My apologies to the two or three of you who had the misfortune to read my recent column about our Alaska trip. That column was written under the influence of jet lag and the king of all sinus infections, which I obtained in the 49th state. Being cranky and ill, I was unfair to Alaska. Mea culpa Alaska, you are wonderful. My fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Delgrande, would have probably given me a B on that column. Her daughter Susan Delgrande, out of kindness, gave me an A. Let us look back in gratitude to the great state of Alaska.
We flew out of RDU. The lengthy line for TSA review resembles Walt Disney World’s queue for Space Mountain. The TSA has added something new, a starter’s line for fliers to stand behind until their row is called. You walk down a 30-foot strip as a drug-sniffing dog weaves in and out of the tourists. The lady next to me said, “I’m sure glad I left my brownies at home.”
After the usual soothing air travel experience, we arrived in Fairbanks in early afternoon. Our tour kept pushing something called the Alaskan Salmon Bake for only $99 for two. Being gullible, we went. A school bus picked up a flock of tourists at the hotel. We were hauled off like so much Soylent Green to the tourist shearing. Truth in advertising would demand it be called the Alaskan Tourist Bake. It was the Alaskan equivalent of Dillon S.C.’s South of the Border, or a Myrtle Beach all-you-can-stomach fried seafood buffet. All the salmon you could eat — along with a salad bar featuring brown lettuce. Wine and beer cost extra. The next day, after applying the rule that Tragedy + Time = Comedy, I realized the tourist food scam was funny.
There is a four-hour time difference between North Carolina and Alaska. Who knew there was a time zone beyond Pacific time? Alaska time, like the cheese, stands alone. The University of Alaska at Fairbanks has an excellent museum in which I slept through a highly educational movie about the aurora borealis. Fairbanks also has the first Moldovian restaurant I have ever seen featuring a specialty apparently called Placenta Primavera. Yum.
The rumors about Alaska being the land of the midnight sun are true. The sun does not disappear at night. It drops into a low crawl across the horizon moving from west to east and then starts back up into the sky in the morning. Watching the sun refuse to set was worth the price of admission. A side trip took us to a giant Alaskan Gold Dredge, which can scoop out entire mountains looking for gold. We got to pan for gold. We came up with $26 worth of gold, according to the proprietors. They did not offer to buy it back from us. However, the gift shop had necklaces for sale for $76 into which you could put your gold flakes to preserve your precious memories of your Klondike gold strike. They did give us a free cookie and coffee to go along with our gold. We took a picture next to the Alaskan pipeline to scare environmentalists.
The next overnight stop was near the mountain called Denali, which formerly was known as Mount McKinley. That is one large mountain. The restaurant there sold wine in a can. This allowed you to sit on the deck, drink canned wine and admire America’s tallest mountain while thinking profound thoughts. One thought was that there are very few fat tourists in Alaska. You have to be in reasonably good shape just to get there.
There is very little access to actual printed newspapers in Alaska. I read the same Wall Street Journal I brought from home for a week until I found a New York Times in Anchorage. You can get excellent shrimp and grits with a fried egg on top in Anchorage. Who knew low-country cooking would turn up in the north country? While we were in Anchorage, Trump got into a twitter war with Bette Midler, calling her a washed-up psycho. Kind of made me nostalgic for daily news.
Once on the cruise ship, I was pleased to learn they showed a different episode of “The Love Boat” TV show every day. There is nothing finer than a 1970’s TV show with faded stars from yesteryear finding love on the Love Boat. Captain Stubing, Dr. Bricker, Gopher, and Isaac the Bar Tender remain on board. I still can’t get the theme song out of my head: “Love, exciting and new/ Come aboard/ We’re expecting you/ Love, the sweetest reward/ Let it flow/ It flows back to you.”
Have you learned anything from this waste of your reading time? Probably not. However, I now strongly recommend going to Alaska. Once the jet lag and the sinus cooties disappeared, I was able to appreciate the wonders that comprise the Last Frontier. One last note, Alaska delights in selling T-shirts and hats that compare the size of Alaska to Texas. Size matters. Alaska is 2.5 times bigger than Texas.
Alaskan people are among the friendliest and most self-sufficient folks I have ever met. If you can smile where it gets 60 degrees below zero in the winter, you are America’s finest.