Near Darke
By Hank Nuwer

My wife Gosia and I returned yesterday from a working vacation in Alaska. The mountains wore a majestic white cape of snow.

As we drove hairpin turns on the Kenai Peninsula, the Avis rental car belched an ominous warning noise.

Gulp, a dashboard icon predicted “impending brake failure.”

A tiny airport in Kenai gave us a compact car with 35,000 hard-driven miles on the odometer.

We drove hundreds of icy miles north to Sacha, a sprawling area east of Fairbanks. We made to the Richardson Highway and looked for our cabin rental booking from Airbnb.

Ice and snow buried the property’s long driveway. Worse, snow chunks from plows clogged the entrance.

I phoned the cabin owner. Please send a plow. I pleaded that our low-slung sedan had tires as bald as me.

She pooh-poohed that her car never had a problem getting past the snowy barrier.

I texted her. “Repeat: Please send a plow.”

You should have expected snow in Alaska, she texted.

We called Airbnb to ask them to persuade the owner to clear the drive.

A hotline agent answered. We’ll call him Curly.

Curly promised to contact her.

An hour passed. Gosia and I sat bored and restless on the side of the road.

We again called Airbnb. This the agent was female. No matter, we’ll dub her Larry.

What happened to Curly?

“He went off shift,” Larry said.

Larry suggested we give the barrier a direct frontal assault but promised to call the cabin owner.

I tried smashing through the snow barrier.

In less than a yard gained, we stopped dead.

A truck with two muscular Alaska guys braked on the highway.

“What was the rental agency thinking when they sent you off to explore Alaska with tires like those?” asked one after pushing us free.

“Let me try again,” I called out to my rescuers.

“No!” His scream hung in the frigid air.

The car went two yards and hung on a snow boulder.

“Oh, you didn’t,” Gosia said. I think she wanted a refund on the marriage license.

Resisting an impulse to bury an axe in my fanny crack, our rescuers again pushed the sedan free.

What to do but again phone Airbnb.

A third agent responded. We’ll call him Moe.

Can I speak to Larry?

“He went off shift,” Moe chirped.

Moe paused to read the case notes from Curly and Larry.

“I see that you can’t find the Airbnb cabin,” Moe said.

“No,” I see the (censured) cabin. We’re sitting right in front of it.”

“Oh, perfect,” Moe said. “Don’t you want to go in?”

I said again that a snow barrier kept us from entering.

“Oh. Perfect.” Moe said. He promised to call the owner.

Thirty minutes later with no response from Moe, I called Airbnb.

I put the call on speaker so my wife could hear.

A fourth respondent answered. Let’s name him Shemp Howard.

By now you’ll guess that Moe, too, was off shift.

In a stage voice Gosia asked Shemp what time he got off shift.

Shemp sided with the cabin’s host. “The owner has no obligation to plow because Airbnb has a weather-related exemption,”

I argued the driveway was impassable because the host failed to perform routine plowing.

My wife suggested we forfeit the AARB payment and get a motel.

Just then, a pickup with plow scraped the driveway.

Delighted, I drove the sedan into the driveway and skidded into a snowbank.

The bearded driver grumbled as he abandoned his warm cab, but he pushed us out. Gosia rewarded him with an Alaskan amber ale.

The cabin was lovely. A welcome package contained hot chocolate packets and candy. We looked out a frosted window as the owner arrived. She drove an SUV big as a Sherman tank.

After a night’s sleep, we ditched the rental sedan.

The Avis rep put us into a Toyota SUV replacement.

Her helpfulness restored my faith in customer relations!

Hmm, I had a sudden flash.

Maybe the Airbnb hotline workers may start a new workforce trend.

Other workers may adopt manufacturing lame excuses to stop assisting clients.

Your emergency room surgeon will leave you with your gall bladder exposed. “Ta ta, my shift has ended.”

Perchance, Curly, Larry, Moe and Shemp might find themselves in court on trial for their lives.

I envision their attorney exiting the court in mid-trial to head for the golf course.

The judge addresses the “shiftless” Airbnb defendants. “I sentence you to 99 years served at an unplowed cabin.”

“Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.”

Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright.