The year was 1988. The location was Fairbanks. I geared up for the usual -25 to -30F temperatures in a couple of layers of clothing over which I wore blizzard-proof snow pants, a long, thick, knitted scarf wrapped around the lower part of my face, a snorkel-hooded Mouton lamb parka with a wolf ruff, and sheepskin mittens. I have to admit that I probably looked like a close approximation to the Michelin tire guy only in different colors. But I was warm!
It is a darn good thing that I’ve never been a big fan of leather seat covers in a car. My neighbor from Texas had a land barge with leather seats and everything but horns on the hood. I remember when he jumped in the car one morning and came back all upset because he’d shattered his leather seat by sitting down too hard and too abruptly. There is nothing like sweeping the remains of the leather into a garbage bag. I suggested fabric – fabric freezes too, but it doesn’t shatter.
I’d just gotten a new (to me) car outfitted appropriately for the weather. Say, do you remember when cars had plastic (rubber) bumpers? They were supposed to accordion in during low speed impacts, such as backing up and bumping a nearby stationary object. Innovation at it’s finest. Great. For Florida. For California. For Oregon. For Alaska? Not so much.
One morning, after easing into my frozen car, starting the engine, unplugging the pigtail from the electricity pole, and giving it a good 15 minutes to warm up while scraping the frost off the windows, I got into the car and slowly backed up. Why slow? Well, because the tires freeze too and they’re flat on one side – out of round. So you drive slowly around the apartment’s parking lot until it no longer goes lumpa, lumpa, lump like you’ve got four flat tires.
This morning I heard a noise sort of like crystal breaking. Now this is no mean feat for me since I don’t hear well to begin with. I stopped the car and realized I’d backed up far enough to graze a nearby electric pole (there are poles to plug your car into so it will run again before spring).
I had no idea that the plastic/rubber bumper had a crystalline structure. I guess I’d never thought about it. There were tiny black shards glistening in the snow and ragged yet geometric shape gone from the rounded corner of the passenger’s side bumper. I felt like striking a Will Rogers pose with a cowboy hat in one hand while scratching my head with the other hand. Whodathunk?
I never did fix that bumper, either. The hole wasn’t that big and every time I saw it I was amazed all over again. One of the signs that I considered every moment in Alaska the adventure of a lifetime. One small adventure at a time, I suppose.