The Road to Alaska: We are There Yet

June 9

There are two tasks left to us now that we are on this little boat from Skagway to Juneau, both of which are in Alaska. Eric and I must return to the civilization that we left behind a mere week ago and I have to find a way to part with the Subaru without just abandoning it. Getting out of paradise (and Juneau is most certainly that, if glaciers, mountains, water, and rustic beauty are your thing) is the easy part. Shuttle from the hotel, the most well-dressed Best Western I’ve every slept in, to the airport, no sweat. The car remains a problem. I did a little research before this journey started. A website assured me that they wanted my vehicle and were absolutely eager to give me some cash for it, even in Alaska. A website. Erin Teachman, you know better than that.

 Thing is there's Alaska. And then there's Juneau.

Thing is there's Alaska. And then there's Juneau.

You’ll notice the green on that set of Google Maps. That's a national forest. You’ll also notice the total lack of highways or, you know, roads of any kind. The only way into Juneau for a vehicle is the delightful floating hostel that is taking is from Skagway to Juneau, the Alaska Marine Highway. Not much import/export of vehicles in Juneau, let alone traffic in junkers. No one wanted that car when they learned it was in Juneau, not even 1–800-Kars for Kids. That means the only option apparently available is also the worst: I need to spend $150 to have someone take the gas out of the tank and the rubber off the wheels and, man I hate even typing this, junk the car.

 Screw you, no way!

Screw you, no way!

To paraphrase a famous film critic: I hate, hate, hate, hate this idea. This car has just been driven 3800 miles without so much as a check engine light. But because I foolishly chose to drive to Alaska's capital, which happens to be in an inaccessible bloody wilderness area, instead of its largest city, it looks for all the world like no one here is going to get the benefit of a car that just wants to keep going. I’m not sentimental about machines, but this just feels wrong. Without a better option, we head out to the damn "recycling center," even though they haven’t returned my phone calls.

 The Subaru just doesn't belong here . . . 

The Subaru just doesn't belong here . . . 

The junk yard is in a junk yard place, out of the way and out of sight from the populated parts of Juneau. We have to shout at the people ripping tires off of wheels to get their attention. My irritation grows immensely at the lack of service. Someone, eventually, deigns to notice us and they meander over to discuss our offer of economic benefit to their organization. I am even less happy that these ingrates might get this car. But then fate or whatever intervenes, and Eric’s storytelling skill leaps into action. While haggling with the recycler and insisting on the viability of the car that I had demonstrably driven into the recycling place, a man and his friend and his three children roll up in the most distressed Honda Odyssey imaginable. “Free car” is a phrase that floats into the air like fragrant incense. The owner of the Odyssey thinks it smells pretty good. The owner of the recycling center does not, insisting that we can’t do that whole transfer of title thing in her place. Which is great, I am happy to leave her behind. 

 Transfer of title, natch.

Transfer of title, natch.

We drive to a nearby Costco, we sign the documents, like incompetent boobs because who transfers title in a Costco parking lot? The key is given over and we receive payment: a trip to a local sports bar because it's close to the motel and the Penguins are playing and damn it, we want a drink. There are dirty diapers and shyly aggressive youngsters in the van with us. It is a weird place to be, a benefactor who has immediately become a dependent. He drives away with the keys and we walk into McGivney’s with the license plate and it is over. The 1997 Subaru Legacy L had delivered us, safe and sound and with absolutely no drama whatsoever to a remote settlement bordering on legitimate wilderness even in the 21st damn century. Prost, as the Germans say. Drink up, for we are at this particular journey's end.

Now

 That car is a friggin’ hero

That car is a friggin’ hero

Mechanics make all kinds of money convincing people that work needs to be done on their car because well, they said so and regular folk don’t have any way to disagree with that statement and there are those damn lights on the dash. Thing is, cars don’t need to be perfect to keep running. If you are worried about re-sale value or some such nonsense like that, you might think that cars are much worse at their primary function than they really are. But (most) cars are not stores of economic value; they are a means to your own economic empowerment. Their purpose is to be driven. Modern cars are very good at doing that for a very long time, including this generation of Subaru. The 2.2L boxer engine from that era is legendary for how long it just keeps going. And if it weren’t for one tiny administrative bit of frippery and the idiocy of that Maryland inspection, I would have kept driving that car until I couldn’t, which was probably going to be a long time (not that I'm upset about the Fiat 500 Abarth I currently drive). I felt like I needed to do something with this car that honors the spirit of what we did. I put my own sweat equity into it and the car got me through the infernal traffic that clogs the roads that "serve" this nation’s capital for four years and change.  We dug coal together. It deserved this incredible journey to and through amazingly beautiful places.

But let's be real, this journey is not solely about doing right by a car. The best advice to all aspiring creatives, young or old, is to just damn well do it, whatever the it your contemplating might be. You give yourself the title of "artist." If you write, you are a writer. If you take pictures and create stories, you are a designer. You don't need anyone's permission for any of that. Getting someone to recognize that fact and bringing you on board for their project and paying you for it is an entirely different matter, but not one that is relevant in terms of categories. More than anything, my road to Alaska was the road to the confidence to assert: I am an artist. I may not have an audience and I did not (and almost certainly will not) get paid to do any part of it, but no one will ever accuse me of not having a tale to tell and images to tell it. 

 What a maroon

What a maroon

There is this weird ticking clock in me that insists that it’s all too late. 36 years isn't young, even if it isn't old yet. "You can't do it" says the clock as it chimes. That doesn't necessarily make any sense, but part of me isn’t particularly rational (because, like, duh, human). I never took a shine to playing or watching poker. But I am an analytically inclined nerd, even if I work in the arts and aspire to my art. The psychology of professional poker players is fascinating. It’s not about individual results. It’s about knowing your risk tolerance, knowing what it costs, and knowing the odds. You were not wrong to bet on a full house if you lose to a four of a kind. You just lost, that’s a bad beat. You gotta know the odds, know how people make mistakes in their thinking, train yourself, and develop a process.

I went into freelancing knowing the risks and the possibilities. I might have a down month, but I could also get a fantastic opportunity the month after that. I might spend months at a time doing things for money that I don't want to spend the rest of my life doing, but that ain't different than most folk and in the meantime I can do things like drive to Alaska from Washington, DC taking 2000 photos and 200 Gb of video along the way. I did that on purpose, I lived with intention, this is the process. My process posits that the shape of my day ends up being the shape of my life, so the essential task becomes rooted in the daily. And so I ask myself the same question every single day: Did I do something creative today? And do whatever it takes, big or small, to make sure that my answer is "You bet your ass I did."

I mean, this is beautiful, right?