SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

It's A Small World
By Dave Kiffer


September 05, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - Okay everyone, after me!

"It's a world of laughter, a world or tears
it's a world of hopes, it's a world of fear
there's so much that we share
that it's time we're aware
it's a small world after all."

Yeah., yeah, I hate that song too. One of the highlights of the family trip to Disneyland last January was the fact that the Small World ride was closed. Of course, the song was still playing on the loudspeakers, but you take what comfort you can get in the "Happiest Place on Earth."

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, Charlotte, Liam, Grandpa Vern and I were enjoying the Saturday Market in downtown Portland when a librarian friend of my wife's popped up. He is from Dutch Harbor. The odds of someone from Ketchikan running into someone they know from Dutch Harbor in downtown Portland have to be pretty slim.

My wife was on her way to a regional library conference in Oregon, so it could just have been that they were headed to the same place - thereby making the meeting a little less random. But no, he was just in Portland for a few days R&R. It was the ultimate in random.

This sort of "small world" thing seems to happen to us homo sapiens all the time. In a world of 6 billion odd (and I do mean odd) people, we still run into folks we know - or at least folks who know people we know - at out of the way locations with alarming regularity.

A while back a friend was talking about running into a old Kayhi classmate at a gas station in Bend, Oregon. The classmate - who he had not seen in some 30 years - was pumping his gas.

Another friend - who was born and raised in Juneau - reports that she found herself sitting at conference in San Francisco several years back with another woman who looked vaguely familiar. Turns out they were in the same class at Marie Drake school more than a couple of decades ago.

Sure, some of these Close Encounters could be chalked to the great fact of western American life. No one stays put for very long.

Unlike the East Coast or the Midwest where families that put down roots and stay for generations, us Westerners like to be "drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds." After all, if our ancestors didn't have the wanderlust genes then we wouldn't be out here in the first place.

Years ago, the demographic folks determined that the just about half the people who came here lived in Ketchikan less than five years before moving on. So, it makes sense that we would run into some of these folks again someday further down the road.

And it makes sense that the incidence of these "small world" moments would be higher out west because there are a lot of places where people are only short term transients (Actress Julianne Moore - she was Julianne Smith then - and I apparently spent sometime together in elementary school, but neither of us remembers it!).

But then how do you explain some of the "wider" small world stories that you encounter?

I was talking to an acquaintance a few weeks ago and he remarked that he - a Bostonian through and through - had been vacationing in Texas several years back and the person in the next hotel room turned out be his old junior high English teacher.

When I was living briefly in Wyoming a few years back, I had a co-worker tell me that he went to college in California and ended up renting a house on the same block as someone from a neighboring town in Wyoming whom he had done a lot of junior rodeo with. To make matters weirder, he later took a job in Denver, met a nice young woman, married her, and discovered she was the cousin of that same person he had known in both Wyoming and California. Go figure.

That reminded me of a "near miss" small world story in my own background. I went to school in Ketchikan with a young woman who later moved to Boston to study music. Later, I moved to Boston as well. At one point, many years later, we were comparing notes and it turned out that we lived about a block apart from each other in Boston for several years without realizing it. Then we both moved to the smaller city of Revere and - once again - lived only a couple of blocks apart, but never realized it. How weird is that?

Of course, I also have a couple of personal "small world" stories that defy any sort of rational explanation.

First, I was visiting Paris (France, not Texas) many years ago and - not surprisingly - was spending a little time reconnoitering the infamous Place Pigalle red light district near the Sacre Coeur Cathedral (a little fun, then a little penance!).

We (I and my girlfriend at the time) were walking down one of the seamy side streets - the kind where the working girls were advertising their wares in the windows - and all of a sudden I heard "Hey Dave."

Well, frankly, Dave is not that uncommon of a name. So ignored it.

"Hey, Dave," the female voice continued. The accent was not French but I was not about to turn around even so. My girlfriend had my arm in a death grip.

"Hey Kiffer!"

That did it. I turned around.

It was a young woman who had been one of my good friends in college in California a decade before.

No, she was not "working." She was also visiting Paris and seeing the sights. With her husband!

A girl from San Francisco finding someone she knows from Alaska on the streets of Paris is another happening that you could get pretty long odds from Harrah's on, no doubt.

But I have one other "small world" story that really boggles the mind.

A few years after college in California I was back in Ketchikan and one day the phone rang. It was a call from my ex-girlfriend in California who had married one of my best friends (that's another story for another time).

"Hang on a minute," she said. "I want you to talk to someone."

A woman whom I had never met came on the phone and proceeded to tell me she knew all about me. She related several interesting - and true - stories about me and my time at Ketchikan High School. She knew all about the Kayhi jazz band and several of my classmates.

"Where are you from?" I finally asked.

"Hawaii," she answered.

Now, that was pretty weird.

We talked a bit more and things became clearer, although they remained pretty weird.

It turned out that she had been the girlfriend of one of my classmates at Kayhi who had briefly gone to school in Hawaii after graduation. He had shown her pictures from Kayhi and told her all about our band geek adventures. So far so good.

Recently, she had moved to California to pursue her hopes of being a singer.

Just as a digression, there are nearly as many wannabee musicians and wannabee bands in California as there are wannabee Hollywood stars. You can't walk down a residential street without hearing a band (or several bands) practicing in a garage. Frankly, there a million bands in Southern California. Which makes for really long odds against the following happening.

Anyway, this young woman from Hawaii was at a mall one day and she saw a band playing in the central court. She stopped to listen, just in time to see the vocalist quit. She struck up a conversation with one of the band members and - quicker than you can say "Lana Turner at Schwabs" she got an audition and joins the band.

A few weeks later, she was at a rehearsal at the house of the one band members and she saw a photograph on the wall of the band at a much earlier developmental stage and she points at the picture of the sax player - the one with shoulder length red hair and big beard - and says "hey, I know that guy, he's from Ketchikan, Alaska!"

"There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone.
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It's a small small world "

And so it goes.



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

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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