Portage & Main, 40 Below

Portage & Main, 40 below is another favorite song lyric of mine, wheee I love music!  It's from the Randy Bachman song "Prairie Town," and it's about what has been called the windiest corner in Canada, but it's also just about being cooooold.  Recently my friend Pat went to Alaska and she finds out that being cold up there means figuring out how to work one more thing, sigh . . .

When I noticed electrical plugs hanging from the front of nearly every vehicle in Fairbanks last week, I wondered if this was another sign that living in Alaska would be too difficult for me.

Unsure of their purpose, I asked a truck owner in a grocery parking lot why there were so many plugs and electrical wires dangling from the front of his pickup. He lifted the hood and proudly showed this “tourist from the Lower 48” the five locations where he attaches heating elements that need to be plugged in to warm the engine block enough to start his vehicle in cold weather.

In Fairbanks, where winter lasts from late September to early May, temperatures have plunged as low as minus-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Below-zero readings have been recorded eight months out of the year, with the exceptions being June, July, August and September. Not that long ago, vehicle owners drained the motor oil and removed the vehicle battery every night to take inside to keep warm until the next morning. While those days are past, it still gets so cold there that some people endure living without indoor plumbing to avoid frozen pipes.

And while I’ll never complain about New England winters again, it’s not just the subarctic cold that convinced me I can’t live in Alaska:  It’s that I’d have to learn how to operate at least one more apparatus just to keep my car running.

Am I the only one daunted by the notion of having to read yet another complicated manual in order to operate even the most simple device? And who writes those manuals anyway? I work with words every day for a living and even I can’t understand them.

In fact, they have become the bane of my existence.

My new camera had a 153-page instruction book that so intimidated me I stopped at page two (which may explain the quality of my photographs). The instruction book for my cell phone was so complicated that I can barely operate this basic version and anything I can do with it is a result of begging my young adult sons to show me how. I recently won a GPS system, which was a great prize for someone who gets lost as often as I do, but I’ve been afraid to open the box because then I’d have to learn how to operate it.

The digital picture frame that my son gave me for Mother’s Day? Still in the box. And when I was presented with a lovely video camera for my birthday last month, I burst into tears. Although I loved the gift, I was overwhelmed by the depressing thought of having to learn another device.

My friends tell me to “just play with them” until I figure it out, and that all these devices are “intuitive.” I beg to disagree and the “just play with it” doesn’t sound like much fun to me. I still have nightmares about the damage I’ve done to computers and other gadgets from “just playing with them.”

Does this timid attitude make me a Luddite who fears technology? Well, yes, I suppose it does. Or does it mean I’m just too old to learn new things? Maybe.

Could you possibly write me a letter to let me know?

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