It seems every time someone asks about my recent research trip to Alaska I start off by telling them about Bud’s Car Rental. I have to preface my story by sharing what I read on the Gustavus Visitor’s page:
Once you arrive in Gustavus, you’ll need to get from the airport to wherever it is you’re staying… Most of the lodges and guesthouses will provide shuttle services to pick you up, provided they know when to expect you. You could also rent a car here, (unlimited mileage!) or call a taxi, but most guests just prefer to borrow a bike to get around town…. or put out your thumb.
Put out my thumb? Since it was supposed to be rainy and we had a 17-month on tow, we decided that rental car would be a great choice. It had unlimited mileage, too. How can you beat that?
I called the car rental “company” and Bud answered. It took a few minutes for him to get his paperwork. He was really great and said he’d have the car at the lodge for us at 9:00 a.m. He didn’t need anything but my name. He said he’d get my credit card information when we met.
John’s the one who met Bud at the front desk. Bud handed over the keys and asked John to give him a ride home. It was Bud’s car, you see, that he rents out. It was an older mini-van with 190,000 miles. It hadn’t been vacuumed in a while (which was okay because of all the rain, mud and sand). It had no licenses plates either. Gustavus is off the grid. You can only get there by plane or the occasional ferry. There is no law enforcement. The speed limit is 35 in most places, and up until recently many of the cars in the community of 300 people didn’t have brakes. (Or so we were told.)
You’ll hear a lot more about this community in an upcoming novel I’m writing with my co-author Ocieanna Fleiss, but the story about the rental car is a great example of what we discovered in Gustavus, Alaska.
1. It’s a place where you really can put out your thumb and feel safe. Everyone waves and they’ll strike up a conversation with you if you pause and offer them a smile.
2. There’s no need for a show. What you see is what you get … and you’ll get only exactly what you need. It would be silly to have a fancy car to drive when there is only about 20 miles of paved roads. It would be crazy to vacuum out the car when you’re just going to dirty it up the next time you get in.
3. Everything’s a bit untamed. The forests, the animals, the climate, and even the people. We saw a bear right by our lodge. We hiked through a thick, lush, damp forest to view an airplane that had crashed years ago. The rain changed from a sprinkle to a downpour before you could whip out an umbrella. And around town most things were closed Saturdays and Sundays. The local folks weren’t there to cater to the tourists … they had lives to live and adventures to take and by golly if you need something it can wait until after the weekend!
I’ve never been to a place like Gustavus, Alaska before, and I’m reminded again how tense I can get over things that don’t matter. It also made me appreciate the people in my life more, too. Old friends and new friends alike.
Bud wasn’t the only one we met. We were invited to a home church. (We loved it!) We listened to stories of folks who grew up there … and were invited into their home to just visit for a while. We chatted with the librarian and a retiree who’s 86. We were welcomed immediately by everyone we met. Life–this community has discovered–isn’t about what you have to show for yourself. It’s about sharing what you have–and who you are–with others. Bud was the first example of that … and dozens of more people followed.
And as for sticking out my thumb. I think I might try it next time. It seems that I can guarantee whoever picks me up will be someone I’ll soon be calling “friend.”