Sunday, November 18, 2007

Cold, Chapter 1

I’m sitting in the Fairbanks International Airport terminal waiting for my flight to Anchorage. I’m a few hours early, but I ran out of things to do and see. In a little bit I’ll go over to the lounge to grab a drink and possibly some food before my flight, but for now I’m just waiting on a phone to finish charging. I thought I’d take the time here to recap some of my experiences before the memories fade. I’ll start with my car rental.

I was on the phone with a buddy of mine. I’ll refer to him as my “handler” from here on out to preserve his anonymity and make me sound like some sort of a cool spy. I’m more of a technology hit-man, if it’s possible for a hit-man to be constructive instead of destructive. Handler sets up the projects for me, and I go and do them. Anyhow, Handler it is.

So Handler is dealing with a credit card issue for me (card failed at the car rental desk because they didn’t expect me to legitimately be in Fairbanks), and we’re still on the phone as I leave the airport. As I’m noticing a sign that says Smoking in the airport is illegal and punishable by a fine of up to $50, the cold hits me.

“Holy shit it’s cold!”

I immediately started coughing, and Handler started laughing on the other end of the phone. “Dude, it’s that cold?”

Yes it was. I don't mean that you might want to wear a jacket. I mean the kind of cold that will kill you. Serious cold. Fairbanks is not for the faint of heart. It's like living on the moon, reaching 90 in the summer, and -90 in the winter.

And I suppose now that I should have started this story a little earlier, back in Seattle. See, not a lot of flights go straight to Fairbanks, unless you’re in Anchorage. Not a lot of flights go directly to Anchorage, unless you’re in Fairbanks or Seattle. So I had a few stops. Couple that with merely a month early booking and I ended up flying from Vegas to Portland to Seattle to Anchorage to Fairbanks.

So I arrive in Seattle with my carry on and my laptop bag, and they decide that it has to be checked. Not the checking where they bring it to you at the front of the plane, but the kind that you’ll need to go to the luggage claim area to retrieve. Half of the reason that I carry bags on revolves around my mistrust of airlines, but that’s for another story about a paragraph away.

Anyhow, I reluctantly hand over my bag, board the plane, and fly through Anchorage to Fairbanks.

When I arrived in Fairbanks, my luggage was nowhere to be found. Excellent! All of my warm clothes (aside from my jacket) were in that bag, so I was a little worried about the cold. Back to the present-tense of this story.

So I’m walking out of the airport profanely exclaiming the obvious (that it’s damn cold), and I make my way over to my rental car. The door won’t open. A trip back to the rental desk to see if there’s some sort of trick to opening doors in this netherworld confirms that that car is indeed frozen. Frozen? Oh, it’s so cold that the door itself is frozen shut, and trying to pry it open could potentially damage it. Time for another car.

Car #2 actually opened, and I was on my way. I got to the hotel, and everything was fine. Day one of the project went a little shakily at first, since a lot of my equipment was in my lost bag, but I handled it anyhow.

I found out several things on this day. Apparently when you’re freezing to death, a couple different things happen. One of them is that your brain stops working properly and you go insane. Another is that you feel like you’re on fire. This leads to the predictable result that you find dead naked people in the snow.

I was also informed that it wasn’t cold. There was a heat wave, so the -11F that it was when I landed was unseasonably warm. It’s cold here when it’s 80 below. Oh, and 40 below is the same between Fahrenheit and Celsius. Quick math will confirm this, and I hadn’t actually realized that this was the case. I never lived in a region where it was regularly that cold (and colder).

Parking lots in Fairbanks have power outlets in front of the spaces, and cars (including the rentals) have a cord hanging out of the front grill. Why? So you can plug it in to keep the engine block warm. When it’s a balmy -11 like it was then you don’t need it, but past 20 below you need to do that or else the engines will freeze too. I heard that they can crack too, but I have a hard time believing that for anything above -120F. I could easily be wrong here.

People who live here have auto starters on their cars. They start them from inside about 20 minutes before they’re going to leave. This lets the car warm up and the ice melt off of the windows. It’s a solid plan, but it’s disconcerting if you’re not used to it. I felt like I was auditioning for a part in Christine II, Electric Boogaloo when I was walking back to my rental after day one. Four cars “started themselves” as I walked past, and there were no drivers. I actually didn’t know about the auto-starters until day 2, so I quickly got back to the hotel and turned the heater way up, as I was obviously going insane and freezing to death.

While here I picked up the habit of telling people to “stay warm” instead of to “have a nice day.” This made sense to me, but seeing several people over the course of the week wearing shorts and sandals (sockless in the snow, I shit you not), it’s not too cold to the locals.

Anyhow, I learned that there is a guy up here who receives the “Santa” letters addressed to “Santa at the North Pole.” He’s located down in North Pole, AK, so I made it a mission to visit him. There are some pictures of this experience over on my Picasa album, which I link to both on the right, and also on my website (www.dnickolas.com).

Driving around up here reminded me of Michigan as a kid. It freezes there, so the roads get a little slick at times. In Fairbanks, every road was solid ice.

I’m starting to get a little antsy now, so I’l go head on over to the lounge for some food and a drink.

Well, I had a nice long conversation in the bar with some old guys who have been around a lot. We talked about technology, and drank beer. Good stuff. Anyhow…

The flight from Fairbanks to Anchorage was the worst flight I’ve ever been on. A 5 year old kid did not stop screaming the entire time, and killing the parents (it’s their fault 100%) would be useless. They had a bunch of kids, and one of the kids has a lot of potential to be smart. The parents are retards, though, and I know that that kid will end up stupid too. Very sad.

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