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Story Last modified at 9:27 p.m. on Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Places we dislike, but can't seem to avoid

by Frank E. Baker

There are some places that just never seem to be very much fun, so I thought I'd offer a few tips on how to make the best of such situations. There are undoubtedly worse places than those on my top 10 list; for instance, jail. But I could find absolutely no upside in those situations.

1. Hospital – No one likes going to a hospital, even to visit. However, I've noticed that many doctors, nurses, technicians and other hospital staff have developed keen senses of humor, perhaps as a coping tool to combat stress. If you take their lead and go with their flow you'll find yourself much more at ease, no matter how stressful the situation.

2. Doctor waiting rooms – I don't mind the "big room" nearly as much as the "little room." You wait and wait in the little room and never know when the doctor is going to burst through the door. You wish you had a five-second warning so you could toss the People magazine and grab a Time or Newsweek that made you appear intelligent. While you're waiting, refrain from looking at little booklets that describe other diseases. You'll start imagining that you have other things wrong with you.

3. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – I can't gripe too much about the facility in Eagle River. You pick your number and there are generally only a few people ahead of you. The clerks know how to smile and even conduct short conversations. The old DMV on Dowling Road in Anchorage, however, was gruesome. You stood in long, gated lines like at Disneyworld and everyone seemed to wear a scowl as if they had just lost a $50 million lottery by one number. I think I once suggested to DMV that they should hire someone like Pee-Wee Herman to do a song and dance routine every half hour or so just to liven things up. All I got was the scowl.

4. U.S. post office – People standing in line at the post office have the same look on their faces as those at the old Dowling DMV, except there is more of a detached, despondent, resigned mood, bordering on pathos. They know there is no other way – and they will stand in the line no matter how long it takes. One way to pass the time is to have conversations with other customers. I like to talk loud to annoy one of the clerks, who has had it in for me since 2002 when I lost my mailbox key. I think she is an undercover Mail Cop like the Library Cop in TV's "Seinfeld," and I should know better than to raise her ire.

5. Airport security – If we just completely surrendered and said to them, "Do what you will with me," it probably wouldn't be so bad. But living in a free, democratic country all our lives, it's quite difficult to submit to full body gropes and scans. By now, however, TSA personnel are probably like doctors. They've "seen it all," so I'm not inclined to get too upset about anything they want to do to me.

6. Airplane "middle seat" – The misery level is measured in how much the passengers on either side encroach upon your precious 18 inches of seat space, or in whether they have recently eaten onions. Being in the middle seat calls for one of the highest levels of attainment in Zen Buddhism, almost Master status; or a superbly honed ability in astral projection, such as placing yourself floating across a serene lake in a canoe. I imagine myself inside a can of sardines. It puts me right to sleep.

7. Blood Bank – Years ago, before I travelled to Europe, Mexico and South America, the local Blood Bank called me about every three months. I guess my type-O positive variety was in high demand. I once had a nightmare that a Blood Bank enforcement officer came out to my home in the middle of the night in a white van and hauled me away. I like their cookies and juice, but I've always been disappointed they can't offer a Starbucks double latte. I suppose there isn't any fluid more precious than blood, and that I should be thankful someone is going to benefit from it, perhaps me, someday.

8. On the outbound Glenn Highway after the first snowfall – I know an astronaut personally, and he considers the Glenn more dangerous than space flight, even re-entry. I'm not sure if people are racing home to see the 6 p.m. news, or whether they feel it's unhealthy for their car engine to run below 4,000 revolutions per minute, but it's quite amazing and entertaining to see people trying to drive 70 mph on glare ice.

9. Inside an outhouse at minus-20 degrees – Not everyone is privileged to have this unique experience. It's really good for embellished stories to the grandkids. Over the years temperatures drop down to minus-30 degrees and colder and stories include vivid descriptions of things that freeze in mid-air.

10. In your car alongside the road with a policeman at your window – This means you have probably done something wrong. Even if you don't think you did, a cardinal rule is to be polite to the officer. I am so polite with the "sir" and "yes, officer" that they probably suspect me of something far worse than having a brake light out. I've tried casual conversation, like telling them about other officers I know, mentioning their names, and I've noticed that it doesn't slow them down while writing the ticket. One way of looking at it is that it could be worse. You could be inside the patrol car. I feel like a fool thanking them for citing me. But I think we should. They are doing a very important job.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, February 16, 2011.