SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Which Way to the Tsunami?



May 31, 2016
Tuesday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
It was a bright sunny day in Our Fair Salmon City.

Yes, yes, I realize that is about as realistic as any story that begins “once upon a time,” but this was no fairy tale. It was actually a sunny day and warm enough for the locals to actually consider baring forearms.

jpg  Dave Kiffer

Of course, baring foreams brings its own challenges. Folks in Ketchikan either get bit much, like my wife Charlotte, or they don’t get bit much, like me. I try to explain to her that it because the local bugs prefer sweeter flesh than mine, but the real truth is that, as a Ketchikan kid my blood alcohol level is a genetic 1.5 and mosquitos who take in that much anti-freeze don’t last long enough to breed the next generation.

At any rate, I digress.

Back to our sunny day. Everyone was enjoying the blast of pre-summer, except for a couple of folks from way down south who were still rapped up in parkas because 69 degrees and sunny was a winter day for them.

Oh, yeah, and one woman from Wisconsin, who was concerned about the brightness of the Alaska sun.

“Sure is bright around here,” she said offhandledy.


I had never heard this before. Cold, yes. Rainy, yes. But bright is not a word that one ever hears to describe our apparently over-radiant First City.

I briefly thought that she was referring to our community intellectual capacity. It’s a little known fact that the town motto is “Think Big or Don’t Think At All.” But no, she was talking about the weather.

“Really, the sun is very bright here. It hurts my eyes a bit.”

Wow, you would have thought she was from Barrow, or maybe the Center of the Earth.


“Yes, really. It is so bright here. Because you are so far north.”

And that means we are closer to sun, I pondered silently. No, even presidential candidates who hate science could trump.......I mean jump to that conclusion.

Anyway, I muttered an apology for her discomfort and moved on to another rollicking tourist transaction.

The woman was standing near Creek Street and wanted to see a bear.

“ I really, really need to see a bear,” she said. “That’s all I want to do. I just must see a bear. Where can I see a bear?”

As tempting as it was to suggest the Woodland Park Zoo, I realized that would not be a helpful option at this point. She had clearly spent a lot of money to come to Alaska and see a bear and she wanted to see one, right now.

Unfortunately, it was still early in the season and the bears were either up in the hills sucking down berries. Or they were making their midnight visits to the houses where folks put their trash out too early.

“Have you seen any bears here, young man?”

I do love being called young man.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“On this street, right here?”

She was pointing toward Stedman Street where it winds around the Federal Building.

“No, not there.”

“Well, where then?”

“On the Creek Street boardwalk, a couple of times.”

“Right there, where there are people?”


“My, that sounds dangerous, they were tame, right?”

“Just like Gentle Ben.”

“That’s what I thought, they wouldn’t allow wild animals down here.”

“No. ma’am.”

Turned out she was planning to visit Anan Creek the next day, so I assured he she would see plenty of tame bears there.

Which leads us to the third recent rubbernecker run-in.

I live not far from the corner of Bawden and Park, the famous intersection where Tsunami evacuation can be in two different competing directions.

Of course, if a real tsunami came, which it almost assuredly won’t, you would be inundated while standing at the sign trying to figure out which direction to go.

Anyhoo, I try to be helpful at all times and I saw a group of tourists standing in the middle of the road staring at the signs and, naturally, taking pictures. I got out of my car to assist.

Now, there was a serious language gap involved, so the following interaction may or may not have taken place. Something is always lost in translation.

“Can I help you find something?”


“Yes, that’s a sign.”


“Uh, what are you looking for?”

“Tsunami? Where Tsunami?

I tried to explain that it was just signage to help with evacuations.

“Yes, yes,” said the person clearly in charge. “But where tsunami?”

“No, it’s just signs. There is no Tsunami.”

“No, no, no,” he said clearly slowing his speech because he realized he was dealing with an imbecile.

“Want. See. Tsunami,” he said with a big sigh that sounded like my 15-year-old son.

I paused for a second to make it clear that I was considering his request seriously.

“There,” I said, pointing up Park Avenue along the creek.

They proceeded to pass me, each one saying thank you.

I hope they enjoyed the Tsunami.

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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