Mixing Old Fashioneds
Review - Ice Road Truckers
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It was an achingly hot Sunday afternoon in early June of this year when I began watching Ice Road Truckers in earnest. The History Channel showed a first-season marathon leading up to the new season, and the depiction of the frozen lake highways outside of Yellowknife, NWT was so real, it helped cool me down in my heat-soaked south Louisiana home.
In the first season, the cast of burly, mostly bearded or mustachioed, drivers hauled mining supplies to the various diamond mines north of Yellowknife. Apparently there was some dust-up between the production and the trucking folks of Yellowknife, because this second season involves an entirely new set of ice roads in an even more remote, northern part of the world. Inuvik, where the new base of trucking operations lies, is the home to even harder-cored truckers, mechanics, and workers. These guys are so down with the cold, they disparagingly refer to Yellowknife as “down south” and think that the four Yellowknife drivers who returned for this season are wusses and likely doomed to failure.
Inuvik is at the top of the world and the ice roads run up a river and across the Arctic Ocean to natural gas drilling sites. Hugh, a/k/a Polar Bear, and Alex are the two returning drivers with the most experience on ice roads. They’ve spent years driving 20 kph on 38-inch thick ice, ice which we learn, can actually be stronger than steel. Hugh is fast with the f-bomb and carries himself with a “been there, done that, got the sweatshirt” attitude. Alex is a bit more reserved, but equally seasoned; Alex apparently has quite the brood back home—11 kids—so he takes his two months of ice driving as a bit of a vacation from chaos.
While we mostly see Alex and Hugh tough at work driving, even in near white-out conditions, the other two returning drivers, Drew and Rick, have a lot more down time. Rick is cut of the same bolt of cloth that many reality show contestants are—a blend of 50% drama and 50% famewhoriness. Rick goes so far as to wear a home-fashioned “Ice Road Rick” baseball cap at all times over dyed blue tresses. In the span of three weeks, Rick has put as many trucks into the shop and spends his time bitching, smoking, and watching television. (Television which includes—though it looked added in post—Ax Men, another History Channel show by the same producers.) Drew likewise is a lightening rod for drama; he quit in the first season when he worked for Hugh and he quit again at the start of Season 2. Somehow he got a third chance and, by the end of the latest episode, was allowed to haul the precious cargo of snack foods and beverages to a gas well site.
While there is a certain monotony watching oil rig equipment being hauled from Point A to Point B, the constant threat of mechanical problems and the drivers’ personal drama really make the show work. As the episodes unspool, the question comes to mind: what kind of nuts want to drive on frozen lakes, rivers, and oceans and face the possibility of falling through the ice or being stranded in a blizzard and freezing to death? The money is good, but not that good. Is it bragging rights? Escape from family? A serious love for the northern lights? Hubris? Just plain insanity? I may have to go with the last one, especially after both Alex and Hugh expressed that -20F is “perfect weather” for driving. I can’t even comprehend temperatures that low, let alone wrap my brain around deeming that temperature perfect for anything but hiding under the covers in a heated house in front of a roaring fire.
Ice Road Truckers is a nice diversion on Sunday nights (8 central/9 eastern) but it could do with some improvement, most notably removing the schlocky recreation of a big rig driving over ice, shot from under the ice. The real danger of the ice and the large loads would more than compensate for the removal of the fake-out. The show also fails to make any commentary on the actual work that the truckers assist in: no mention of the political issues around diamond mining and gas drilling in the Arctic ever come up with the truckers. Maybe it doesn’t matter to them and it is just a paycheck for a manly-man, dangerous job. However, given that this isn’t some summer CBS series of hamsters in cages, but is on the History Channel, I expect a bit more social context. And more shots of the aurora borealis.
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