Fixing a Flat Is Big Business in New Orleans Debris from Hurricane Katrina, plus castoffs from new construction, litters the streets of New Orleans. All those hazards are causing a plague of flat tires -- and that's good news for people working in the formerly fading tire-repair industry, now a big business in the Big Easy.
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Fixing a Flat Is Big Business in New Orleans

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Fixing a Flat Is Big Business in New Orleans

Fixing a Flat Is Big Business in New Orleans

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Drivers everywhere worry about the price of gas. In New Orleans, though, they have another worry: the high cost of tires. All that debris on the roads and the bad roads themselves are shredding tires. But some people are happy: the people who work at local shops like Turner's Tire Repair. Molly Peterson reports.

Mr. PARNELL PAYTON(ph) (Tuner's Tire Repair): Oh, you have blessed day, my man.

MOLLY PETERSON: It's not really a line around the blue and red building at the corner of Felicity and Clara Streets - more like a stake-out. All afternoon, cars pulling in diagonally, straight, just stopping on the street - four or six at a time. Parnell Payton choreographs traffic.

Mr. PAYTON: It's been quite busy ever since the storm. Very good, very good business. Very good business. You know, it's a little up and down right now, but when they first come back, they have no place to go. You know? A lot of people, you know, they have no place to come. There's a lot of business, from sunup to sundown.

PETERSON: With less than half the neighborhood back, Turner's Tire Repair is doing the same business as before the storm and more - selling rubber patches, plugs, some used tires. Eight dollars for a plug, maybe ten for a patch here, costs twenty uptown. John Louis(ph) is a repeat customer.

Mr. JOHN LOUIS: I mean, can that be plugged or does it need to be patched?

Unidentified Man #1: I've tried to tell you, (unintelligible).

Mr. LOUIS: I know after they get so big, you can't plug it. You've got to patch it.

(Soundbite of shop machines)

PETERSON: Louis says the only word for New Orleans roads is a curse word. Even before Katrina, brutal rains each year battered the pavement and made roads lumpy.

Mr. LOUIS: The potholes, we're used to. That's just part of driving in New Orleans. You've just got to dodge it. But I mean...

Mr. RAY ANTHONY: You shouldn't have to dodge a pothole. When I was in Houston, I didn't have to dodge potholes.

PETERSON: That's Ray Anthony. He says the city's poor road maintenance messes up his suspension and drains his wallet.

Mr. ANTHONY: And I keep having to spend money, okay? And I'm constantly buying back tires, because it keeps busting up the doggone bushing on the back. So the inside of my tire is always wearing out.

PETERSON: And these days, he's added to his enemies list - the haulers trundling around town with chunks of debris tumbling out the back.

Mr. ANTHONY: I done got about eight bulls-eye in my windshield since the hurricane. Off the street, it's just throwing beaux-coup rocks, bolts and nuts - everything into my windshield. My windshield...

PETERSON: And if you're a painter like Joe Johnson, you're also driving to construction sites a lot. That means it's the roofing nails that get you.

Mr. JOE JOHNSON (Painter): I come here at least once a month.

PETERSON: Joe Johnson says the city should focus on big problems - he can watch the road more carefully. But he's still spending $100 a month on fixing and patching tires.

Mr. DAVID TUNER (Owner, Turner's Tire Repair): (Unintelligible) one plug on that. Two plugs, coming up.

Seventy-six-year-old David Turner, the long-time owner of this place, says as busy as it looks, he thinks the roads have gotten better lately. Back in the spring, a guy brought in a car with 37 nails in the tires.

Mr. TURNER: I told him, I can't fix that. I said go buy some tires. I said there ain't no need you pay - too much to charge to try to fix it. Go buy some new ones.

Is everybody waited on? Good.

PETERSON: Ashanda Scott's(ph) keys and her head shake impatiently. Last week, she paid $8 to have a tire fixed. Now that it's flat again, she wants the shop to fix it right and fix it for free.

Unidentified Man: Well, you in my way.

PETERSON: One of Turner's guys has found a new problem: a shiny, flathead nail.

Unidentified Man: There you go. Costing you some more money. All right? Okay?

PETERSON: Softly, she tells him to go ahead and plug it up. Scott's still bitter, but she is relieved. At least she doesn't have to buy a new tire.

Ms. ASHANDA SCOTT (Customer, Turner's Tire Repair): I guess I better just love it or leave it.

PETERSON: For NPR News, I'm Molly Peterson in New Orleans.

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