"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Way Things Were; The Way Things Should Be

There were times in my youth that you couldn’t pay me enough to live through again; there were times in my youth for which I yearn.   One of the latter is an Alaskan tradition of stopping to help fellow motorists.

You couldn’t park your vehicle on the side of the road without every passing motorist  stopping to ask if you needed help.  Made things a little difficult if you’d stopped just to find a girl bush or a boy bush, but the tradition also gave one a sense of not being so alone while traveling vast distances between pockets of civilization and in harsh conditions.

Things changed, for the worse.  Sure, you will still find folks who pause to ask.   They are usually senior citizens. 

Sunday, I was up in the Silvertip area and had just returned to my truck after getting rained out while picking up litter.  A pickup/RV trailer rig was parked in the same pullout and as I sat resting and considering my next move, a man came to my window and asked where he could get cell service.

Unfortunately, he was in the middle of the Dead Zone along the Seward Highway, where there was NO cell service.   “Nine miles south or 16 miles north,” I told him.

He explained that his truck had suddenly overheated and when he poured water into the radiator, it ran out onto the ground.   He had his wife, three young boys, and a dog with him.

I already knew as he talked that I was going to help him, I just didn’t know quite how yet.  We had several options.   The first one was driving back to the Hope junction to a 911 emergency call box (not a regular telephone).  I wasn’t sure the police would call a wrecker for the man, but they did. 

This involved a number of calls and some waiting for the wrecker operator to respond.   That option ended when he was quoted $800 to $900 to tow the truck to Eagle River, about 80 miles away.

Remember, this is Memorial Day weekend.   Finding a business open?   Good luck.

Even then, he faced leaving his RV trailer behind.  He offered me $100 and gasoline to tow his trailer to Eagle River, where he lived.  I’d already decided that I would help this fellow any way I could, and though I said “Okay,” there was no way I’d accept his money.   Gas, yes; money, no.

And that’s what happened.   Once we traveled 16 miles out of the mountains and down to Turnagain Arm, he had cell service and called his insurance company, USAA, the company that caters to the military.   They found a wrecker operator who would get the truck for $143.00!

So, we had a pleasant drive to Eagle River with the five of them in my truck and their RV hitched up behind us.

The Girdwood gas and convenience store.

My truck slurps up  a gallon every ten miles when pulling a trailer.

Both of us agreed that there was a reason why I’d parked my truck where I had while I cleaned up litter, that there was a reason why whatever happened to his truck happened just a short distance from there.  Sometimes, things get eerie.

At their home in Eagle River.

I declined his $100 and asked for only $20 to fill my gas tank on the way home.   He paid for my gas in Girdwood on the way, and when I got back to where it all began, I had the same amount of gas on the gauge as when the whole adventure started.

The door handles at the Girdwood gas/convenience store.   Note the wear on the top of the right one.

I e-mailed him this morning, saying his truck was fine when I’d passed by that night.

He wrote back, with many thanks, and “Your act of kindness meant so much.  Because of you, my children were able to sleep in their beds.  More importantly, my children learned a valuable lesson about helping people in a time of need. I am grateful for your act of kindness, and I will absolutely do the same when an opportunity presents itself.

I’m not relating this story for kudos or atta boys.   But, there comes a time in life when one considers past sins—both those of commission and omission—and wonders if the Brownie Points accumulated through good deeds and of helping our fellow humans can somehow outweigh those sins.

Just in case there really is a God, and just in case She reads Facebook, I’m posting this story to that social media site.   Just in case, you understand.

Oh, by the way.  Today, the morning after, I stopped to pick up a piece of new litter.   As I backed up to where it was, I stopped short by about fifteen feet.   I don’t know why, but when I got out of the truck and reached for a litter bag in the back, I looked at the ground. 

Right behind the right rear tire was a beer bottle with the neck broken off and razor-sharp shards waiting to puncture my tire.


Lolly-gagging my way home in the rain:

The 65mph speed limit is cut down to 45mph at this time of year when the hooligan are running.   Note the vehicles parked on the side of the highway and the people standing along the guardrail.

The Alaska Railroad scenic passenger train along Turnagain Arm.

What happens when you take photos while driving in a rainstorm.

The proud symbols of our nation getting down and dirty in the glacier grit of Turnagain Arm.

Dipping for hooligan.

The name "hooligan" is most likely a bastardization of "eulachon," a Pacific smelt.

When spawning, 15 percent of a hooligan's body weight is fat.   Thus it gets another of its names--candlefish-- because is can be dried and burned like a candle.

Leave the goody bags above the high tide mark.....

...because at high tide, all this is flooded.

See all the happy little gulls, all pointed into the wind?

Don't they look downright serene?

Oh, my goodness.    All the peaceful little gulls are now hysterical!

I knew right away what stirred up the gulls.   A bald eagle flew over them, on its way to the hooligan grounds.   This is a quick, over the shoulder and through the windshield shot.

And all the little gulls went back to their trees.

Except this one.   This one never left its stump.


  1. I felt like I was there with you. GREAT writing

  2. How nice ... that you had an opportunity to help someone. What a GREAT lesson for the children! Things like this not only bring a smile to my face, but, renew all over again why I love Alaska. Some of the old traditions live on!!! Good on ya. Hugs, Patti and Cap

  3. UNfortunately, and this happened to friends of mine up in the North BUT not quite in the same way. Jim and Deacon Walt were driving to Manley Hot Springs. Out in the middle of nowhere a man flagged them down. They stopped. The man came to the right (passenger) door and said, "Look down." Jim did and the man in distress was pointing a pistol at him. Jim said, "Now you look down." Jim and Walt BOTH had pistols of their own. They drove on. Called the troopers when they had cell service and the bad man was indeed picked up.

    Such endeavors of helping others out on the road out in the middle of nowhere are risky. This man you helped had a family with him and you could size him up. NICE story. Smiles Cap and Patti.

    1. The thirty-something man in question had three children, a wife, and a dog with him. He did not flag me down. He was clean cut and polite. Turns out he had served in Iraq while in the Army, commanded a four-tank group at the age of 20. After leaving the Army, he went to law school, applied for admission into the Air Force as an attorney, was accepted, and now prosecutes crimes in the force. I liked the guy after a couple minutes of talking.

  4. As you always say, Cap, "To feel good, do good." I had a wonderful drive home!