Wilder by Far

A look at life with the Wilder family. Updated most weekends and some vacation days. You can contact me at movingnorth@gmail.com..

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Location: United States

Friday, October 28, 2005

"God giveth. And the DMV taketh away. We can make your life a living hell." - DMV Clerk, License to Drive

Not my car, but it describes my life.

Ahhh, a wonderful Friday morning.

The Mrs. rides herd on the galloping glob of mayhem and spit that are our boys most days. This day, however, I decided to get The Boys and I covered in man-smell and head out to do errands. You know, manly errands. The Mrs. is great, but she's missing a "Y" chromosome. She's a great Mom, but as a Dad, well, let's just say her version and my version of Hot Wheels on the carpet are way different. There are way more fiery crashes in mine. Because?

I'm a boy.

So, we headed out into the great world. Me and my boys.

But first, coffee.

Okay, after I had coffee with some friends, then The Boys and I headed out into the great world. It wasn't General Foods International Coffee or a mocha-frappachino. Just coffee.

First we went off to the auto parts store. I decided it would be much more pleasant to change the oil at 20F than at -20F so I needed to get some oil for our cars. I also had another mission in mind. To shut off my "Check Engine" light.

One morning, my car did it's own change from summer to winter behavior. I turned on the Family Truckster and:
The left window, when rolled down, now opens the door.
The left turn signal, which when depressed to "on" would just hiss all summer long, now worked fine.
And, the "Check Engine" light came on.

No problem, winter. And, as for the "Check Engine" light, well, I'd seen my engine just the other day. It was there. Rock on.

When it gets really cold here, our cars have difficulty. By difficulty, I don't mean not running, I mean that the "Check Engine" light comes on. A car has to deal with an entirely different set of issues up North than it does in, say, San Diego. Most of them are temperature related. The computer sees data and says, "No WAY is it that cold. Something is very wrong. Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!"

But, we have, you know, government here, and that's waaaay to logical for them.

They have decreed that we have to have an emissions test on our vehicles. Every two years, coincidental with getting our plates renewed. That's funky, since I don't think the Caribou really care, but hey, I might get a ticket if I don't have the green and white sticker in my window.

So, during morning coffee, one of my pals indicated that there is no way on heaven and earth that the vehicle will pass the emissions test if the "Check Engine" light is on. Without the emissions test, no driving, either. Since I don't want to buy a new car, I know that the only way the vehicle will pass is if I reset the codes.

You can do this three ways. Unhooking the battery is one. Starting the car forty times is another. Going to where they have the computer that talks to the computer in my car is the third. You know, the computer that I own that doesn't hook up to the Internet.

I got the "Check Engine" light shut off. The problem occurred because one day I turned on the engine and it was Fairbanks cold here, and, well, not all parts of the engine were San Diego warm when the car started. But, regardless of how quickly the problem really goes away, the light is on for forty starts - kind of biblical -

Lo, there shall be great gnashing of teeth and renting of clothes and thine Check Engine light shall shinest for forty starts, and, yay, verily, for forty stops as well shouldst one tiny damn thing in thine engine be filled with Evil. Whenst thine light shinest, thou may not receive the bounty of blessing of the most Holy sticker that proveth that thine emissions art as clear as thine mountain stream, even as it descendth from Mount Jobethwilliams.

Now, why we have emissions testing in Fairbanks is beyond me. You can look and see the chimneys out of nearly every house, and I'm fairly certain that my daily house heating with wood puts out way more nasty stuff in a day than my car will in a year, but, I think we're being punished for living in this wonderful wilderness.

My theory is this: everybody in San Diego has to have an emissions test, (despite being next door to Mexico, where good car emissions means the black smoke shows your car is running), so let's make people in Fairbanks have an emissions test, too. You can bet your bottom dollar this idea of testing emissions didn't originate up here.

I went to Gabe's Automotive. Not only did I need the emissions test, but I could also get my plates renewed at Gabe's. And, I needed my plates renewed as well, so this would prevent a trip to the dreaded DMV.

I was getting beer the other night and looked at the emissions sticker, thinking, "Hmmm, 11/05. That's soon. The State hasn't sent me anything."

Well, I walked around to the back of my car and saw that my plates were a day away from expiration. Time to take action!

So, The Boys and I were out and about, it was time to get the emissions tests and plates renewed. We showed up at Gabe's. My car passed the emissions test, and I went to pay for the emissions test and my plates. The clerk, however, informed me that my car was already registered, and, in fact, I had done an emissions test on it in July. But, I knew it wasn't. Because that sticker was on the other car.


This was not good.

There are benefits to The Mrs. and I owning the same year, make, and model of car. I didn't plan this, it just happened. I bought the car for The Mrs., and then bought one for me. Just so happened that the VIN (Vehicle Identification Numbers) for the two were about five digits different, out of a string that looked like: 1FV2309847298374GHU2039749832749238749.

They'd registered the wrong car in July - testing The Mrs. car, and putting into the computer that they'd tested mine. The Mrs. was driving around in a car that had the wrong sticker on it, and that meant that, through no fault of her own, she was in total violation of Alaska law.

This would explain why the state never sent me a notice on my car - they thought it was registered. The nice people at Gabe's told me that there wasn't anything that they could do to help - I'd have to go visit the DMV.

The DMV up here is legendary for long waits. My buddy said that it was horrible. And here I was, on the last Friday of the month, having to go into a government office, and the vision of waiting in line for four hours jumped into my head. This was awful!

It took about 15 minutes at the DMV. Despite the horror stories I've heard, I've never spent more than about half an hour in there. And, you know, that might be it. Alaskans aren't used to standing in line for anything but beer on Friday night after payday, and any line tends to piss them off. An Alaskan thinks nothing of driving eight or ten hours (one way) to go fishing, but make one stand in line for ten minutes and you see them go a bit buggy.

The Mrs. finally showed up and I showed the nice clerk there that, indeed I had two emissions tests that referenced the same car, but that the garage had made a mistake. She was not impressed. I indicated that now I had proof - the stickers on our cars would show that they had been affixed improperly.

The clerk, however, was still not impressed.

"That's between you and Gabe's."

I went back, now towing The Boys and The Mrs. on a quest that had by now taken up four hours of my day. The Boys were now hungry. And grouchy like only hungry boys can be. The small one started to smell a bit funky.

The guy at Gabe's looked at our stickers, at our paperwork, and said, "Man, I'm sorry. We'll fix it. We'll give you another emissions test, no charge, and get your plates."

As we were driving away from getting the test, I said to The Mrs., "You know, we're doing this just to satisfy a bunch of computers, from the computer in my car to the computer that tested it to the computer that stores records of our test to the computer that checks that computer to see if we can be issued plates."

"Yup, just feedin' the Beast."

Dang, I love her.

Two years from now, I'll take both cars in at the same time, in summer, when it's warm. You know, so I don't confuse the Beast.


Blogger Catman said...

this is not my first time on your blog, and i think is fantastic, and the pics are incredibles!
i invites you again to visit mien, i have changed some thing at

1:43 AM  
Blogger Woofwoof said...

A wise man once said: "Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes and DMV and blog spam and Floo Bees."

5:47 AM  
Blogger John said...

Thanks! I checked out your site, and although my Spanish is rusty, it's very cool.

Yeah, those darn floo bees. Actually, catman is real (I checked him out), but I'm not sure you should be in the same room, you know, the cat/dog thing.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since you are there and I am not, you might have more insight than me. BUT, if I might make suggestion. The reason for emissions test in Fairbanks is that a city of 30,000 has the same air quality as Los Angeles. One of the benefits of living in one of the least windy places on earth. Ice fog anyone?

4:36 PM  
Blogger John said...


Air is super here, better than any metropolitan area on earth, most days.

Ice fog is related to the very low humidity and very low temperature of Arctic air coming down during winter. Not an issue.

Real reason for emission test=Federal government meddling.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Woofwoof said...

Hehe, true that. Anyone who calls himself "Catman" has got to be up to no good.

7:24 PM  
Blogger My home is Alaska said...

Hmmm. I see anon has the same concerns that I do. What the hell is the truth John? Research from the internet shows that Fairbanks has crappy air. But you say it is not too bad? Are you talking about the town itself or up in the hills outside the ice fog?

12:27 PM  
Blogger John said...


Ice fog comes and, I guess if you consider ice crystals an air quality issue, well, from about -20F and below you might see that. As far as air quality, some smoke in summer, and (in Fairbanks proper) might have some issues related to wood burning (carbon monoxide). BUT! With the exception of living in the deep woods, I've never lived in a place with better day-in, day-out air quality. I don't consider ice fog a big deal (driving issue, mainly) and when people are really kicking the wood stoves into high gear, it's -50F. I typically don't linger outside much at -50F. Oh, I might meander, perhaps even saunter. But no lingering. Or loitering. Mainly a dash into Safeway. -50F is cold.

8:20 PM  
Blogger chaipo said...

I've also had a good experience at an AK DMV lately. My opinion of state government has been strongly influenced by the multi-hour "experiences" with Midwestern DMVs.

Also, if you ever have to go to the DMV again, you can actually check the DMV webcams to see what type of line you are looking at.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my own experience, a day at the DMV will either satisfy you or annoy you.

10:42 PM  

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