me when he gives me my car is that I have to replace the other three this winter. I will probably replace the spare with a real tire too.

Suzuki Grand VitaraAnyway in 45 minutes we will drive to Lavrion to get the 8pm ferry to Kea. Only we don't know if there will be room for the car because the number for the ticket office is busy. In the meantime Andrea went shopping at the big Attika department store in Syntagma and they gave her all the wrong clothes when they bagged them, and ripped one of the blouses when they took out the thing that makes the shop-lifting alarms go off and she spent half an hour on the phone with one person after another only to discover she can't return them because this is the summer sales and there is a no-return policy even though they gave her all the wrong clothes. What makes it even funnier is that she went today because she was returning clothes they gave her by mistake the day before. If you saw the system they have you would laugh too. You pick out your clothes and try them on in one of the 2 dressing rooms they have for a store the size of a NY Macy's, then you give the clothes you want to the sales girl and you go to the check-out to pay, after the salesgirl puts your clothes in a pile of clothes behind the cashier, where you have to point out the clothes that you had already picked out and hope those are the ones you tried on originally and not something somebody else tried on that happens to be the same color. It's a great system.

Courtesy of the guys in the concrete bunker somewhere in Athens.

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