We were 150 miles from home, headed for Colorado. All was well. Dani and the boys were watching a movie in the backseat. I was snoozing shotgun, and Darren was driving. In the CD player was a mix called "Stuff Darren Likes", and Aaron Neville's "Crazy Love" was playing.
I always snooze in the car, and this time, I was sleeping pretty hard. All of a sudden, I heard a grinding, screeching sound, and the car was slowing down FAST. As I opened my eyes, my gaze fell on a tire - nay, a whole wheel - bouncing along in slow motion outside the driver's side window. As Aaron Neville's voice filled my head, I sat up and watch the tire speed ahead of us, cross the grassy median, continue onto the oncoming lanes, and eventually come to rest several hundred yards away in the ditch on the other side. As it bounced along, I shook my head, trying to loosen the cobwebs that cluttered my sleepy mind.
"Is that OUR tire???" I asked.
I couldn't make sense of it. There had been no blow-out. I hadn't felt it, and besides... the tire rolling down the highway was obviously intact.
"Yes," was all Darren said.
Then we were stopped. He jumped out of the car, crossed the highway and jogged to where the wheel had come to rest. By then, the song had ended, and there was an eerie silence in the car. The boys were oblivious, engrossed in their movie. Dani and I wondered aloud what had happened. We watched Darren roll the wheel back toward us, jogging the whole way in 96 degree heat.
"What on earth?" I asked.
"The whole [front driver's side] wheel came off," he answered. "The lug nuts are gone."
At that point, we all piled out of the car. The boys and Dani sat up on a hill away from the highway. I helped Darren unload the back of the Xterra so he could access the jack.
The grinding sound that woke me was the brake rotor scraping against the pavement. It was destroyed. Turns out, the fine young man who rotated our tires for free the day before - who also happens to be my husband - had forgotten to tighten all the lug nuts on that one tire. Oops. Near crisis averted, thank God. We were only a couple of miles from a small town, though, and decided to take our chances. Darren borrowed a lug nut from each of the other three wheels, and used them to secure the lost wheel back to the car. We limped into town and were back on the road in just a few hours.
For the rest of my life, when I hear the strains of "She gives me love, love, love, love, crazy love" in that beautiful tenor vibrato, I'll see the image of our tire bouncing down the highway.