When you live in Alaska long enough, you start to take it for granted. You drive through vistas that leave visitors gasping at their beauty and all you can think about is making it to your destination so that you no longer have to tailgate the RV from Hell.
Then you get the dreaded summer visitors and you find yourself showing them your state. And with each passing mile, each passing experience, each passing moment, you find yourself swelling more and more with pride as you remember why you chose Alaska for your home.
At least, that’s what happened to me when my sister Judy and my cousin Michael came to visit. It wasn’t just the scenery either. For instance, there was that lovely lodge in Moose Pass. Its owners were new to the business so the room wasn’t exactly ready when we got there. Or when we returned three hours later. Or when we were finished dinner an hour after that. But it didn’t matter because it was clear they would eventually get rid of the left over shoes in the room. And honestly, if those shoes had fit any of us, their presence could have really been considered a plus.
Of course, the ultimate in casual was the stop in Talkeetna at the Talkeetna Cabins. You check in at a combination front desk/welding shop. I wasn’t’ sure Michael and Judy would ever get over that. But again, what really mattered was that the cabin was clean and relaxing, the fishing was good and the people were…well, they were Alaskans.
I think what finally put Judy and Michael over the top on Alaska was going downtown to Orso’s only to find that without reservations there would be a long wait. We thanked the young man at the desk and decided to try our luck next door. As we ambled down the street, the young man from Orso’s came running out of the restaurant to tell us that, in fact, a table had opened up and we could be seated immediately. Michael and Judy exchanged a look of absolute amazement as we were led back to the restaurant.
They later admitted that never in their wildest imagination could they have envisioned someone back East actually going through the trouble of running out the door to let them know a table was ready. As Judy put it, “Back there, the attitude is you can eat here or not. We don’t really care.” Neither she nor Michael had ever experienced a restaurant that cared enough to chase you down to give you a table.
There were a lot of very special Alaskan moments during their ten days here. Michael caught his obligatory $1000 (counting airfare, charter charges, packing and shipping fees) king salmon and Judy caught her heel with her hook. Both were astounded by the beauty of the Kenai Peninsula. They were overwhelmed by the amount of open space along the shores of Kachemak Bay and kept repeating that in the real world, every inch of that real estate would be dotted with million dollar mansions with high gates and fences. I reminded them again that was exactly why I didn’t live in the real world.
But the ultimate Alaskan moment came at Mr. Whitekeys’ Fly By Night Club. As the state song was played during the opening, I found myself missing Sourdough Mike and wishing they could have heard him sing it. Then I started singing it quietly to myself. Suddenly they were both staring at me as though I’d grown another head. It was bad enough that I knew the tune to our state song. But that I also knew the words just blew them away.
I tried again to explain to them that this was just the way it was in Alaska. We’re nice to each other and to our visitors. We know our state song and love our state flag.
Yep, visitors are good to have if only to help us remember how lucky we are to live in a state where there are still unspoiled spaces that we don’t feel compelled to fill.