Every year, since I was 16 years-old, I would always expect the same card under the Christmas tree from my mom. The first few times I would have hoped to see either a check or some cash fall out from it when I tore into the envelope. Nope. The same thing each and every year... a renewal card for my AAA membership.

"Lame," I thought to myself. Why on Earth did I need this? What was the point? Stupidest...gift...ever. Clearly, I was an ungrateful little punk. However, it wasn't until only recently that I understood the value of this little gold card.

My mom always told me, "Don't ever lose it! You might need it someday!" So I did. I kept the thing in my wallet, wedged between my driver's license and the punch card for the pizza buffet. Still, I never understood the purpose of it. That was until one night when I was driving home...

It was late, about 4:30 a.m. and I hadn't seen a single vehicle on the road for at least an hour. I was driving one of our radio station vehicles back from a station event. The vehicle probably hadn't had its tires changed since it was driven off the lot. That was 45,000 miles ago. Sure enough, as fate would have it, BOTH front tires blew out. The station ride limped to the side of the road as I threw the hazards on, the only lights seen for miles in the pitch dark...

I immediately called my wife. She didn't answer. I would have called my boss, but who is brave enough to do that at that early in the morning? I felt hopeless and deserted. I contemplated sleeping in the vehicle until I thought about calling my mom. Suddenly, I put two and two together. Mom = AAA!

I called the number on the back of the card thinking there was just no way anyone was going to answer the ph..."Thanks for calling AAA, can a help you?" Completely taken back by the sudden reply, I had to take a second to realize that I was talking to a live person on the other end. Gathering my wits about me, I explained my situation, and in less than 45 minutes a tow truck driver was loading my vehicle on the back of the truck bed.

"How much do I owe you, sir?" I asked while riding shotgun in the man's tow truck. "Nothing...," he replied. "Your AAA membership covers the first 100 miles of the tow."

Following the ordeal, the next afternoon I called my mom to tell her the story and to say thanks... something I should have said a long time ago. Now I understand one of the many benefits of AAA, and am more than ever a proud card-carrying member. Just wait until my daughter is old enough to drive! I can't wait to see HER reaction when she opens up that Christmas card...

AAA Roadside Assistance covers you as a passenger or as a driver, and one of the services Montanans can definitely appreciate during the winter is the mobile battery service with on-the-spot replacement (member pays for battery).

There are four membership levels: Basic, Plus, Premier and Student. For those that travel long distances, like so many do in Montana, the Plus membership is a great option, as it includes 100 miles of towing. The Premier membership is best for Montanans who love their grown-up toys, as it includes coverage for RVs, trailers and motorcycles. The AAA website has a comparison chart that shows the differences between membership levels and benefits, like fuel delivery and vehicle locksmith, so you can figure out exactly which one is best for you.

AAA has an offer running running through January 31, 2014 in which new members save $15 on any level they sign up for (except for the student plan).

This blog is sponsored by AAA. For more information on their services call 406-459-1212 or visit their website.