My wife Gosia and I decided to take a working vacation in Alaska early in October 2021. We landed in Anchorage and rented our usual small SUV and drove toward Kenai where I needed to do a routine freelance writing assignment.
Weather that month brought cold temperatures and steady snow flurries and occasional drizzling rain. All of Alaska wore a majestic cape of snow.
As we drove on the Kenai Peninsula in a rented SUV along one hairpin turn, the Avis rental car belched an ominous warning noise. Gulp, simultaneously, a dashboard icon predicted “impending brake failure.”
Naturally, I pulled out a screwdriver, took apart the brake system, and solved the problem. Just kidding. I wouldn’t know a brake shoe from a corn plaster.
We drove with fingers crossed to a tiny airport in Kenai. The desk clerk wanted to help but she had no SUV models to give us in exchange. The clerk shrugged and asked if we wanted a compact car with 35,000 hard-driven miles on the odometer. The tires needed replacing. Clearly, this was a car intended for resale or the scrap heap, but we had no choice.
The helpful clerk suggested we exchange the beater for an SUV in Fairbanks, my next freelance assignment. We drove those icy miles from Kenai north to Salcha on tires barely fit for summer driving. Somehow, we made the 10-hour drive to the Richardson Highway in Salcha and located our cabin booking from Airbnb.
Uh, oh. Ice and snow buried the property’s long driveway. Worse, snow chunks left by plows clogged the road entrance.
I phoned the cabin owner. “Please send a plow,” I said to her. I explained that our low-slung sedan had tires as bald as I was.
She pooh-poohed that her car never had a problem getting past the snowy barrier.
So I hung up and tried to enter the driveway. I drove about three yards into that mess of piled ice and snow and then escaped backward with tires spinning.
I texted the Airbnb landlord. “I repeat: Please send a plow.”
“You should have expected snow in Alaska,” she texted back. No help would be forthcoming.
We called Airbnb on the 800 line to ask them to persuade the owner to clear the drive.
An Airbnb hotline agent answered. We’ll call him Curly.
Curly promised to contact the owner for assistance.
An hour passed. Gosia and I sat bored and restless in the car on the side of the road.
We again called Airbnb. This time the agent was female. No matter her gender, we’ll dub her Larry. What happened to Curly? I inquired.
“He went off shift,” Larry said.
Larry suggested we give the barrier a “direct frontal assault.”
I tried smashing through the snow barrier with a direct frontal assault. In less than a couple yards, the rental car stopped dead.
A truck with two muscular Alaska guys braked on the highway and stomped over to us.
“What was the rental agency thinking when they sent you off to explore Alaska with tires like those?” asked one.
With a Herculean effort, they busted us out.
“Let me try again,” I called out to my rescuers.
“No!” One guy’s scream of “Don’t!” hung in the frigid air.
The car went two yards and again hung up on a snow boulder.
“Oh, you didn’t,” Gosia said from the passenger seat with her hands over her eyes. I think she seriously wanted a refund on our marriage license payment.
Kindly resisting an impulse to bury a snow shovel in my fanny crack, our rescuers again pushed the sedan free. I tried to thank them, but they sped away lest I attempt yet another direct frontal assault
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 cabin. We’re sitting right in front of it.”
“Oh, perfect,” Moe said. “Don’t you want to go in?”
I counted to ten and said once 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 call this Stooge Shemp Howard.
By now, gentle reader, you have guessed that Moe, too, was “off shift.” It now dawned on Gosia and me that “off shift” was Airbnb employee code for “I don’t wish to talk to the Bozo on the line.”
In a stage whisper, Gosia (who by now was cracking up with laughter as I fumed) asked Shemp what time he got off shift.
Shemp ignored us. “Can you call the owner?” Gosia asked.
“No.” Shemp sided with the cabin’s host. “The owner has no obligation to plow because Airbnb has a weather-related exemption,” Shemp cooed.
I argued that the driveway was impassable because the host failed to perform routine plowing in the first place.
Shemp ignored me. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” asked Shemp.
“Can you help me insert a moose mount with antlers into a portion of your anatomy,” I wanted to say. But at that point I was defeated. “No,” I said and hung up.
My wife suggested we forfeit the Airbnb payment. “Let’s just drive to Fairbanks to get a motel,” she said.
Just then, a pickup with plow scraped the driveway. Alleluia, the Airbnb owner had taken pity on us and sent a plow. (Actually, by that time, I would have been happy to pay for half the snowplow bill).
Delighted, I drove the sedan into the cleared driveway and, on those bald tires, promptly skidded into a snowbank. Stuck again!
Gosia said nothing. However, her body language said, “Oh, ya didn’t!”
“Can you push us out?” I yelled.
The bearded driver grumbled, but he abandoned his warm cab, and he and I pushed the rental car out while Gosia held the steering wheel. Gosia reached into our cooler and rewarded him with an Alaskan amber ale I had hoarded for that night.
The cabin was lovely. A welcome package from the owner contained hot chocolate packets and candy. We looked out a frosted window just as the owner arrived. She drove an SUV as big as a Sherman tank. It could have made a direct frontal assault on the gates of Hell and gotten through to the reception desk.
With such great accommodations, how could I stay grumpy?
After a nice hot chocolate and a peaceful night’s sleep, we drove to the Fairbanks airport. An Avis rep put us into a Toyota SUV replacement. Hmm, I had a sudden flash.
Maybe the Airbnb hotline workers will start a new workforce trend. Workers of the world might unite and adopt similar lame excuses to stop assisting clients with complaints. Perhaps your emergency room surgeon will depart with your gall bladder exposed.
“Ta ta, my shift has ended,” your surgeon will cluck. “Call reception and see if anyone can suture you back up.”
Or, 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. “Bye, bye, fellas. I’m headed to the golf course. My shift is up.”
The judge then would address the “shiftless” Airbnb defendants. And I would say just one last thing to Airbnb’s Curly, Larry, Moe and Shemp before they began serving a 99-year sentence at an unplowed Airbnb cabin.
“Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.”