On Sunday afternoon I passed through my favourite filling station, Total at Avondale shopping centre, for refuelling and a tyre pressure check. Earlier on I had noticed that one of my back tyres seemed a little under-inflated. After refuelling and getting the usual friendly service, I proceeded to the section of the filling station where the self-service pressure gauge is located.
My vehicle was immediately surrounded by a group of four men in greasy overalls who introduced themselves as mechanics. Telling me that checking this was free, one of them offered to assist me figure out whether the underinflated tyre might have a ‘slow puncture’.
While I maintained that I was sure it was just a low tyre pressure issue, he proceeded to dislodge the pressure gauge from its hanger and started checking my tyres.
Indeed, my faulty tyre had low pressure of about 200 psi and the men proceeded to check the other three tyres together. I was initially taken aback, but when I saw that the service station attendants appeared to allow this, I trusted that there was some sort of professional working relationship with these so called mechanics.
As we were checking the tyres on the other side of the car, one of the other mechanics informed me that he was now performing the free service of checking for a puncture. And although I believed that the tyre actually did not have one, I told him to go ahead.
At this point, the man who was checking pressure uncapped the last tyre and extended his hand to give me that tyre’s pressure valve cap. As soon as he was done checking, he moved to return the gauge to its hanger, while I remained to replace the tyre’s valve cap.
Shortly after completing this task, I heard one of the men remark loudly that my tyre did in fact have a ‘slow puncture’, and that I must come and see.
When I went around, I immediately heard a distinct hissing sound of air escaping from the tyre. But how I could have missed such a noise earlier when I got out of church? Besides, my car had been parked in one spot for a few hours. Why hadn’t the tyre just deflated?
At this point, the tyre was wet and soapy; part of the elaborate method the mechanic explained he employed to discover a puncture. The soapy water apparently helps create a sound that locates a puncture through air bubbles. While I could understand the logic behind the fact that the seeping air could puff up soapy water, the speed and loudness of the escaping air certainly did not give the impression that this was a ‘slow puncture’, as the man described.
If I had driven all the way from the Catholic Cathedral in the Avenues to Avondale with that kind of puncture, surely the tyre would have been flat by the time I had gotten to the filling station?
I dismissed the thought and focused on getting the problem at hand fixed. The mechanic explained that a ‘mushroom filler’ plug would have my tyre as good as new for only $5. In my state of panic, I told him to go ahead and fix it.
And so I observed as he punched a bigger hole where the leak supposedly was, and inserted this plug. As he did so, he told me that he thought this situation seemed to be a symptom of a bigger tyre problem, as he had detected an old filler on it. I was slightly taken aback at this small revelation as the entire set of tyres on my car was brand new, and I had never had a filler inserted on any one of them.
Just then, a blue Toyota Vitz pulled up a few metres from mine. The woman driving the vehicle was immediately approached by some of the men in dirty overalls, one of them walking purposefully towards her left front tyre and remarking that it too seemed to have a ‘slow puncture’ because its state of inflate was visibly lower than the rest of the set.
The men repeated the same script they had used on me; they were checking for punctures for free, they would get the pressure gauge while the others fetched the soapy water and started working on her problem tyre. Unlike myself, this woman did not got out of her car, and spoke to the men through her open window.
As two of the men did the soapy water puncture check, a third chatted to her about church and other things. But amid this small talk, my attention was drawn to the two men. One of them seemed to be exerting pressure onto the tyre with his palm. Suddenly, in horror, I saw him reveal a small shiny sharp object which he used to discreetly pierce the tyre. He immediately placed it in his back pocket and proclaimed loudly that indeed, the lady’s tyre had a ‘slow puncture’.
I felt like I had been doused in cold water. I could hardly move as my brain moved between the realisation of what was happening here and trying to figure out what to do next. For a moment I could not hear a thing and everything happened as though a mime. I automatically reached into my wallet and handed over the $5 I owed.
Somehow, I dragged my leaden legs into my car and started the engine. I felt quite sick to my stomach. I called my husband then mustered enough energy to drive to Avondale Police Station where I made a report to the half-interested and visibly annoyed officers. After close to 30 minutes of telling and retelling my story, being interrogated and beginning to feel like a criminal, two policemen finally decided to return with me to the filling station in my car. When we got back there, they rounded up three of the men I could identify and started interrogating them.
As my husband questioned the staff about the fake mechanics, they responded that they had no control over them and that the filling station had no formal relationship with them, even though they let them use the pressure gauge and engage their customers.
The policemen then asked if we could all fit into my car so that the interrogation could continue at the station, after opening a docket. I flatly refused to let those filthy men into my back seat; so they walked with one officer while we went back to wait at the station with the other officer.
As we drove back to the station, the officer in our car intimated that they had heard numerous such reports and then launched into a discussion about how protracted the court case would be if I decided to press any charges.
Back at the police station, the men in overalls denied any wrongdoing. A docket was opened and I was given a case number and informed that an officer assigned to the case would call me on Monday with further details about how the case would be handled.
As my husband and I drove home, we reflected on the three hours we had potentially wasted with all the back and forths, the tedious manual case documentation processes of the police and their seeming lack of interest even though apparently they had had numerous such reports.
I still have not heard back from the police.
I have a blinding rage about what happened to me, not so much because I was cheated out of $5 and further insulted with a intentionally damaged tyre, but because any of my friends and family can fall victim to this cruelty too.
As has become a worrying norm, there seems to be seamless integration within society of unscrupulous individuals who are out to fend for their own through fleecing others and using whatever dishonest tactics they can get away with.
It makes me worry about what this country is coming to.
The main photograph is taken from www.bikebling.com.au, while the cartoon is from www.cdn.ghanaweb.com