First published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner


Recent days have flown by at the News-Miner as we head into the busy spring season.

My wife Gosia left our house on the Indiana-Ohio state line and landed at Fairbanks International Airport at 1:30 a.m. on Friday. A U.S. citizen of one month and originally from Poland, Gosia traveled minus her recently surrendered Green Card as she awaits her spanking new American passport. About 110 new citizens took an oath of allegiance at a celebratory event in Indianapolis. Unlike immigrants of a century ago, Gosia was one of a few inductees from Europe. Most hailed from Mexico and South and Central America. She waved a small American flag during her big moment.

Gosia loves to cook and bake, including bread, and she packed her sourdough starter in baggage. We drove to a liquor store near the News-Miner for packets of yeast, and I suggested a Spanish Rioja to celebrate her citizenship.

That’s when a ruckus began. A tall, gaunt fellow of maybe 40 walked up to us paying at the register and shouted. “No, no, I’m giving up drinking.” He walked backwards a few feet and slammed a Smirnoff pint onto a shelf.

“Wow, that must be a moment of truth for him,” I said to the friendly clerk who was sipping a large soda pop.

Gosia, wide-eyed, nodded, a bit astounded by the drama.

The clerk sized us up. “He had a partner,” she told us. “When this guy started a commotion, his partner slipped a bottle into a pocket. Too bad for him, my colleague was on top of him.”

“That happens?”” Gosia said. “It was a scam?”

“Yes, we don’t make a big deal out of it so long as they put the bottle back.”

I paid the bill with my Wells Fargo card and accepted a sack with goodies as Gosia walked toward the door. “Hey, Gosia,” I said in a stage whisper. “Maybe you better put back the bottle you put in your backpack.”

The clerk nearly choked on a big sip of soda as she giggled.

I only had one cheechako moment in the past week. I finally dug out my Chevy van out of a snowpile in the News-Miner parking lot. It’s been there since Gosia and I drove the Alcan in separate vehicles in January. Unlike our Jeep, which made it unscathed except for the usual broken windshield and a flat tire, the Chevy’s undercarriage and exhaust system were messed up. Add to that a failed heater, dirty fluids, a second broken windshield, and some necessary winterization and you’ve got one pretty hefty repair bill.

At the Chevron service station, I approved some repairs for now, and some to be held for a future paycheck. I put the van key on the counter.

A mechanic named Chris wrote down my information, and I returned to the News-Miner.

About an hour later, I got a call from Chris the mechanic. “Did you happen to take your key with you?” he asked.

Sheepishly, I hung up and hurried to the Chevron dealership. I gave Chris the van’s key.

“Whew,” he said. “I looked everywhere for it. I was just about convinced I lost it.”

I only offered one excuse. Faced with a repair bill of nearly three grand, I developed a sudden case of amnesia and slipped the key into my pocket.

On the plus side, I think I’m an inch or two closer to being a sourdough. That big repair bill sure made my face look sour.

Hank Nuwer is the managing editor of the Daily News-Miner. Reach him at