A hangar’s hang-up, watching home on TV


Last night we were watching a show

About a place we all know

     In the terrible weather

     We thought it was clever

The Discovery Channel at Barrow

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  Avoiding burnout, I’m taking a sabbatical while my one-year non-compete clause winds down, having adventures, visiting family and friends, and working in out-of-the-way places.  Currently I’m on assignment at the hospital in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States.

Last night Bethany and I indulged our worst vice: television.

We have such a problem with TV that we’ve never owned one.  If a television is present, we have no control, and we will watch it to the exclusion of eating, sleeping, and each other.

A TV dominates one end of the commons room, and we went there with the intention of serious tube time.  Already there we found two lab techs and three nurses.  I tuned the large flat screen to the History Channel and found Flying Wild Alaska.  The show centers around an Alaska family that runs a small airline, ERA.

ERA mostly flies into the bush, those places only accessible by air or boat.  They deal with extremes of climate and weather on a regular basis, and make life possible for the fringe of the twenty-first century.

The murmur of conversation died away when the narrator said Barrow.  Suddenly we all paid attention.

If you haven’t seen the show, the photography accurately depicts the town of Barrow, and I’m sure many people think to themselves, “Why would anyone want to live there?”

Many in Barrow think, “Why would I want to live anywhere else?”  A lot of people have left for a decade or two and returned permanently; many others have chosen Barrow as their retirement home.  Here cars become more of a hindrance than a necessity, one can feasibly walk most anywhere, streets are safe, cabs are cheap and quick, cab drivers are courteous, young people show elders respect, and world problems seem, well, a world away.

The weather is horrendous. 

While the wind outside gusted to 100 kilometers per hour and the temperature hovered in the negative Fahrenheit double digits (around minus 20 Celsius), with the airport solidly weathered in, we watched in awe as our very small town showed on the screen.  We talked a lot when the footage centered on Kaktovik or Unakleet, but watched Barrow images in rapt silence, occasionally saying things like “I know where that is,” or “Look, there’s Phil.”

Part of the suspense had to do with traction on the runway, and whether or a not a pilot, dangerously low on fuel, would be able to land or not.

At the commercial break we broke out into commentary.  Sure, we’re weathered in right now, and yes, it’s dangerous being a bush pilot, and no, none of us would want to try to land on a runway with unknown traction.

The next Barrow segment had to do with ERA’s new hangar: the first time the door went up, it stuck and could not be lowered.  Calls to the manufacturer on the east coast didn’t help; they’d closed for the day.  From the footage we inferred they solved the problem with  hot-wiring, and we wondered if such a maneuver would void the warranty.

When the episode ended, I said, “Hey, Bethany, wanna go see the hangar on Monday and see if it works?”

“Sure,” she said.

This evening, I met an ERA employee (not a patient) who assured me that the door now works well.

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