In January of 1989, the temperature got down to sixty degrees below zero in Fairbanks, Alaska, and stayed there for three weeks. Furnaces burned through heating oil at a serious rate, and parking lots slowly filled with cars that wouldn’t start anymore, even with the engine block heaters that everyone up there has. Every year in the dead of winter, usually the Japanese imports were the last cars left on the road, but in 1989, even some of the Toyotas had given up.
In that kind of weather, automatic doors would freeze open or closed, so they’d have to be disabled. The people working the drive-thru window at McDonald’s wore their parkas while they stood at their posts, because it was impossible to stay warm with the cold air blasting in with every transaction. And there were lots of them: in the winter of ’89; almost no one actually got out of their cars and walked anywhere if they didn’t have to, including me and my friend Lori, whose Datsun 200sx held up nicely during that particularly long cold snap.
Lori and I were in high school, and we thought that it would be hilariously funny to go through the drive-thru at McDonald’s and order ice cream. We got a lot of mileage out of it: our satisfied giggling when the person taking the order paused and said, “You want what?” and then the spectacle we made of ourselves back at school after racing through the ice fog (when water particles in the air literally freeze solid, thick as any fog that rolls off the ocean). We danced around amidst the cacophony of slamming lockers and yelled conversations, waving the tall soft-serve cones over our heads, the hallways glowing orange in the early-afternoon setting sun, so close to the Arctic Circle.