SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Seabiscuit and the Satellite


September 16, 2011

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska
- My friend Maria has an unlucky car.

It’s a nice pretty new Subaru that’s had a habit of attracting bad luck. More on why that matters to me in bit!
jpg Dave Kiffer

You see when she first got it, she kinda dissed it because it wasn’t like her old car, which she named Seabiscuit after the famous undersized, big-hearted race horse. Maria loved both Seabiscuit the horse and Seabiscuit the Subaru.

Seabiscuit the Subaru looked like it was 100 years old. It had that old Ketchikan car body where the only thing that appeared to be holding it together was the rust. I can’t remember if she had to use the “Fred Flintstone” method to brake it, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Anyway, the new car was all shiny and bigger and Maria had a little trouble getting used to it. I suspect she even thought about trading it in and trying to track down her old car, which can still be seen on the streets of Our Fair Salmon City. You really can’t kill a Subaru. After “Climate Change, Debt Ceiling Armageddon,” the only life forms will be cockroaches driving Subarus. Count on it.

She eventually warmed to new Seabiscuit, partly because new Seabiscuit was a little unlucky.

And we love anything that is unlucky. Three-legged dogs pull all our heartstrings.

How unlucky was New Seabiscuit?

First, it was hit by a rock when a blast went a little awry on Copper Ridge Road.

Of course, that could happen to any car…. especially in Ketchikan, where blasting sometimes seems to be an “imperfect science” undertaken by highly imperfect people.

Of course, I’m not saying all blasters are incompetent. The only profession (and I use that word very, very loosely) in which all the practitioners are truly incompetent is “column” journalism. (Those who can’t do anything at all that benefits life as we know it, can still always “write” and spout off their "opinions.")

Still, my experience in Ketchikan’s past indicates that every time someone “over salts” a blast site and drops rocks way “down range” on houses, cars, livestock, whatever, then the “scientists” in the “imperfect science” seem bound and determined to do the experiment exactly the same way again in order to replicate the results.

But I digress.

Anyway, Maria’s car got hauled off to the body shop for a good fixin’.

Then the second bit of bad luck hit, when some vandals spray painted her car – and several others – with a variety of creative yet unfortunate words about human sexuality.

So it was back to the body shop and New Seabiscuit was made nearly good as new again.

It was appearing that New Seabiscuit would soon outstrip Phyllis Diller and Cher in terms of “getting work done.”

Which brings us up to the present, and why I even care about New Seabiscuit.

The other day, I happened to pull up next to Maria’s car, just I was listening to a radio news story about a pending “un-natural” disaster that would potentially “impact” Southeast. In this case, the impact could be indeed literal.

The news reporter was breathless noting that an old satellite – yellow and the size of a school bus, no less - that has been roaming over our heads for some 20 years is finally deciding it’s time to quit going in circles and come home.

This sort of story happens more often in these post space race days when there is all sort of space flotsam (jetsam?????) out there and what goes up, must eventually……. well, you get the idea.

It is always fascinating how everyone gets so worked up about the size of space junk and whether it’s going to hit something important. I remember one time, they actually decided in advance that some pieces of an old satellite would actually hit Australia and people actually tried to take evasive action (strengthening roofs, taking vacations, etc).

I mean that’s a big island (and a small continent). With more kangaroos than people! What are the odds that space debris will hit anything of value? Anything that can't leap tall platypus in a single bound?

For goodness sake, if your number is so “up” that the Almighty is planning to smite you down with broken satellite bits, you might as well stick your head in the oven now because you are rising up his Top Ten priority list pretty dramatically.

Anyway, I pulled up next to Maria’s car and my first thought – after “gee, what a trenchant and incisive bit of radio journalism” was “gee, I better not park anywhere near Maria’s car because if a flaming chunk of satellite comes crashing to earth in Ketchikan, that’s what it will hit. I’m sure of it.”

Now before you go all wacky on me and digging satellite shelters and wearing football helmets all day long, think for a minute.

The scientists (and hopefully they are not the same ones who are working on the “imperfect science” of blasting) say that they think (with a high degree of uncertainty) that the satellite debris will impact the earth between 57 degrees north latitude and – wait for it – 57 degrees south latitude.

Juneau and parts north, above 57 degrees, are clearly safe. They can now leave the runway.

But what isn’t “safe” is a swath of earth bordered by “not quite Sitka” on one end and somewhere in the ocean south of Africa on the other.

Well, that narrows it down, certainly. By the tone of the news report you would have thought the scientists were saying it was going to hit exactly 326 feet from the State Capitol Building.

With the satellite expected to come down somewhere between Kake, Alaska and three degrees south of Tierra del Fuego, you are certainly welcome to take whatever you feel to be appropriate evasive measures.

I’m just not parking next to Maria’s car.

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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