When I came to Interior Alaska for my interview in 2000, I was astonished about the huge amount of old cars twenty years and older. Except for visiting an auto museum, I have never seen so many old cars in one place in my life. Furthermore, I wondered how a car can get that old in a climate with snow and ice on the roads for about 6 to 7 months a year.
Well, after the first winter, I knew why. It is so cold that the use of salt would be a waste of money. Salt just lowers the melting point of frozen water to 19.4 F (-7o) or so. However, there are not many days with such “warm” conditions in the Interior in winter. No salt means it takes longer for cars to get rusty.
Upon coming to Alaska, we bought a new car, a red Ford Escape. For my money, a car can have any color, but it must be red. Time went by and we drove our Escape. Well, we still drive our Escape. Go figure, I am now one of the people with an old car like those I wondered about when I was here the first time in my life. 😉
Wednesday evening I picked up my hubby at home when I came from work. Since it was our date night of last week, I had dressed up a bit, and changed accessories after work before leaving.
The temperature was comfortable 73.4 F (23oC). The wind was calm. The Sun was shining. The sky was in the most beautiful clean blue you can imagine. Flat cumulus humilis clouds clearly indicated there would be no rain any time soon. In deed, they gave the impression that one was somewhere in the trade wind regions like being on one of the Canary Islands. Only the black and white spruce, alder and birch trees, the green everywhere, and water carrying rivers reminded of being in the taiga. It was a picture book perfect evening for a romantic dinner outside at one of our favorite places on the river.
So I drove Geist Road outbound. I stopped at the traffic light prior to Parks Highway and was third in line. The light turned green, we drove underneath the Parks Highway bridge, where we had to stop again in front of a red light. The light turned green, the first car in line turned left onto the highway driveway. The guy in front of me was driving a brand new car, which looked like a rental car to me. Alaskans don’t drive that type of car. May be it was not being well familiar with the car, but the driver was very hesitant of turning between ongoing traffic and hence didn’t make the turn. Thus, we had to stand another round in front of the same traffic light.
While I was waiting for green and hoping the guy in front of me would turn this time around, the engine of our car died. I didn’t think much of it and immediately tried to restart the engine. “The engine is running, why do you start?” my husband said from the passenger seat. “No, it’s not.” I said while trying to restart the car for a second time. No reaction at all. It was like turning a key of the front door at home, not like starting a car. I felt like an idiot not being able to start the car. The light turned green. The car in front of me immediately turned left and I started a new try to get the engine running. No reaction at all. Meanwhile I felt how my neck hair became wet.
I punched on the warning signal as I realized I’ve got a problem. Then all hell broke loose! Terrible noises of electronics going amok. It sounded like in a star wars game app when the Aliens are shooting at your space craft. No lights, no responses of the little gizmos in the cockpit. Just clicking and even more clicking everywhere.
My husband hopped out of the car without a word, run around its back towards the driver’s door. No peep peep when he opened the door. Meanwhile I had switched the seat by robbing over the gear shift into the passenger seat. The traffic light turned red, which felt like a pause button in the stress. He tried to start the engine with the same success I had. Now I didn’t feel like an idiot anymore. He went out of the car again. He took position to stir the car out of the way. I jumped out too and run to the back of the car to push once the signal would turn green. I was just taking position in my high heels and fancy outfit when a guy also reached the back of our car. He took position to push on the left side of our car. He didn’t say a word when I thanked him for his help, but gave me a look that was all about my shoes.
The light turned green, and we pushed the car up into the driveway of Parks Highway. It was the only place with an emergency shoulder. We thanked our helper. He hopped into the passenger seat of the vehicle that had waited behind us at the traffic light and was now standing behind our car. They left and my hubby opened the engine cowling. He took a look for a while, but couldn’t see anything that seemed not to be in pristine order. He then just pressed onto the battery connections, closed the hood, sat down in the driver’s seat and turned the key.
I felt relieved when I heard the purring sound of our old car’s motor and went into the passenger’s seat. “What did you do?” I asked. “Nothing. I think it’s the electronics.” We drove the Parks Highway and turned west onto Airport Way. About 500 yards (457 m) farther, he pulled towards the side onto the shoulder. The car was rolling, but the engine was dead. He stirred the car into Horselton Road and then into the parking lot of Pike’s Landing. We were lucky we hadn’t to stop for oncoming traffic on Horselton Road. It would have meant that we would have had to push the car into the parking lot.
There it stood, our 16 year old red Ford Escape. The engine wasn’t running and the tachometer claimed a speed of 120 mph (193 km/h). That wouldn’t be driving too fast, but flying too low, at least in Alaska.
“We need a rental car.” I said. “It’s 1738. We can still make it there before they close when we walk now.” “Yes, but I doubt you’ll get one. It’s tourist season. Let’s first have dinner. If we get a rental car at all, then it’s at the airport.”
We enjoyed our dinner on the deck at the river, and called a taxi to the airport afterwards. We tried three agencies before we got to rent the only available car at the last car rental agency. It is a black Nissan rouge 4 wheel drive. Rouge, doesn’t that mean red in French I thought. So a car can have any color, but it must be red.
The next day, our car was towed and examined. The verdict: The electronics died. We will need the rental car for a week. Since our car is so old, the only Ford dealer in town didn’t have spare electronics. He had to order it in the Lower 48s. It will be flown in on Tuesday.
The story could end here. However, the rental car, of course is parking in our driveway. So on Saturday, when backing his old 1973 VW bus out of his driveway, our neighbor turned down his car window. “Nicole, you got a brand new car?” he asked in an excited voice “Nope, it’s a rental.” I replied and told him and his wife how I parked our car in front of a green traffic light. “Do you like that car you rented?” “Nope.” “Why not? It looks beautiful” our neighbor said. “Too much electronics.”
Focus Alaska is a weekly series on Alaska lifestyle, events, curiousa, insider travel tips, Alaska shopping and street style.
Photo of me: G. Kramm
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