Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sockeye Sam - Eulogy of a soon-to-be-extinct Hummer

It was almost midnight and I was at the rental car counter at the Anchorage airport. I forgot to ask at the counter which rental car I was getting into. As I walked towards my marked lot, I was a bit disappointed to see an "upgrade" to a minivan. I was too tired to go back inside and request a car. (I dint want to drive around in a 7 passenger Minivan in Alaska for all places all by myself).

Next day, I went to exchange the minivan for a car. But they didn't have any cars and I could only get an SUV instead. They gave me two choices. Ford Expedition and Hummer H3.

I was not very happy to get a super sized SUV considering that I am an Environmentalist attending a conference on Climate change. Besides, I promised to give ride to a top EPA scientist,who helped author some of the toughest air quality standards, to do some sight seeing in the evening. Looking from any perspective, Hummer and Global warming didn't go along well. But then my only other option was to get an Expedition which also doesn't get high marks for environmental friendliness. Also the fact that GM will no longer make Hummer, made me want to ride a soon to be extinct species. I never rode a Hummer and this is my last chance, I said to myself.

The lady at the counter was getting a bit impatient. She asked in a higher than normal voice, "Expedition or H3". I said H3!!

It looked intimidating at first. It felt tedious to operate. The window sill was too high. I couldn't even reach to the ticket machine to pull out the parking tickets. Gear knob was too bulky that it didn't fit in my rather large fist. I couldn't find the headlight switch. After fiddling around for a while, I found it on the dash! I looked for gas tank cap release button inside. There isn't any because it is a manual twist and turn cap. The doors are too heavy that you feel it is better to use both hands to avoid back injury. The wheels are too tall and bulky. Over all, it was like a muscle man walking in the gym with tiny shorts and namesake brief to show off. All muscles and a little cloth.

The last day afternoon of the conference, we set out to a small harbor town Seward (120 miles south of Anchorage) in the hope of getting a glimpse of the Glacier. It started raining as soon as we left anchorage. We said to ourselves, "well it is better to be in an all wheel drive when it rains". The rain intensified and we started seeing snow in abundance along the freeway. We said to ourselves, "well a heavy SUV is more stable on ice than a minivan but a car definitely handles well on curves".

After a few curves and potholes later, we said to ourselves, "this damn thing handles well and glides over potholes like it never existed". It had a pickup of a rocket (ok, you get the point) and had a turning radius of a Sledge Dog!!

The more we drove, the more inviting it became. It taunted and teased us to be bold. I tried to finish a U turn on a narrow street hoping that the wheels will run over the curb. But it finished the turn without touching the curb! I drove through a puddle of water and it just cut it through. I braked sudden in a turn out and it stopped in a heart beat with a giant jerking of the ABS.

We took some great pictures of him standing majestic with snow clad mountains backdrop. We were not sure if we wanted to leave a proof of our affair with the prodigious creature that is hated for its carbon foot print. But decided, "what the heck, this is our last opportunity to be seen next to a dinosaur". So took some photos of ourselves standing close to a Hummer.

After 260 miles of fun along the highway, it was time for payback. Pulled over to a gas station and filled him up. 20 gallons for 260 miles of highway!! That is 13 mpg. All the fun we had for the last 6 hours seemed like a forbidden pleasure. Not very proud of what we did but felt very good.

We parked him at the curb to end the day with a good Alaskan salmon dinner. We felt that we need to christen our friend. The hummer is red and we are in Alaska. What name could be more appropriate than "Sockeye Sam" ( as in red sockeye salmon), we thought. Sockeye Sam it is....We miss you Sam. Not just today but years to come. But we will wait for a day you are reborn as an H2O emitting darling on the road (and off road too). Till then, peace to your soul :(

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