Salmon, Fjords, and Bears, Oh My!

By Ernie Witham   |   July 18, 2019

Did you ever eat at a restaurant where your breakfast came so fast you barely had time to unwrap your utensils? Well, it wasn’t in Ketchikan, Alaska! I was on my eighth coffee refill, babbling on about the anxieties of airline travel, like when you get to your gate and they announce your airplane is overbooked again. 

“Twenty thousand employees and not one of them is a seat-counter. How hard can that be? Our grandson is only three years old and he can count. He ought to send them a résumé. Do you think he has a résumé? What did you order? I got the Scramble, though no one seems to be scrambling to make it. Do you think I should whistle?”

Pat pulled my coffee cup away. “Things are slower here. I think fishermen are used to being patient.”

We had gotten into Ketchikan about 8:30 pm the night before minus the four passengers still back in Santa Barbara waiting for their “thank-you bonus” and “the next available flight.” When we checked into our hotel room, they gave us a voucher for breakfast. 

“Maybe the cooks hate voucher people. Maybe there is a voucher in the back room full of darts. Do I sound like an old guy? Oh man, I do!” I took off my reading glasses and put them with my distance glasses, anti-aging sunscreen and pill bottle.

Before my wife could assure me I wasn’t that old, which I’m sure she was about to do, our breakfasts came. Two eggs, hash browns and toast for Pat. And for me… “Here we go. The Big Breakfast. Enjoy.”

They got my order wrong. I thought briefly about sending it back. Then I dug into it like a Grizzly into a salmon. Two minutes later… “So sorry. I brought you someone else’s breakfast by mistake. Here is yours.” She handed me my Scramble. 

Couple tables over, a guy watched his half-eaten Big Breakfast head back to the kitchen for repair. I think he said bon appétit to me, though it could have been something else. 

The great thing about The Landing Hotel, other than the breakfasts, both of which were quite good, was Ethel. Ethel drives the hotel van. Like me, she is a bit hard of hearing, so we both yelled pleasantries back and forth as she drove. Today Ethel was taking us to the Tongass Historical Museum. 

“We’re from Santa Barbara.”

 “Nope. Name’s Ethel.”

“Right. Great day, though.”

“Yup it is gray, sun might come out later.”

“Well tell your son hello from us.”

The museum had an elder discount. I didn’t want to be called an elder. “The elders in the tribe were the story tellers. Much revered,” the lady at the counter told us. Now I’m an elder instead of a senior, so be sure and revere me.

It was a cool museum – early history of Alaska fishing, logging and mining with lots of early tools and a giant bear sculpture. I finally got to see an adze – a common crossword clue – which is used in the shaping of totems. They had a room full of Native crafts, also a great film on tree-felling and log-splitting, using early technology to create beams. We’d have a lot more trees if lumbering were still done that way. 

After the museum, we walked along Creek Street, which was perched on wooden pilings with a boardwalk just like you picture Alaskan towns. Lots of old buildings including a brothel that you could visit for ten bucks. “Creek Street, where both the salmon and the men came to spawn” it said on the sign. I tried to remember the last time I spawned and whether it was just like riding a bicycle. Turns out the ten bucks was just for a tour of the house. 

So instead, we went to the Discovery Center dedicated to the three tribes, Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian. Saw a movie above reviving the languages. Then a movie about bush pilots – the early beginning of Alaska Airlines. Wonder if they overbooked then or if it was just a recent feature? 

“Busy first day,” I said.

“Don’t forget Misty Fjord.” 

“I think I dated her!”

“Right. How about a quick lunch before the ‘Misty Fjord’ boat ride?” Pat asked.

Quick? I had my doubts.


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