SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska
Column - Commentary

The helper needs some help here


July 25, 2020
Saturday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
Lately I am feeling a little bit out of sorts. 

jpg  Dave Kiffer

Like, somehow, I'm not doing something really important that I should be doing.

Yes, my day job is still keeping me busy. Yes, my million other community commitments continue. To be sure, I am not spending hours at the ballfield watching Liam play baseball in the rain, but that's not what I am talking about here.

Though, now that I mention it, I am seriously craving a good ballpark concession stand cheeseburger. Damn you COVID 19!!!!

But I digress.

Anyway, without the visitors here in force this summer, I feel like I am missing out on my "true life calling."  That of Ketchikan "Helper in Chief."

As I write this, for example, it is a somewhat lazy weekend afternoon. It would be a great day to wander Downtown and answer a few questions such as "Hey, are you a local? " Or "What is there to do around here?" Or even "For Thomas Crapper's sake, where is a bathroom?"

To be sure, I am still getting plenty of historical reference requests on the Outernet. 

"Hey Mr. Kiffer, My great uncle Bob Jones was on a fishing boat in Ketchikan in 1935. Can you tell me what its name was?"  

Or "My great Aunt Cleopatra worked on Creek Street. No, not that. She was a "laundress" for some of the houses. Her last name back then was Brown. or maybe Smith. Are the houses she worked for still open?"

Hmm, those were too easy. The answers were both "no."

"Mr. Kiffer, I work for a television company in LaLawood. I want to do a reality show episode about women who still work in your Red Light District, Creek Street. Can you help me research this? It's for a Skinimax Series called "Hookers of the Last Frontier."

You laugh. But someone actually asked me that a few years back. I could tell he didn't believe me when I said The Creek "closed" in 1954.

But I digress, again.

What I am sadly missing out on is that one-on-one interaction with John and Jane Q  Sickpack from Erie PA on their first visit to Our Fair Salmon City .

You know what I'm talking about. It involves a late middle-aged couple in matching orange windbreakers. Thet are both looking frustrated. The woman is trying to make contact with anyone within eyeshot. The man is trying to make contact with any beer within armshot.

You sense their distress. Something is deeply troubling them. You are drawn to them by that most basic of human desires. To help.

Either that or you are drawn to them because no human can turn away from the emotional car wreck that is a "couple on vacation together."

"Y'all need some help" you ask, hoping that a fake Southerism will disarm them and allow you into their fraught little world.

The husband glares at you because you are not a beer. But the wife gloms onto you as if you are the last lifeboat leaving the Titanic.

"Are you a local?"




They always need reassurance on that point, even though I am the only person within two blocks not wearing an orange windbreaker.

"Can you help us?"


"Where can we get stamps?"

Okay, so it is not the great existential puzzle you were hoping to solve right at that moment. But even in this era of endless selfies blocking out the actual sites people are on vacation to see, there remains a need to send "postcards" home. So, you mention a couple of local stores and they trundle up the street and immediately walk into the nearest jewelry store, where one can most assuredly NOT buy stamps. But at least you tried.

Fortunately you look around and quickly see another marriage about to implode over the lost directions to something important. You can tell it's an important argument because the man quickly engages you to prove his point for him.

"Hey, Pal.."

 I hate being called "Pal" by someone who is clearly not my - or anyone else's  - "Pal."

"Hey, Pal, how far is Walmart?

"Four or five miles?"


It was clearly NOT the answer that he wanted me to give.

"What do you mean four or five miles?"

"Okay, it's 4.5 miles. Does that help?


The wife is smirking, angrily, if that's possible.

"It's too far," she says, clearly repeating an early position.

"No," the man continues. "They told me on the boat that you could walk there."

"You can walk to the shuttle vans around the corner," I answer, still trying against all hope to helpful.

"They told me you could walk to it," he continues. "Do you live here?"


"How long?"

"All my life, so far."

That usually elicits a smile. But not always.

"But they told me we could walk to Walmart."

He is now staring at me as if I were a police officer enforcing the open container law.

"Well, you can take a cab or the bus, the bus stops there."

"I'm not taking the F-ing bus," he spits out. "Or an F-ing ripoff cab. What an F-ing ripoff town. Just here to F-ing rip you off."

They stalk off, on their inevitable march toward the bitter argument over the divvying up of their community property.

On the other hand, I am probably not missing this sort of thing, after all.

Maybe I can still wander down to the docks anyway and offer my assistance to the lonely seagulls lounging about?

They are missing the visitors as well.





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

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