The practical joke

The village of Tanana is in central Alaska on the Yukon River. It consists of a modern airstrip, some homes, a medical center and a few roads. The longest road is about forty miles long, if I remember correctly, and it heads north to an abandoned radar base. It was built in the ’60s.

There are a few cars, trucks and motorcycles in the village. They are far outnumbered by snow machines.

In the summer of 1980 we were camped at the radar base for about a month. It consisted of several buildings, a dirt airstrip, an aircraft and vehicle hanger, and an ominous looking giant three-story tall steel rectangular radar dish pointing toward Russia. The base had been mothballed long ago. All of the windows were boarded-up and the doors were locked.

My camp consisted of a dozen people including a helicopter pilot and mechanic, a camp manager, cook, camp assistant, and the rest of us were geologists. I was the managing geologist.

Our tents were spread around the base and our cook and office tents were located in alcoves between wings of the central building. They faced a large flat paved area that included a volleyball court and a basketball court.

On our day off a young man on a motorcycle visited our camp in the afternoon. He and I and the helicopter mechanic started talking and the mechanic asked if he could ride the motorcycle down the little airstrip. The mechanic had been drinking a Fosters beer in one of those big beer cans. He placed the can on the ground and got on the bike. As soon as he rode around the corner toward the strip I grabbed the can and charged into the cook tent. I poured some salt and vinegar into the can and ran back outside and placed the can exactly where it had been.

When the mechanic returned he talked to the rider about the motorcycle and bent down to grab his beer. Just as put the can to his lips I calmly said, “You can’t believe how hard it was to pee in that little hole in the can.” The mechanic went bug-eyed as he contemplated the possibilities of the taste in his mouth and then like a geyser he spewed beer in all directions.

Then he dropped the can and started to chase me around the camp. He didn’t catch me. The rider and I laughed so hard we almost fell down.


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