The commonness of blowout patches in John Cheever's 'The swimmer'

The New Yorker pointed to John Cheever’s excellent short story ‘The swimmer’ (1964) this Sunday. I remember hearing it read on Selected shorts years ago, read it. This passage stood out:

'Had you gone for a Sunday-afternoon ride that day, you might have seen him, close to naked, standing on the shoulder of Route 424, waiting for a chance to cross. You might have wondered if he was the victim of foul play, or had his car broken down, or was he merely a fool? Standing barefoot in the deposits of the highway beer cans, rags, and blowout patches, exposed to all kinds of ridicule, he seemed pitiful.'

I’ve seen a lot of roadside débris, never blowout patches.

No idea how you’d go about patching a blowout. Maybe it was a “thing” back when they had inner tubes in the tires. Maybe they’re referring to those 18 wheeler retreads that peel off on the highway. Maybe the writer didn’t really know what roadside debris consisted of. I don’t see many rags on the side of the highway either. He definitely got the part about beer cans right, though.

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Don’t you know that in the south it is our duty to litter the roads otherwise what would the prison road gangs have to do :grin:.

We’d wash the patrol cars, silly.

I actually did both, many years ago, in a time that’s best forgotten! Or at least blocked out. Lesson learned, though. Sheesh, that’s been so long ago it seems like a dream now. A bad one!

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Up north here they use the automatic car wash. Maybe get a discount I dunno.

My first thought was that they were talking about pot hole patches. I suppose it used to be common to patch a tube on the road but otherwise I am at a loss.

I suspect he was referring to patches of tread debris, not repair patches.

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I’ve heard pancakes called blowout patches,

Wonder if he meant roadkill, flat as a pancake.

I think it is likely that John Cheever was… let’s just say… less than knowledgeable about automotive matters.


I think your right about the blow out patch. some truckers call them gators. because it looks like the back of a gator on the road.

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… and they’re also very unattractive when they are hurtling through the air. Many years ago on the NJ Turnpike, I narrowly missed having my windshield smashed by a flying “gator”. Luckily it only hit the hood and left a dent that was repairable.

Try to pick one up to move it with out gloves and it will bite like a gator. How does it feel to legal drinking age? :laughing:

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So why was he standing there? Waiting for a ride after his swim?

Maybe he was trying to be the modern day Iron Eyes Cody.

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This sort of thing couldn’t happen now. With the price of gasoline, nobody can afford to go for a Sunday ride … lol .

Maybe can’t afford the gas but wear shoes or at least flip flops. There are thousands of little hook worms in the soil just waiting to burrow in between you toes from going bare foot.

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I thought about that, but I wouldn’t call them patches. I saw one today on a city street.

That occurred to me too. It wasn’t his jam.

He was swimming across the county. You can read the story at that URI. I think it’s a great story, but Cheever is a The New Yorker kind of writer: not everyone’s read.