Salmon, Ships and Shops

Alaska

September 5th – 19th, 2003

Got up at oh-dark-thirty as Sheldon would say, on Friday morning. (Sept. 5th) Supershuttle came a little after 5 AM, got us to Sky Harbor in plenty of time. Had the usual uneventful hassle of airport security there, and ran into a bit more after we got to Sea-Tac to board our plane for Fairbanks.

At Sea-Tac we got to the waiting area for our gate just minutes before they had a security breach somewhere. Made everybody stay right where they were, in the aisles or shops or whatever. Did let folks get off planes, but they had to wait right inside the gate. About 40 minutes later, we had the all-clear, and took off on time.

En route to Fairbanks we flew over any number of glaciers. The pilot was forever telling us the names of this or that one. But from 30,000 feet, you got to admit that they look pretty much alike. Arrived in mid-afternoon, got met by the tour guide folks and installed in our hotel, which was definitely second-tier. There are 115 people signed up with Grand Circle for this trip. Some of them are in a different hotel, which we found out later is much more upscale than the one we’re in. Ellen’s theory is that the folks who bought the more expensive cabins on the cruise are the ones who got the better hotel rooms.

After we got settled in the room, we went for a walk. As we walked on, it became evident that Fairbanks is actually a pretty scuzzy city. Crumbling sidewalks and curbs, sand and dirt still lying around from last winter’s street-sanding, ratty looking buildings, many closed businesses. This Korean restaurant was right across from the hotel, the first thing we saw. Not what we expected.

The next morning we got our city tour. This city was founded because of the gold, but that’s virtually all gone now. Even though it’s the second largest city in the state at 35,000, its only reason now is to serve as a staging area for Denali National Park. You know the city is not much when your guide points out the power plant and sewer plant. We wondered about the many junked cars sitting in people’s yards. The driver said that there is no junkyard in Fairbanks so cars just sit where they died. They die quickly up here too. Doesn’t take many winters with days in the –50F range to wear one out.

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