The Alaska papers – Part 3

North to Alaska

The Alcan Highway – Part 3

By Rick Cleveringa

(*You can revisit Part-1 here and  Part-2 here.)

***PART THREE: The Alaska Papers***

Mrs. Betty

The woman behind the counter at the Super 8 has been standing there 38 years though she does not show it. She said, “They say they built the motel around me”, her hair silver but neat as a pin. Her manors are southern and familiar. I ask about a room, “Yes of course” she says. We chat a bit and she tells me that she came up with her army husband in the 50’s, a tale I would hear often in Alaska.

Originally from Shreveport Louisiana and proud of her roots, I liked her very much and wanted to make friends. Up to the room for a shower and nap, I opened the door and said “Jesus!” It is a real shithole and it was not cheap, I may have had to pay extra to view the previous occupants murder scene. The room was dingy in every way, the furniture was battered and bruised and greasy looking. Every edge in the room was burnished shiny by use or struggle. The bathroom light switch cover had blood on it, that was surprising to me because I only notice that after I had turned the lights on. It was dank and funky. OK one night and I will find other quarters in the morning. There was no hot water for a shower, I was to wired and to disgusted to rest, so I went down town.

Parking the Jeep on 6th street I walked up and down the tourist parts enjoying it all. I loved Anchorage, it was old fashioned and slightly worn at the seams. It was enjoyable and small enough to get around easy. There was no real reason for me to pick this city as my destination because the Alcan heads North to Fairbanks. I wanted the coast I guess and here I was digging this place. Exhausted I went back to my dingy room and pulled the curtains tight. Using toilet paper I flipped the bathroom light switch on and took a cold shower. The wifi is criminally slow and I gave up and wanted to crawl into bed. Now I see I had left my pajamas in Saskatoon; that would make a great song title. Off to Wal-Mart to get a cheap pair cause I will not get in that bed with no clothes on.

Day 6

Up at 6:30 looking for a different motel on line. Camping is also an option; nearby Chaugo National park would be a nice place to set up. I went downstairs and see Mrs. Betty at the counter. Now I do not plan to stay or complain about the room, it’s OK I’ll just go. Mrs Betty calls me over to ask me how I rested. Well I don’t want to complain but… I tell her about the room. She is sorry and says “I’ll move you to a different room and only charge you $107 per night. Just go see this other room, I want you to be happy”. She insisted I stay and see the next room. OK she was a great representative for the Super 8. The next room was in a different motel I think. It had the same stuff in it, but was clean and the price was unbeatable. “Yea thanks Betty I will stay,” I said. “Oh good I want your first trip to Anchorage to be a good one” she replied. We chatted for 20 minutes and she told me her life’s tale, a lovely woman a real asset to her company. The next month Super 8 double charged me for the room for dates when I was sleeping at home in my own bed. I had to call Mrs. Betty and she took care of that. The new computer system was to blame. Thanks Betty it was a pleasure to meet you.

Back on the street and I go to Al’s Army surplus. Man they have the nicest outdoor gear, lots of canvas and leather. Real wool coats and high end out door clothes. Though for me its only a museum of the new, I can’t partake in buying all the cool stuff I love here. It was nice to see but I wander up and down the street and get a closer look than last night. I dig the souvenir shops and load up on Eskimo knifes and tee shirts for my pals, gifts for E’s family and friends, a hoodie for me and on to the next shop. The farmers market is happening down the street so I go check it out.

The market fills a large parking lot with white tents with strange foods and wild crafts. It’s chilly and a lite rain is falling. The market still draws a fair crowd and I walk the whole of it to see what is about. There are leather workers, jewelry, crafts and one guys have these beaver fur mittens that are so badass. You can picture yourself wearing them on a sled dog run to Nome. It was really nice. They had a band of 80-year-old women playing double neck guitars, sax and drums, a Townes VanZant knock off heads the mic. He plays standards and they tarry away at them.

Next to the stage are salmon and caribou tacos, yes Please! I take a seat at the picnic table and have a bite to see what they taste like. It was nice little taco that needed some hot sauce and they got it. I saw some Korean fish shaped waffles I wished I had tried. There was much I would like to go back for, I just had to keep in mind its a 65 hour drive. At one shop I bought Esther some pearls fashioned into a long necklace by the woman artist there. It was a nice stop I wished it had been sunny and I could eat like I was 20 again.

Wandering around I see the Anchorage Museum. Why not? It was full of modern art and had an incredible collection of Inuit art and weapons. There were lots of bows and arrows, quivers and harpoons, far better than one would expect. The windproof seal gut jackets were amazing, they look like Tyvek. I really learned so much about life current and past here. They have a large photo gallery of huge black and whites of abandoned work sites and homes in the far north. They were gripping and you walk into each photo and exist in that far off world if for only a moment. The effect left me dazed. It is a superb museum. The downstairs had a wonderful hands-on kid section, giant crazy machines and a land of bubbles. Pools with soapy water and large bubble wands, large enough you can stand inside the bubble. The kids were wild and happy here, the parents smiled. It was a happy wonderful place. When I left I walked back into the gray and rainy day.

I moseyed through the dripping city past the shops and tour buses, past the homeless and locals. Past the retirees that drove the RV up here from Michigan and past the wealthy in furs and nice shoes. The city was busy and I had work to do. I went to the Alaskan RR ticket office to book my trip. Over the tracks I walk into a venerable old train station, it was film Noir under my feet. Wow I loved it.

The ticket agent is a gray haired woman whose blues eyes are so kind and youthful. She has an accent of a Nordic background. Monika loves working here and is so glad to help me find a trip I can take Sunday. I have no clue where I should go so she suggested a day trip to Talkeetna. Why? I ask. “Oh its a lovely town. You can spend 6 hours shopping. They have a lot of restaurants for lunch or you can go to Denali.”

WHAT” Denali?” this peaks my interest. It never occurred to me to go to the tallest peak in the US. I ask her to tell me more. “From town you can walk to the airport and they fly you to the mountain. You land on a glacier and spend an hour there exploring. When you get to Talkeetna find K2 aviation they will take care of you.” Wow hell yes! The train ticket was set, $275 and I have my reservation in hand, this is exciting.

 Back down town I find the Captain Cook statue and look out into a long run of mud that leads to the open sea. After all, that’s what the good captain was doing. I bid Captain Cook and the sea farewell and walk back down town.

Who knew I was about to enter the best unintentional museum in the world? On 6th street, down past the tourist shit, was a gray unassuming building with a single glass and aluminum door, the sign read Antiques. Sure I have time to kill. This place was amazing, the brass telescopes, the whaling guns, the pre Colombian pottery and Roman glass; it’s a serious collection. They had a Rembrandt and Van Gogh, tons of dinosaur fossils, the largest trilobite I have ever seen, loads of stuff piled and packed on every spare inch of space. They had paintings I had seen in art books, racks of antique guns. It was amazing every piece was museum quality. One of the owners showed me around, he was a quiet fellow with a gray ponytail and small glasses. He was wearing a black turtleneck and slate colored slacks. There was a nonchalance about what he showed me and it seemed very strange that you could actually buy any of it.

If you were going to outfit a museum or one hell of a library this would be the place. I spent an hour just looking around. The owner was most kind to spend such time with me; he could see I did not have two nickels to rub together. He told me last week they sold a fully intact Mammoth skull for $250,000, he said it like he sold a pack of gum. I felt bad looking around but the staff was patience with my questions. This trip has shaped up far beyond my first thoughts.

 

I found The Coffee Cup shop and went in for a mug and a brownie. I wrote and looked at emails. I watched people for a while and rested my feet. Another remarkable day under my belt and I was beat. Back to the motel and sleep, the wifi was better, the room was clean, I watched some TV and lay back after a hot shower.

Day 7 Sunday the 20th

Up at 4:30 and get ready for the train. Washed some clothes and had a fast bowl of Frosted Flakes. Saw Mrs Betty this morning, she was taking the stairs down so I joined her. She asked how I rested seemingly genuinely concerned. It was nice to be asked.

I tell her I am off to the train, “Oh you are going to love it I promise” she said. I drove downtown to the train station. Now it was here that I notice that I am about 15 years too young to be doing this retired guy stuff. It dawns on me that many folk I have seen are all over 65. Ah yea, I’m still getting the idea that I too am retired for the moment. On the other hand am I just doing old guy stuff? Later along the coast an old fella would tell me “You have to be retired to do this”. I ponder my new situation as I drink a terrible $5 cup of coffee at the station. The station is full but unlike the Noir films I love so much, no one is in a suit. This I notice, as I have no inner pocket for my train ticket and meal voucher.

I hear the train! Announcements are made on a loudspeaker. A line forms and they yell “ALL ABOARD!”

The locomotive and cars are gold and royal blue, all sleek and beautiful as the diesel engines

purring away. Just like a movie, bells clang and air releases in a loud psshhssss.

In line I hear two guys with British accents. The British have a great love of trains. They are friendly and we chat throughout the trek. They are from Portsmith. “Oh cool I will be there in September” I say. “Great time to be in England” one says. “See Lord Nelsons ship”. “Yes I plan to see the Mary Rose” I reply.

They have been on the train South to Seward and now are heading North to Fairbanks.

 

On board I take a seat in the sight seeing car, glass domed and great views. The train is slowly moving out of Anchorage, I wonder, can you feel the excitement? Soon the call for the dinning car was made and I head down for breakfast. I see the chaps from the UK and sit with them. Rod and Steven say the food was really good on the train. I am hungry and ready for a good breakfast. We see a moose standing right next to the tracks. Wow, breakfast was tasty and hardy, all very good.

I really want to go out on the open-air deck of the train. Outside the cold air and the diesel fumes blow past you. It was a unique experience and I stay out till my head is frozen. I go back inside take a seat and drink hot coco. The backdrop was as scenic as the drive. I saw swans, bears, moose, lakes, great forests and rivers in the wild. All untouched all pristine.

 

Talkeetna

Talkeetna

The train station in Talkeetna was not downtown. Only a few people left the train and got into cars and drove off. This leaves me alone in the station and I don’t know which way to go, so I hoof it. I walk the way I think town might be and cutting through a campground I ask a camper. He was washing a pot and said, “Go down to the end of the pavement and go left”. He was from Anchorage and up for the weekend. I did find most people very friendly and willing to talk. A ten-minute walk and I was on Main Street and two blocks down and I found K2 Aviation.

It was a small house converted to an office; actually every house in town has been converted into some business. It would be like living in a Renaissance fair. I enquire about a Denali trip with glacier landing, but unfortunately, no dice today. Though it is a bright and sunny day here, the mountain makes its own weather. It’s too dangerous to fly up there today and landing is impossible. No luck, shit now what do I do? I have 6 hours to kill in this town of crafty shops in little houses.

Now I feel a little trapped. Dismayed I walk the two streets and look at the shops. I was told to go see the mayor of Talkeetna, maybe he can help me out? I have my little video camera and figure I can interview his lordship. It was nearing lunchtime and from what I heard, the mayor may be awake by now. I go Nagleys store to met him. Rumors of his death have been hounding the little town this year and the resident complaints about the press congesting the tiny streets with news vans are common. The mayor is alive but not well, he is resting at home today. That is what I am told by the woman at Nagleys. So I wont get to see Lord Mayor Stubbs today either. The reason why the press keeps a close eye on a small town mayor is, his death will be news for mayor Stubbs is a cat. He has unanimously been voted in as Mayor since 1997.

Crestfallen I walk up and down the streets looking at the cute little shops. This would be a wonderful stop on a road trip for an hour. Five and half hours to go and soon I despise the tourists and I am one of them. Though they were well behaved, the reality of depending on hoards of people stuffing themselves and buying trinkets made of beads and feathers, so you can work doggedly for a few weeks a year just to survive, bothers me deeply. The real pay off for the residents here would be the free days spent in this lovely place. When none of the tourist are blocking your driveway with their rented car. Then the winter sets in, the months of darkness and contact with only a handful of people you know all too well, it becomes a very strange place.

I have seen all the cute little shops one can stand. This is the time to come up with a new strategy, change your outlook. This exercise eludes me far too often on travel and in life but today I recognize what to do. Dig deep my man lets see what is here.

A small, often ignored wooden arrow, reads Museum. OK lets see what this is? It is pointing me to walk between two clapboard buildings. The buildings are about 2 feet apart, wooden planks on the ground were acting as a sidewalk in the mud. This takes me out onto the next block. Away from the main shopping streets to a more residential area. I open the door of the museum, pay the $3, and look at the books on the shelf. The man at the desk must have not seen a living soul in days and talks endlessly. It was like rescuing a man from a deserted island. The Talkeetna Historical Society museum is three buildings all with exactly what you expect. Old tools, rusty machinery, old saws, old clothes; things I have seen in every town museum everywhere. I buzzed through the three buildings in minutes and paused in the last room at the diorama of mount Denali. The little man ran in like the museum was on fire, out of breath he says, “Come back at 1:00 we have a talk about the mountain. One of the rangers comes down and gives a real nice speech”. “Ok thanks that sounds nice I say”. We both knew I would not be back.

The curator did suggest that I go to the Roadhouse for lunch. It is a family style restaurant with long tables where strangers share meals. Climbing gear, snowshoes and hammocks adorn the walls and nooks. I sat at a table after asking if the seat was free. A young German fellow with beard and lanky body says ”Yah”. This place is for mountaineers before and post accent. A few of these guys are around eating huge plates of food and laughing as one. Truly I admire their courage and strength, but there is an arrogance that sits with me wrong. The server ignores me for a long time, no menu, no glass of water. Clearly I do not belong here so I wandered out to an Inn down the way. Sat out side on the deck and waited. Was I invisible today or just another fat tourist? The town smells like hamburgers on a summertime grill. The waitress comes, I order the burger and slaw, it was all tasty. I actually felt good as I ate it the staff at the Denali brewing company was nice. I would meet the burger chef later.

After my burger I amble down to the river. The Susitna River boarders the town and breaks the land from the mountains. The river is high and the muddy water that looks like chocolate milk races by. There is gold out there somewhere. I toss a stone or two into the drink looking out to the cloudy horizon miles away. Mt Denali is somewhere buried in that mist and fog. A breath of air and I walk on. The ranger station was a block away.

It was an inviting new building and a most interesting stop. Ranger Mike at the counter was courteous and edifying. I watch the 17 minutes presentation on climbing Mt McKinley. Mike spent 20 minutes telling me about Denali and climbing. What I found out was all climbers of Denali have to check into this station. I asked about an application. He said you fill it out on line. There are over 1000 attempts in 2016 with 60% summit success. Many have perished; around 100 lives have been given to the mountain since the first attempt in 1903.

There were a few unsuccessful summits attempt until 1913 when a man named Walter Harper made the summit. A Native Alaskan, half Irish and half Koyukon, he was part of a four man team to be the first. In the end the mountains were not the danger he needed to be aware of, it was the sea. In 1918 he and his new wife died on their honeymoon in a shipwreck in route to Juneau. The SS Princess Sophia entered a heavy gale, she ran one mile off course, striking a reef the ship broke up. 40 hours later, unable to receive help, all hands perished in the icy sea. From the top of the world to the bottom of the ocean, he is a man who’s name we should know.

In 1906 a man named Cook was said to be the first. He also claimed in1908 to be the first man at the North Pole, both these claims were contested and soon found out not to be true. He was just confused by the altitude and the cold or a fucking liar?

My favorite group of mountaineers was the Sourdough Party; the name alone conjures up a good time. They spent three months on the mountain in 1910. They carried bags of doughnuts and thermoses of hot chocolate on their many unsuccessful attempts to summit. They at least had good eats.

“CMC’s”

It is a very serious climb. I will never see the summit so I liked the film very much. There was a sign on the door about Clean Mountain Cans or CMC’s. What’s that Ranger Mike? Climbers are responsible for taking their waste off the mountain; the CMC is brought to the ranger station for disposal. Under the water fountain I see 8 cans. They look like a black 3 gallon bucket. Never did I think about where one shits on the peak or the fact you’ve got to carry it around with you. The weather was posted on the board and daily update on climbing conditions. The climber’s registry books were on another counter and everyone who comes back off the mountain alive must stop here and be interviewed for the record. Elevation made, conditions and why they did or did not make the summit. I found all this very fascinating.

A group of climbers comes in from their attempt to check in. Army Team they were called, rugged young men and one older, seven in all. They made it to 16200 feet. Have you ever met anyone that has climbed that high? I am so impressed. They all have this terrible sunburn on their faces. Their forehead cheeks and chins all red as a beet except where their goggles protected their skin. It looks badass. It was called Raccoon eyes by the rangers. They had these crazy looking boots. I can’t imagine what they have gone through? I ask only a couple questions. It seemed they did not want to talk to a mere sea level walker like myself. They were going into to be interviewed by the rangers. Things were improving.

There is a shiny silver trailer on Main Street boasting of Spinach pie and Brazilian lemonade. In the side of the Airstream trailer there was an opening with wooden counter and canopy. Here you can place your order and receive a nice afternoon treat. Inside were a woman and two young girls bumping elbows, working in the tiny kitchen. A hot cup of coffee pressed into a big cup and a Blueberry, rhubarb cobbler comes my way topped with whip cream and looks like a tiny Denali. This will be my only summit here. I take a seat on a wooden bench in the sun. Watch the people go by and enjoy my afternoon pick me up. It was a great cup of Joe and the cobbler was sweet and tart. Three hours to go.

 

Still Waters run deep

Now I can’t face one more gift shop today. Though I have bought nothing, I am suffering from 30% buyers remorse and 60% retail burnout and 10% of me is ready for a nap. Across the road was a park where I could seek refuge, sitting at a picnic table writing all this, is when I met Marv. He is man of 60 plus, there is an ivory, Inuit fishhook pin on the left side of his red wool barrette. This tops off his oily gray nest of home done haircuts. He is wearing Carhartt insulated coveralls and I thought it was way to warm for that much protection. Marv is unkempt and smells as if he is late for a bath, very late. At least one week but more like a month. I saw him roll in to town earlier in a beat to shit black Ford Ranger, wood sideboards spray painted black to match the amateur painted truck. In the bed of the pick up he has some carvings for sale, three on bark, some on driftwood and four on stone. Mostly faces, poorly executed, without style or study, they are not even crude or folk art. Just thin and unwanted scratches on stone or in wood. He comes over and talks to me and I go look at his work. He takes out a face scratched on stone. He said “I did this 15 years ago”. It is not hard to see why no one has snatched up this sculpture in the last decade. I did not ask the price. Perhaps that is the rub. I politely ask about his choice of stone. He said “I dunno I found it by the river”. If anyone were to buy his work it would be out of pity. You would give him some money, look at it in the car and chuck it out the window in the ditch. About a mile down the road Marv tells me he has been up here 43 years, his place is 30 miles away.

He left Washington and a job at Lockheed Martin, claims he had been “STUCK”. Stuck at Lockheed. “They said I wasn’t Qualified” he stated. There is anger deep in his voice “I been stuck all those years” he said. For the first time on my trip I confessed my situation. “Marv I quit my job and drove up here with no plan”. I told him. Cathartic maybe? Perhaps I was looking at myself in Marv. Have I not been “stuck” as well? I sure was not “qualified”, whatever that meant to him? This was the second time on the trip I feared I was staring at my future self. The first was at the gray fat man at the Canadian boarder, it was not till now I was ready to admit that in writing.

Marv seemed unfazed by my life availing statement. I could have told him “Marv you are wearing a hat” or “Marv your pants are on fire”, his response would be the same. Disconnected and unmoved, Marvin did not appear he could be shook. He said “Lots to do up here in the summer, Things are slow till June when the kids get out”. Marv asked if I was camping up there? “No, train” I said. He looked around and said bluntly “I am going down to the river to nap”, got in his truck and drove off. This was an odd interview. Was I just a few bad moves from river naps and dirty coveralls? Shit what was I doing up here? Two and a half more hours to go.

I wrote till my ass tired of the bench and wandered down a less traveled street. Here I found a new wood plank building called The Gold shop. The place was empty of people and the display cases were filled with gold nuggets. Shit is that real? I looked for a shop keep and almost felt bad being in there alone with all that gold. The proprietor came wandering in from outside. Jessie was a thin-framed man with long hair tied in a ponytail. His beard was long and gray as a rainy day. He was prospector, a beat up looking old man more homeless looking then a guy who made 150K with just a little luck last year. Jessie said, “There are 500 million acres of gold out there. Just have to go and pick it out”. He was friendly and called the tourist “travelers”. He said tourist sounded too Mexican. There was something wise in his still clear blue eyes that were surrounded by leathery brown skin, cheekbones that owned the grand smile that was below them. I could see his best days were gone, behind in some long gone memories now. Hell I would like to hear all of them. You could tell he was a tough man in the day, still tougher than most right now. His real strength was internal, it was wisdom, and all those years of hard work was only a consequence of that sagacity.

He told me. “Winters are good up here in Talkeetna, miners and prospectors would come down here for the winter, we had coffee, whiskey and women”. Jessie laughed about the good old days. Then he pulled out a 4oz gold nugget in the case and let me hold it. My god it was amazing. It does something to you. I remembered Bogart in “The Treasure of the Serria Madre”, the fever was real. The gravity of this glob of material was so strong it vibrated; my hand was pulled to the earth by its weight. I had to give it back. He smiled, his eyes smiled, he recognized the sickness in me and laughed.

Jessie said he had a similarly large nugget that he sold for 21K cash to a Chinese fellow who walked in and bought it. My purchased would be soundly less. It was a $30 nugget that was shaped like Denali. With its taller South peak and lower North, this gold bit was the size of a large cupcake sprinkle. It was a small price to pay just to meet him. I liked this wise old man, somewhere in me is the blood that wants to stay and learn his secrets, study under this master. Learn the magic of gold, seek its hiding places, cast the spell to coax it from its sleep and warm my pockets with its color. Just till I have enough money to stop you understand. It was 4:05 PM and I had a train to catch. I shook his ruff hand and said thank you. He smiled like Buddha as I walked away.

Being on time for me means being there 20 minutes before I need to. Even though I have time to take a lazy pace to the station I need to walk like I was leaving an unpinned grenade, my backpack pounding away at my spine. In a few minutes I was cutting back through the campground and up a small hill to the parking lot of the train station. Ok you made it now what? Find a quite place and write in your journal. Outside the open station I sat on a long bench near the tracks. There is a crazy woman here talking on her phone, talking so loud and in a New York accent. She knows she is loud and she moves down 50 yards, but I can still hear her. “OhMYGwadd!” and “I Can’t believe he said that” She says over and over.

The train comes in from the north, all smooth, blue and gold. It is remarkable. The air brakes hiss the massive machine to a stop. No more than 5 minutes go by and ALL ABAORD is called. The return journey I opted for the cheaper ride and gave up my Gold Member status and rode passenger. No more outdoor balcony, free hot coco or a dinning car, just seats and a window. Car D is the ride home and it has exactly three people on it, one intense guy Mark, myself and the crazy lady. New York Betty is excited by everything about the train. She carries on and Mark is telling her that the D car is the best car; this is the only way to travel on the train. He slammed down into the seat and put his feet up. Betty was in the front seat and turning around to talk to Mark. He is from Talkeetna and has been living there for a few years. Mark seems to know a lot about Alaska, the laws, places and the train. He is in the entertainment business. The man is reluctant to say what part of the Biz he is in. Finally he tells me he is a DJ, Mark of the Wild he is called. That is his radio name. As a sideline he has a lighting gig in a strip club in Anchorage, a club he used to work at. “Just an over-nighter. I can not stand the city anymore” He said. Now in Talkeetna he is a prep cook and made my cheeseburger today.

New York Betty asks about our homes, but really that’s just her way to start talking. She loves the train, it was her first time and everything fascinates her. Mark seems like a decent guy. In a applying for a job he would interview well. He is neat looking, well spoken, and seems to be a very bright guy. Soon I start to see his personality unravel. “If I only had the money,” he said several times. He lives on two acres outside of Talkeetna. “If someone comes up to my property I’ll take care of them” Phrases that would have you believe that he is not comfortable around people.

Betty is clueless and talks and talks. Mark is kind of interesting to me and I want to ask him more questions. Betty moves back a seat to be better heard. She admits that she cannot afford to live in NY on the Hudson any longer. Her husband started a fire in the Alaska house to recover some of their losses. She has been up there working and painting, she is still loud and says Fucking all the time. The other words she repeats are Italian or Italian food. She said she had been cooking. “I made lasagna, meatballs and gravy”. By gravy she means sauce. I know this and when I say sauce she said, “Are you Italian?” No I am not. I ask Mark of the Wild about women in Talkeetna. He said, “There are no women up there. The ones that are there are involved with 5 guys”. Now I will quote him “The odds are good, and the Goods are odd” He is bitter deep down, he is a wounded guy. Hurt and hiding in this beautiful but lonely place. Does the natural beauty help or exacerbate the pain I wonder? Somehow he was a good example of a person to meet. I wished Betty were not there so I could talk with Mark.

Betty says I should go to the Alaskan Bush Company. It’s a strip joint and they have very beautiful women there. How do you know I ask? She says “I drop my husband and friends off there”. Mark said that is where his lighting job is. He worked there for years as a DJ. I sense he has a real disdain for the women who work there and perhaps most women. The ride back is pleasant and I ask Mark this and that. He said something about “climbers”. When he said climbers there was a tone of contempt in his voice. I asked what he meant by “Climbers”. He does not break bad on anyone. I press him, what did you mean? “Ok they are sometimes very arrogant” He said. I told him about the deutschbag I met at the restaurant. He went on about how poorly they treat the locals, how one rather famous climber was also famous for leaving his shit all over the mountain; he refused to use the CMC. It’s a real concern to keep the mountain clean. The locals here feel a connection to this place. They are caretakers of a national landmark. Hey I would too. Would you let people shit in your yard? Betty is oblivious and loquacious still. She and I went upstairs to the gondola to enjoy the view. We have some comments cards to fill out; I say the train is very romantic. She loves this word “Romantic” and peppers her conversation and the comment card with it. Happily she scrolls away in pencil at the card.

As I peer out the glass roof, the train gets close to the city and Betty said she is getting a taxi to the airport. What she really wants is for Mark or I take her. We don’t bite and the train arrives back at the station. We head out our separate ways, it is evening and I drove back to my Super room and call it a night.