Getting around town in the subarctic

Why would I want a car
In a town where no one goes far
And a four-dollar taxi
Has a speed that is maxi
If you’re just going from here to thar.

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I am back having adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record System (EMR) I can get along with. Right now I’m in Nome, Alaska.

When I accepted the assignment here in Nome, I told the recruiter I didn’t need a car. Googlemaps revealed a town small enough that walking would suffice. Yes, from time to time I expected bad enough weather to make the half mile walk to work dangerous, and for that I requested taxi vouchers. Nome has more car traffic than Barrow did and a lot fewer people walk. The snow machines, Gators, ATVs pedestrians and fat-tire bikes still rule the snow-packed streets. And, because of connection with the Nome-Teller highway, a road maintained by the state in the summer, vehicles need current registration and drivers need licenses.

On Wednesday, the Norton Sound Health Corporation issued me a corporate vehicle. The Nice Lady in Administration stood on the 3rd floor and pointed out the window. “See that white Ford next to that pickup parked nose out?” she asked, and handed me the key.

After finishing electronic documentation for the only 4 afternoon patients, I approached the aging SUV.

By the time I got 3 blocks from the hospital, I had discovered: 1) It takes longer to warm it up than it does to scrape a light layer of frost from the glass. 2) The left side dash lights don’t work and the only way to visualize the gas gauge is with a flashlight. 3) The Check Engine light functions as an eternal beacon. 4) The oil pressure gauge stays pinned on zero. 5) You can use a Bic pen top as a radio knob. 6) You can’t tell the difference between the Overdrive and windshield wiper controls without a really good flashlight. 7) Neither fob nor the driver’s side power lock button will unlock the doors.

I turned around, put the Ford in its place, and walked back to the apartment.

Next day I told the Nice Lady in Administration about the oil pressure gauge and the Check Engine light.

In the afternoon an employee from maintenance brought me the keys and assured me nobody could find anything wrong with the engine. The oil gauge needle, stuck on the wrong side of the E pin, wouldn’t function in the foreseeable future.

Three days after receiving the keys, I have scraped frozen rain from the glass twice, and used the Ford to buy groceries twice. I remain unconvinced that vehicle possession advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I’ll still walk to work.


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