Drivig on an unpaved road at the Last Frontier listening to the radio
2001 – A dust cloud swirled in long widening vortex behind my brand new Escape while I was driving the unpaved Jones Road heading to work. It was a beautiful Monday morning with clouds like in the trade winds of the Canary Islands standing in the azure blue sky. On the northern sides of the hills the black spruce looked like exactly that, black. The southern birch and alder covered sides of the hills looked green with spots of white and some leaves reflected the sun light like sparkling sequins. No other car, houses or any signs civilizations were to be seen except for the unpaved road.
I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. The only sign that I was still in the vicinity of civilization was the radio. During the day, you won’t get any broadcast when you are really somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Alaska. But my radio had a broadcast.
The guy in the radio ad says
Do you have a cracked windshield? Call 907 … …. for a fast’n easy inexpensive fix!
I never ever had heard such an ad before in my life. It was a first! I was like “what a weird ad. Is this a joke?” In Europe, you had to go to a shop immediately when you had a cracked windshield. It was a violation of law to drive around with a cracked windshield. Thus, why would a shop spend money on an ad? Not to mention that cracked windshields were very rare. Up to then I had only seen one in my life.
After my 20 minutes ride, I turned into the parking lot. An ugly old orange pick-up truck that had seen better times long time ago just left the parking lot. It had a broken windshield. “Looks like they have got a customer” was my thought. The next day, I saw that orange pick-up again in the parking lot, still with a cracked windshield side-be-side with another car with an even worse cracked windshield. I looked around. I started counting cars with cracked windshield. I started realizing that cracked windshields were so common that they even seemed to be the normal and an intact windshield seemed to be an exception. With a sudden, the ad made sense.
It didn’t take long for our brand new car to join the damaged windshield car community. No, it wasn’t driving the unpaved road. You never drive close enough behind someone to get hit. The dust cloud produced by the car in front of you just prohibits it. You couldn’t see anything. Unpaved roads in the suburbs of Fairbanks are so small that you can only pass at 15 miles. This means the ongoing traffic has hardly a chance to be the cause either.
On the contrary, unless you drive the unpaved highways (Dalton highway, Taylor highway, Denali highway), the cause of broken windshields is driving around town on the paved urban roads. In winter, temperatures are so low that salt fails to melt the snow. Ice builds from snow by the weight and pressure of vehicles in front of traffic lights. Thus, the department of transportation not only plows the major roads, but also throws split on all intersections. Intersections are usually icy. When cars and big trucks stop at the traffic lights and stand there for a while split gets into the profile. Once they drive again the split is accelerated and thrown out. It may hit your windshield and you get your first damage.
It starts out with just a round spot where the split had hit. It looks like some one shot at bullet-safe glass. Over time driving rough paved or unpaved roads the torturing and vibration of the car lead to a small line. Further hits start the same process elsewhere. Depending on the mileages you drive per day and the number of hits, you sooner or later will have a big crack all over the windshield. If the cracked line is on the driver’s side and/or at eye height, any oncoming traffic blinds the driver as does the Sun and any other reflections including those on snow. Once the wind shield has reached this stage, you hit the shop to get a new windshield to start the process all over again.
After we moved into town, we didn’t drive much per day and I only have one intersection on my way to work. Thus, it took 15 years from the initial hit to the crack all over the windshield. However, such a long time is the exempt. Some of my colleagues have much younger cars and already their third or fourth windshield. In this light, the ads gets a total new perspective. It makes sense and isn’t weird at all. There is actually huge competition for windshield replacements.
Insider travel tip:
When you rent a car to travel in Alaska, make sure you buy a windshield insurance. Also look in the contract whether you are allowed to drive unpaved roads. Some contracts even forbid to drive the unpaved roads of the suburbs.
Have you ever heard or seen a weird ad that finally made sense? What was it? Let me know, I am curious.
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Photos: G. Kramm
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