Killing Time in Cooper Landing, Alaska

This particular adventure started a month ago, when Hunter's wonderful boss asked me if I could attend a conference in Girdwood to try to recruit a physician for the clinic in Homer. I had no particular plans that weekend and agreed to help her out.

I spent last week getting ready for this conference - making sure I had jazzy job descriptions printed out and marketing materials at the ready. Since Girdwood is located about 45 minutes drive south of Anchorage, I decided to rent a car and drive up.

I phone the local Hertz Rent-A-Car to be told that I could have a beat up Ford Taurus for some astronomical price. No thanks. I then phoned one of our local car rental agencies who said they'd rent me a nice Subaru for about $60 a day. Perfect!

On Friday at noon, I picked up my Subaru and started my drive north to Girdwood. Now, I've been on a bit of a water kick lately. So I had a big water bottle with me and was happily sipping from it as I cruised. About 2 hours in, I found myself in need of a washroom and a tank of gas.

Lesson 1 - In Alaska, your rental car does not always come with a full gas tank.

As I neared the little town of Cooper Landing, I spotted a gas station and pulled over. I got out of the car to start the fueling process and noticed that I had pulled up to the wrong side of the pump.

Lesson 2 - Subaru gas tanks are on the passenger side.

By then I really had to pee. So I locked the car and walked up to the station. The first thing I saw was a sign that said, "no washrooms." No!?! I turned around, went back to my car thinking that I'd go to the next gas station. I put the keys in the door and immediately the car alarm erupted in a deafening squeal. What?

I opened the car door, stuck the key in the ignition, turned it and nothing. The squealing car was disabled. Sadly, the alarm wasn't. I fiddled with locks, turned keys, everything I could think of to get into that car without the blaring shrieks of the alarm. Nothing.

I ran back into the station and found the owner standing behind the counter. I asked him if he knew where the closest washroom was and if he knew anything about car alarms. Anything at all. He asked me if I really had to go. I squeaked "yes!" and he produced a key and directed me to trail to the washroom. Yay! He watched cautioned me about the icy trail and watched to make sure I got down without falling.

When I came out, I found the owner and his one employee discussing my alarm predicament. I showed them the key that the rental company gave me. Luckily, one of these men was a retired locksmith and knew exactly what the problem was. The key in my hand did not have a chip in it that would disable the alarm. I had the wrong key.

Lesson 3 - No matter what predicament you get yourself into, there always seems to be an Alaskan man nearby who has the right experience to help.

The three of us braved the car's piercing wails and got the rental contract out of the car. I spoke with the renter who told me to wiggle the locks, try opening the car from the other doors and various other useless tasks that left the car screaming. Irritated, I gave the phone to the gas station owner who explained the key problem to the rental car guy. Car rental guy didn't seem to buy it.

Fifteen minutes and three sets of alarm cycles later, car rental guy phoned the station and asked the owner if he'd drive me to the nearest restaurant to wait while he brought me another car. I was two and a half hours out of Homer in a town that's not even listed in the phone book. This was going to be interesting.

After a nice chat with the station employee who told me about his life working the on the railroad, being a chef for Princess Cruise lines and what it was like to cook on the Alaska Railroad, we piled into his truck and headed off to the local restaurant to wait.

The restaurant, of course, was empty. I walked in, waved to the gas station guy who was waiting to make sure I got in okay and took a seat. I thought a salad would be nice, but they had no salad that day. I thought a rice bowl would be nice but they didn't have that either. So I settled on a cheese burger. There were no newspapers and I left my book in the wailing car so I sat there thinking about cheeseburgers.

After my dinner, I explained to my waitress that I was stranded and that I'd be there for a while. She directed me to the bar where a TV was on. I moseyed over, took a seat and spent the next two hours watching the news, sipping water and playing with the bar dog.

Lesson 4 - Alaska bar dogs are fun to play with.

Two and a half hours later, car rental guy burst into the restaurant, hollering my name. When he saw me, he asked me if I'd been drinking. I said no, I have a long night ahead of me and I've been sipping water. He asked the waitress, who said, no. Then he polled the two people in the bar, asking them if I'd been drinking. THAT was the last straw. I drew his attention to the television and explained that I was sitting there drinking water watching the news and that it beat sitting by myself in the restaurant watching the wall for nearly THREE HOURS.

We returned to the gas station where he unloaded another Subaru for me off a trailer. This one was smaller and sportier with a very cracked windshield. At that point, I wasn't going to argue. My new buddy, the gas station employee came out of the now closed station to ask me if I was okay. He explained that he stayed late to make sure that I was okay and that I had enough gas to get me to Girdwood. Car rental guy cut him off and said that I had enough gas and would the employee go get him some washer fluid.

The employee refused.  He told us that he was just there to make sure that I was able to to my conference okay. He said he wasn't there for anyone else. I was really touched. This guy had already done a full shift, being paid only $5 an hour and stayed another two hours without pay to make sure I was okay.

Lesson 5 - Alaskan men are awfully kind to a damsel in distress.

So, if you ever find yourself in Cooper Landing, Alaska. Stop by Hamilton's Station where you'll find two of the sweetest men in the State.

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