I spent the later part of this Winter learning how to drive:
1. in the snow and
2. in a stick shift.
I patted my own back as I began to learn how to control a slide, to drive in slush and ice and everything not so nice and eventually, I took my first long voyage to a girlfriend’s house 15 miles away.
It was triumphant.
With the exception of the end.
Back then, Ole Lady Jack in the Box had little to no shocks and her back-end wobbled all over the road at the slightest interference like a less than predictable belly dancer. But just as I would feel about to lose control, she would snap back into action. It was my first time in 4th gear and my first time with passengers that weren’t my person (The Chief). Our neighbor and her pup and my other neighbor’s pup who relentlessly followed up for a few miles until we just decided to kidnap him for the day and Miss Cinda all packed into Lady Jack and headed to another girlfriend’s house on The Lake 15 miles away. It was relatively smooth sailing despite the rocky waters of The Road and the inexperienced Captain (yours truly) but we got there in one piece and high fives were definitely in order. All I had to do was turn around once we reached The Lake to face homeways before we trekked on foot across the frozen waters.
Funny thing was, I couldn’t quite find 1st gear after spending so much time out of it. With a cliff heading down to The Lake behind us and a 1.5 car road and blind turn in front of us, I set out to find 1st and right us in the direction homeward (that’s a thing out here. You always pull into a destination in a way so that you are faced homewards. I don’t know if it stemmed from fire trucks in our family or what, but it’s a habit and one I see almost everyone do out here and ya know, it makes a whole lot of sense).
7 tries later I finally found a little momentum. I caught the gear, a little too hard and flew forward enough to stall the car and land on the horn. The stall coupled with the high-pitched and long “meep” of the horn left us in tears from laughter. I swear the dogs were even laughing (after they were done rolling their eyes). A few tries afterwards I found 1st again and about ten minutes later we were turned homewards, without falling off the cliff or running into an oncoming car.
The rest of the day was spent spotting bald eagles and their babies and walking with the dogs along The Lake (we had acquired 4 more at this point. Outnumbered again.) as they found salmon to munch on and the ladies caught up.
Oh girl time, how I love thee.
That night, The Chief and my girlfriend’s husband ended up driving out to The Lake as well and due to a raucous party in my belly to which I had not been invited to chaperone, The Chief drove us home.
So, that morning was my last time driving a stick shift in any gear higher than 3rd on The Road. I’ve never even been off The Road, never driven on anything other than the fertile learning grounds of 60 miles of bumpy and deserted lands and thus have never entered a highway or driven in stop and go traffic.
But suddenly I was about to. You see, I spoke too soon.
And I should have known better.
The tonsils struck back.
After last week’s adventures in Abscess Land I figured I was free. Sure, the idea that they might come back again was in the very back of my mind but I haven’t organized back there in a while and it was easy to look past. All was good.
But again, I spoke too soon.
Just as I published last week’s post I felt it: the heat. My right ear started pulsing again and my ear and neck felt as if they were on fire.
I called my doctor in California and she promptly advised me to “hop on a plane to California. The infection may be coming back and who knows where it will land next”. She would send in a referral sight unseen for me to see an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat specialist) and I would likely have a Tonsillectomy.
I half choked on her words as I almost laughed a response out of nervousness. Hop on a plane? The nearest airport is 8 plus hours away. Correction: the nearest airport is 3.5 miles away. I can get there on foot. That being said, that airport brings in mail twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays on small planes packed to the gills. Those would be the only days I could potentially get out via air (if they weren’t already booked with passengers) and it would cost a pretty penny just to get to Anchorage where again, pennies would get even prettier as I purchased my way back to California. In addition to that, simply going to the high town here (at an increase of 1,000 ft.) made my ears go crazy so jumping in a plane sounded more like a torture chamber than a refuge.
But what could I do? Kaiser would only refer me to Kaiser and guess what?
There’s no Kaiser in Alaska.
Well, I for one did and I for one did nothing to start working out my medical situation in Alaska in anticipation of a future need for care.
Care I needed right then.
Plan ahead? That’s cute of you to suggest. No, I think I’ll go for the fly by the seat of your pants and potentially have to sell the shirt off your back to pay for it approach. Yes, that sounds much more serene.
After hours and hours and hours on the phone trying to figure out my best options through MediCal, Medicare in Alaska, Kaiser and Partnership (some go-between for MediCal and Kaiser that is confusing to everyone in the medical system) to get in to see an ENT, it dawned on me:
The Chief and I had basically spent the entire Winter with his ENT. Maybe they would see me.
No referral needed. They set me up with an appointment for that coming Friday.
Now then, our car was (and is) still broken and we can’t very well steal away in a Fire truck during a time of extreme fire danger, but make the appointment I did.
Our neighbor came to our rescue lending us his valiant Subaru steed and with that we were set. I called around for a vet appointment for Cinda as well as she had been having some older lady problems that we had been unable to get her in for and when you’re going to Town you pack in every appointment you can. Two birds? Why not try for 20 with one stone. Try we did.
This time, it was a Town Run on steroids.
Our plan: leave Thursday, return Friday night.
20 hours of driving in 36 hours.
And we were going to share the driving.
Gulp. Stick shift training in a hurry.
Why the rush? Saturday was packed to the gills: there was a Fire Department Kickball Game & Cookout Fundraiser and I was performing with the local band at the bar for our first gig. We had to make it back.
All week I made phone calls trying to finagle a way to ensure this visit and the potential CTs and Xrays the doctor had suggested would somehow be covered. Many times throughout the week, even though I still had to take loads of Ibuprofen to function and couldn’t make it through any evening event, I tried to convince The Chief that maybe we were wasting our time.
“Julia, you had an abscess on top of Tonsillitis which blew up in your mouth. We are going to the doctor.”
He’s good like that. You see the thing is, (gross part approaching) as I had guessed, the drainage of an abscess is supposed to happen in the hospital and then following the drainage, patient’s are given a high dosage shot of Penicillin. And it didn’t quite roll out that way.
I guess he had a point. Besides, my Mom was in California backing up The Chief’s every call with a Do You Need Me To Come Up There And Drag You To The Doctor Myself Mom Voice so I knew I was going no matter what.
But I was still worried about the money because who knew where in the system this was coming from but if it didn’t land somewhere, it was coming from me and me is not exactly rolling in the dough.
“You are getting the care you need. I don’t care if we have to pay it off for the next 20 years.”
I have never had someone so blatantly and selflessly throw themselves on the line for me (other than my Mom) and make me feel like we are in it together no matter what.
I was honored (though I still tried to get out of it).
But I didn’t get out of it and so we left Thursday, ready to return Friday and hoping the doctors wouldn’t require us to stay longer (we’d experienced that move before and were poised to debate it if we needed to).
We left with a zoom, as if we were gathering running momentum in order to pole vault ourselves back. A few times I thought The Chief might ask me to drive and I readied myself for the challenge despite the intense pain building in my ears as we went up and down and up and down the mountains. But he didn’t.
No driving yet.
We stopped about 4 hours from home at the nearest DMV. About a month ago I was on a Girl Trip day mission to the same town to get two things done: loads of laundry and licensing at the DMV. Since I’ve lived here since December (and you’re supposed to change over licenses after living somewhere for something like 30 days, I’ve just found out) I was way out-of-bounds. But I was hesitant. I liked my CA license. I’d never had anything else. It felt like I was saying “goodbye” and it made me apprehensive.
That is until we showed up at 11am on a Thursday and the DMV was closed. In that moment, I realized that a license is just a license and I needed my license in AK. My heart and at times my feet will always have a place in California but in order to get this whole medical shebang moving, I needed to come at it legitimately.
But living in small towns means small DMVs, DMVs like you’ve probably (I hadn’t) never seen before. It’s a one room tiny building with one owner/operator whom obviously (though it wasn’t obvious to me before arriving) is able to set her own hours of operation. 9-5? Think again.
When I saw that Closed sign I knew I wanted that license. Leave it to Alaska to give you just what you were secretly asking for, only to help you realize that you didn’t really mean it.
So, here it was, today was the day: legitimate driving in Alaska. I had waited a whole month to be able to get back here and I was stoked. I had studied online, found out all the paperwork I needed and I was ready. I came in, gave her my forms and identification and proof of residence and she looked at me and said:
“Oh no, you live at the end of The 60 Mile Road, don’t you?”
She recognized me from Winter when we came in for Fire Truck registrations on one of our trips to Town.
“You didn’t bring your passport or birth certificate by any chance?”
No, I had looked online and it asked for Identification. If it had asked for my passport I would have brought my passport. It was sitting in our kitchen drawer, four hours away. The Chief had suggested I call the DMV but I had stubbornly ignored his suggestion. If I hadn’t I would have known that apparently I needed my passport.
She knew we wouldn’t be able to come back until I could catch another ride into town who knows when but there was nothing that could be done. I took the test and passed (it’s an abnormally hard test for some reason so I was glad to make it through) and we placed all of my paperwork in an envelope for me to return with when I could.
Another DMV letdown. Man, I’m really going to have to work to prove to Alaska that I do want to be here, I guess. That’s O.K., I’m in.
Third time’s the charm?
The Chief kept driving from there and about an hour outside of Town we reassessed. He said he’d be fine to just finish it up (it’s like driving to L.A. from Sonoma County, not a small quest) and so we pulled into Town ahead of schedule and settled in for the night.
The next morning it was pouring down rain.
“Maybe I’ll just drive to the doctor’s office. Anchorage can get hectic in the rain.” The Chief offered. I was relieved. Stop and go traffic in the rain for the first time on a stick I’ve never driven that’s also not ours? No thank you.
We got to the doc’s office and the whole staff gave us confused looks as I entered as the patient instead of The Chief. He had one of the worst cases of sinus infections they had ever seen and so was remembered by the team. The doctor came in, evaluated my tonsils and ears and said:
“The infection doesn’t seem to be spreading. You still have Tonsillitis, despite the burst abscess so that’s why you’re still in so much pain but keep on the antibiotics and call me if you need more.”
“So, shall we take them out?”
Thank you! Finally, a doc who gets it. Personally, I am not one to jump at surgery (heck, I can barely get myself in for a check-up), but my tonsils scare me. They feel constantly on the brink of infection and this recent abscess on top of infection was enough to make me worry. I don’t want to be in the woods constantly dealing with Tonsillitis.
“Alright let’s schedule you in now.”
Now? Like next week? Oh heck no. I have a show to play tomorrow.
We asked if we could push it…to September and he gave us a look that meant “Sure, but your tonsils will decide”. So we scheduled for September so I could spend the Summer working instead of recovering from surgery (apparently it’s a pretty gnarly surgery for adults) and crossed our fingers that the infection doesn’t spread and my tonsils don’t start going for gold in the Tonsillitis Olympics again.
I left feeling heard, finally.
We had five hours to kill before the Vet which seemed like an eternity. Two errands later and we had 2.5 hours left. Time flies when you’re having fun in Anchorage.
The rain kept coming and first gear started acting up. The Chief kept driving.
Two more errands later and we were at the Vet. Poor Lou was so nervous and in so much pain when they even attempted to look at her lady bits that they had to give her morphine. It didn’t exactly calm her (she’s a dog raised in the woods without laminated flooring or leashes, it’s all unfamiliar to her) but it did deaden her senses enough that as we left she fell over in the car after we made a quick turn. The thud was both sad and hilarious at the same time but there she was, smiling goofily as she slowly picked herself back up. Triumphant T, the Hallucinating Husky.
With a Doped Up Dog and a Surgery Scheduled Sweetie on board The Chief drove us out of Town. We stopped for supplies an hour out and as he grabbed an energy drink he said he didn’t mind just taking the whole drive.
I’d love to pretend that I was a little disappointed but I wasn’t. Learning a new stick on a car I don’t own on big traffic-filled roads with a testy 1st gear in the rain in a rush to get home (as it was now almost 7pm and we were still 7 hours away) sounds 100% like a typical Alaskan learning experience but 100% not what I was up for at that moment. And so, I let go and let him take us home. Thank you.
We got in late but in record time and all in all we had made it out of town which was really all that mattered.
The next day was a flurry of activity getting ready for the fundraiser (though thanks to our friend almost everything was already in place, she’s awesome). I was down at The Restaurant and had just plated the last batch of cookies I’d made to bring up to the fundraiser. I walked outside to go the long way to the ball field instead of scaling the treacherous back way and just as I stepped outside, The Chief rolled up, horn meep meeping.
A few months ago The Chief gave away the Honda to a wonderful mechanic friend. I was not excited. I loved that Honda and wanted to get her back to life (I’d never seen her in action), but we didn’t know to fix her and hadn’t had the time and so, in the circle of life things live around here, she was given away to hopefully be resurrected and loved by someone else.
For some reason though, as I said goodbye to her I knew I would see her again.
He pulled up meep meeping the horn and I almost threw the cookies in the air with excitement.
“It’s for you, babe.”
Our mechanic friend had gotten it working but decided he didn’t need it so he had sold it to his brother for $100.00. The brother had brought it to the Kickball game to potentially give it to another friend but when The Chief saw it he immediately ran and got his money. This is for Julia.
I spent the rest of the day smiling at her when I wasn’t riding her and getting bugs in my teeth my grin was so big when I was riding her.
She was a hit with the kiddos too.
At one point someone ran up to her and went to take her off her kickstand and I yelled across the field: “Don’t you just jump on Bluebell! She’s an old lady and deserves respect.”
She had a name. It had just popped out.
At the end of the fundraiser I rode Bluebell down to the bar and for some reason The Chief suggested I take the key with me. We both looked at one another with our heads cocked as he said it (we don’t have a key to our house and we never lock anything out here. The keys are always inside everyone’s vehicles and there is just trust in the town for it to be so) but I did it anyways.
And it’s a good thing I did.
Hours later, after playing music for 2-3 hours and having an awesome night a local ran into the bar and said “Someone just stole your bike!”
We ran outside and down the trail and sure enough someone had tried to steal Bluebell but when they couldn’t get her started they had thrown her in the bushes. I picked her up and dusted her off as The Chief hightailed it after the invisible thief whom had disappeared into the night.
Thank goodness we had taken the key with us.
That night as I drove Bluebell home (completely un-equipped in my dress and gloveless frozen fingers) I giggled out loud from happiness. I had loved that bike since I first saw her and to have her come back around full circle is what this place is all about. It makes my heart warm.
And so, despite two attempts at the DMV and zero attempts at a stick shift in town, my driving karma has finally taken a turn with Bluebell.
Yesterday morning, I went outside to check on the garden.
I was almost to the ramp to indoors when I spotted Bluebell in her parking spot. I couldn’t resist. I fired her up (a process of five separate steps) and flew down the road on a mini joy ride down to the river before we left for the day, slippers and all. I just couldn’t walk past her without jumping on.
And so, Tonsillitis (which seems to be improving everyday) and Town Rampages aside, this weekend was one of the best I’ve spent here so far. I may not know how to drive a stick shift in Town yet and I will still have to make yet another trip to the DMV but I suddenly have the best rig a lady could ask for.
Cheers to resurrections of vehicles who have more lives than cats and cheers to The Chief for buying her twice.
Cheers to Bluebell.