Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - News, Features, Opinions...

How The World Wags

"It's a Jungle Out There"
By Dave Kiffer

October 17, 2005
Monday AM

Ketchikan, Alaska - When I was a child, my mother insisted that I take as many trips off island as possible. And she didn't mean Gravina and Pennock.

Just about every year we went to Washington, Oregon or California. The main reason was to visit relatives, but the subtext was clearly "there's greater world outside the soggy biosphere between Settlers and Herring coves."

She was right to do that. I remember going on a band trip in high school to Washington and Oregon and being amazed that some of my classmates had never seen real cows and sheep before. Having a strong sense of place and love of your native land is one thing, but that level of never straying from your native turf is pretty incestuous.

As I get older though, it seems as though I often leave the rock simply to reconfirm the fact that it's really not so bad after all in our fair Salmon City. Recent family travels to Seattle, Portland and Albuquerque have just reinforced that.

Followers of this column have no doubt concluded that I am not the biggest fan of Alaska's "national" air carrier, "Elastic" Airlines. In general, I love the folks who work for the airline, but there are some corporate policies that I have issues with.

I have never understood how it could cost less to fly from Seattle to Denver (1,026 miles) , New York (2,413 miles) or Miami (2,713 miles) than it does to fly from Ketchikan to Seattle (667 miles). I also get irritated when month after month the only Ketchikan web special is to Yakutat! And don't get me started on how the once vaunted "Golden Samovar" service devolved into plastic peanuts and particle-board pretzels.

But I as much as I kvetch, I realize there are worse - much worse - airlines out there.

Because we like to fly from Seattle to Albuquerque (1184 miles for those of you playing along at home) to visit Liam's grandfather, we can not take "Elastic" Airlines. We are faced with embarking on another carrier. One that is so heinous that I can not even speak its name (let's just say it is named after a region and it ain't the Northwest).

"Cheap Sheep" Airlines whole modus operandi is designed to test just how far people are willing to go just to save 10 bucks on a cross-country flight.

First of all, they won't handle luggage from other airlines. Probably afraid of getting other airline "cooties." .So if you are transferring between airlines you have to schlep everything yourself. That's fine if you are only schlepping the business travel carry-on, but not if you are lugging childrens' car seats and strollers and other stuff.

This time, Liam was beyond that level but one still does not travel light with a child, as evidenced by the fact we had to empty out the largest suitcase at the counter because it was four pounds over the 50 pound max.

Then there is this odd money and time saving activity in which they don't give you a seat assignment. They just tell you to line up behind a sign marked A B or C.

Theoretically, the As - who checked in first - get the first pick of the "festival" seating inside the cabin. But once - a couple of years ago - I was standing there and the gate person said he was going to shake things up. He called C first. I was an A and ended up sitting between two very large men with even bigger laptops spreading out over the fold down trays. It was a very long 1,184 miles.

Even if you are in the A line and it is called first, you still find yourself standing in line for an hour or two hour before a gate attendant slaps you on the butt and you rush down the ramp onto the plane.  All that's missing is the sheep dip.

Once you get on board the plane, you frequently discover that you are flying a 737 so old that even Elastic won't use it one of its "milk" runs.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate vintage aircraft as much as the next guy. It's just that I'd just appreciate them being in the Air and Space Museum and not idling on the tarmac.

Frankly, it's amazing just how much an old 737 can creak, groan and rattle without actually coming apart in mid-air. Usually, at some point in the flight my wife will ask if me if all the thumping and bumping is normal. Unfortunately - for a plane that has been flying since the Johnson Administration - it is.

After that, it truly is a relief to get back on an Elastic Airlines plane in Seattle that has been built in the last 30 years.

Being out in the real world this past month also reminded me what a sheer, unmitigated joy it is to drive on a freeway. The lure of unlimited mileage and the open road. The truly American activity in which the rest of your exciting life is somewhere ahead, just beyond the next rest stop.

But alas, I guess I must be loosing my nerve. This time I couldn't get excited about barreling down the freeway:

At 80 mph,

Hemmed in by semi-trailers larger than Cleveland and

In a driving rainstorm worthy of October, in Ketchikan.

Fortunately, there were several crashes on I 205 that particular day so traffic eventually slowed to migraine-inducing 5 mph and the normally 15 minute trip from Portland across the Columbia River to the sylvan suburban fields of Washougal, Washington ended up taking two hours. This is why people work in big cities and live in the Burbs. For the pleasure of the daily commute.

Speaking of Portland , it is always pegged as one of America's most livable cities. It's a been a few years since I've seen the Rose City, but it doesn't seem as livable as it once did. For one thing, you can't walk from Burnside to Broadway without getting aggressively panhandled six or seven times. Since Portland is a young, vibrant city, the panhandlers are young, vibrant and remarkably well dressed. Obviously, panhandling is a lifestyle choice.

So apparently is smoking. You also can't stand at any corner waiting for a light without receiving the generous health benefits of second hand smoke. It would appear that just about everyone under the age of 30 in Portland is required by law to chain smoke cigarettes. That pretty well guarantees they won't have to ever worry about not trusting anyone over 30.

Fortunately, the rain storm (see above) dampened some of that need for nicotine speed, or at least drove it indoors. I did see one young woman doing her daily run in the rain while still smoking. Yes, she was wearing Nikes.

Seattle also proved to be somewhat of a disappointment this time around. Not for what did happen, but for what didn't.

One of the reasons that we frequently tack on a few days in Seattle to any Outside jaunt is that our son loves to frolic in the fountain at Seattle Center. So - in order to get him to go along with the other travels - we promised him that we'd go to Seattle and he could play in the fountain. Of course it was closed for the week for maintenance. Nothing like a case of four-year-old heartbreak to get the visit off on the wrong foot.

So I came up with another plan. Liam and I would walk from our hotel in the Queen Anne area to the new maritime museum down on Alaska Way. We originally wanted to go on a Monday, but the museum flier said it was closed that day, so we walked down on Tuesday.

Taking a long walk with a 4-year-old is always a lesson in patience but eventually we arrived at the museum. It was closed. The woman at the counter said they had just started a new policy of closing on Tuesdays as well at least for the rest of the month. She said the new policy was on the website.

I wanted to tell her that some people - like me - go on vacation simply to get away from their computers and other high speed modern access devices. But I knew it would be as pointless as trying to explain quadratic equations to a troglodyte.

Liam and I decided to continue our walk on down to Pioneer Square, but not before we had one more "we're not in Kansas anymore" moment.

As we walked along the waterfront, we approached a rather disheveled looking man (obviously not a Portland variety vagrant) leaning on the rail and looking out at Elliot Bay. He was mumbling.

"I'm going to @#*$#*%!! kill you," he said as we got closer. Naturally, I grabbed my son's hand and steered a wide berth.

The man looked at me.

"What are you afraid of?" he glowered . "I was just talking to myself!"

It is sooooo good to be home.


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

Dave Kiffer ©2005

Post a Comment
        View Comments
Submit an Opinion - Letter

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska