We were somewhere outside Wasilla, at the edge of civilization (or something like it), when the drugs began to take hold. Or at least that’s what it felt like when we rolled into Gorilla Fireworks in the settlement of Houston, AK. There, in front of an oversized, explosive-wielding Gorilla, stood a machine that would seem out of place anywhere outside of perhaps Eugene’s Whitaker district. Finding a home-made Batmobile out at the edge of the Alaskan bush, en route to three days floating the Chulitna River, could never be anything short of surreal. But then, when you find yourself buying fireworks as a prophylactic against marauding bears, you come to expect just about anything.
The car itself is a marvel of Alaskan ingenuity. Plywood body panels cover what was once a modest
Pontiac 1975 Dodge Dart [Ed: always check with dad first] with Adam West-era Batman camp, giving the Bat-chetta some of the biggest tailfins ever recorded along with a massive faux hoodscoop and bold fender arches. A grafted-on “jet intake” completes the look, if possibly at the expense of some irony when the modest four-cylinder under the hood fires up (if such a thing is still possible).
Observed by an aged firetruck and what must be one of the better-traveled British double-decker buses in the world, the Batmobile stands ready to bring justice to the Alaskan bush. And having already observed the majority of Alaska State Troopers busy skinning and processing megafauna roadkill, that’s a comforting thought. Out in the wilds of Alaska, people need heroes… not to mention fun projects to get through the long winters. Anywhere else, this Batmobile might be looked down on as an unforgivably crude hackjob. Up here, however, the very fact that someone invested the effort into building a tribute to a car from a TV show that hasn’t been aired since the 1960s is downright inspiring.
As we proceeded North again, now fully stocked with Roman Candles and various other explosive bear mitigation devices, the last signs of civilization (and its half-hearted imitators) quickly melted away and we found ourselves in the unforgiving wilds of the Alaskan bush. It would be several days before we saw another human being, and when we did he seemed more surprised to see us than he would have if he’d seen a bear (all which we’d long since scared away with our regular explosive displays).
Remembering the Batmobile, which at that point was closer than many Americans’ daily commutes and yet for all intents a continent away, I couldn’t help but smile. Even in the most exigent circumstances, cars wield a strange power to bring out our strangest desires, and make even the most uninspired a palette for bizarre creativity. If you don’t consider that a hopeful sign for our benighted society, well, the bush always beckons. But in the face of nature’s majestic indifference to one’s very survival, even the most modest signs of human ingenuity and creative expression –whether in the form of fireworks or sawzall-based car customization– take on an inspiring majesty all their own.