Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Before getting to Fairbanks I anticipated going through driving withdrawals. I like to drive. Period. I know it's not the environmentally correct position to hold, but I do. If I have to drive 30-40 minutes to my job, sign me up! Road trip for 8+ hours? I'm there. Driving is my thing. It's not just the cliche of "feeling free" that I like. I actually like the act of driving. I like feeling the car respond to the pressure I apply to the gas peddle. I like the discordance of watching the scenery speed by while everything in the bubble of the car moves in slow motion, comparatively.
One of my favorite small pleasures is merging onto a freeway. There's nothing like the feel of driving down the merge lane, depressing the gas pedal and feeling the car accelerate. Curving around an on ramp, bracing my knee against the car door as I guide the car. The car pulls in the opposite direction of my body, my hands on the steering wheel the only thing holding it in place on the road. Then, when it happens, there's the beautiful synchronicity of moving over into the next lane just as the car in front of me passes into my lane, our cars crossing at the exact same moment. And should it be a warm enough day to have the sunroof open and "Eminence Front" by the Who playing on the stereo, well then, it's a sweet moment of perfection. I'll never give up driving. They'll have to pry the steering wheel out of my cold, bare hands.

Which, if I continue driving the way I have been in Fairbanks, is a distinct possibility. I am constantly adding to my list of things not to do while driving in Fairbanks.  Apparently, tailgating, stopping up quick, right turns on red, and quick u-turns are not habits one should maintain when driving in snow.

It wasn't my fault, I swear!

Right turns on red don't work because you have no traction (same for u-turns). You press the gas only to spin out of control and go no where until suddenly you shoot out into traffic and the person you've suddenly cut off has to slam on his brakes. This is frowned upon. Although no on in Fairbanks would actually yell at you (not that I've seen yet).

And then there's the time I slid through an intersection on a red light. I had been stopping for a red light but as I got close to the intersection started skidding; and it became clear that by the time I stopped I'd be in the middle of the intersection. So in that split second I decided to speed up and just go on through. However as I tried to accelerate I had no traction and could feel my tires spinning endlessly, leaving me in the middle of the intersection. I finally managed to slide on through to the other side.

Now, you may think that the amazing thing here is that a) I didn't hit any cars, b) I didn't hit a light pole, or c) I didn't hit any pedestrians. You'd be wrong. The amazing thing is that no one, and I mean NO ONE, seemed disconcerted my Cheechako antics. I promise you that as I slid by the watching cars, I scanned the faces of the drivers and saw nothing but disinterested eyes. No looks of shock, dismay or even, "idiot!". I can only take this to mean that the people of Fairbanks have seen it all when it comes to Cheechako driving, and that my shenanigans can't phase them. I was able to put my story to good use though.

One of my high school students totaled his car so of course I enlightened him about my stupidity. This kid isn't hasn't had it easy of late and seeing as how I'm the third speech therapist of the year to come through, isn't all that interested in talking to me. As I relayed my story about sliding through the intersection on a red light, he kept his gaze down, arms across his chest. His eyebrows lifted in surprise as he looked at me out of the corner of his eyes before fixating back on his jeans. I saw the corners of his mouth turn up briefly. Finally. We were making headway. If my near misses can be used for speech therapy fodder, and to make an 18yo feel like less of a schmuck when all he's been told by his step-mom after losing his dad 3 years ago, is how he can be kicked out of the house at a moments notice...well then, I'm happy to oblige. Of all the wonderful things I experienced as a technical writer -- the fancy salary, the extraordinary medical benefits, the fabulous work from home schedule, the all-expense paid trips -- nothing, has made me feel as good as when I saw that smile. Nothing.


  1. Heather: You're awesome! After 30 years in education, I still get chills when that connection is made. Keep chipping away at those exteriors.

  2. Again, I am both entertained and awed. You made the right choice--go you!

  3. I really enjoyed reading this, Heather. Good for you.