SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Commuter has the Midas Touch
By Dave Kiffer


October 24, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - A few days ago, I was driving into town from Settler's Cove. It was rainy and there were "puddles" in the low lying areas of the North Tongass Highway, so I was cheerfully hydroplaning around the corners at 50 mph.

Somewhere around the Lighthouse Grocery I had a thought.

"Geeze, this commute would really suck."

About a mile or so later, another thought occurred to me.

"Geeze-Louise! What commute? We're talking 20 minutes tops here."

Of course had I been coming in on South Tongass it would have been a good 20 minute wait just get past the "excavation" zone south of the Homestead. But - as usual - I digress.

Living in Ketchikan spoils one because for most of the rest of the world, twenty minutes isn't a commute. Twenty minutes is the time you spend "saving time" by going through the drive-thru Latte line.

A few months ago, I read that Midas (the brakes guys, not the golden touch man) gave a special commuter award to some yahoo (not the search engine, just a software engineer in search of something) in California who spends more than 3 hours commuting to work.

Actually, he spends more than three hours commuting one way to work each day. At the end of the day, he spends another three hours commuting back home. It turns out that he lives in a lovely little wide spot in the road (Mariposa) in the Sierra Nevadas somewhere near Yosemite and he leaves home at 5 am each morning to get to work by 8. At 5 pm, he hops back in the car to get home by 8 pm.

I would guess that he then spends about 15 minutes of quality time with his family before turning in for the night so he can get up again at 5 am.

He does this in order to "enjoy" his 10 acre "ranch," something he could never afford if he lived near his job in San Jose. He says he "keeps his eyes on the road, listens to the radio and drinks lots of coffee" on his trips.

Well, isn't that special.

He must really enjoy spending time on his property from 8 pm to 8:15 each night. Then again he does have his weekends free to enjoy his "spread." Or maybe he's spending his weekends working on his car because it must need some extra attention racking up nearly a 1,000 freeway miles a week. That's probably where Midas comes in. I hope he gets some free car service along with his "road warrior" trophy.

It also occurs to me that even at 25 miles per gallon, he's burning through $120 worth of gas a week. Maybe he could afford a little bigger "spread" in San Jose if he wasn't combusting that much petrol? Oops, another digression. Sorry. My mind seems to be wandering as if I was stuck in my car six hours a day! Oh well.

Obviously, it would not be possible to spend three hours driving one way to work in Ketchikan. Even with a bridge to Gravina.

You would have to drive from Settlers Cove to Beaver Falls about six times to do that. I understand that sometimes we Ketchikanders find ourselves driving back and forth aimlessly, but that would be a bit much, even on a sunny day with the top down.

Actually I once drove back and forth between Settlers Cove and Beaver Falls nearly six times. I was in high school and me and two friends were bored and wanted to see if it was possible to put 200 miles on my Chevy truck in one day.

So we drove between Settlers Cove to Beaver Falls a little over five times. Or just about 150 miles. At Ketchikan speeds (and road conditions), it took us well over four hours. When I realized that we'd have to keep going for nearly another hour and a half, I stopped. All I really accomplished was a serious case of bench seat bottom burn.

Those of you who are still with me (and aren't trapped in the endless road construction near The Landing) are probably thinking "Yeah, well, that guy in California is a doofus and most people don't commute that much."

And you are right.

The US Census Bureau says that in 2003, Americans spent 100 hours a year "commuting" in their cars to work.

That doesn't sound like much (only about 23 minutes a day) until you stop to realize that it's more than most folks spend on their vacation (80 hours) each year.

Of course bigger metropolitan areas had the longest commutes. Workers in New York City averaged nearly 38 minutes one way. Chicago was 33 minutes. Los Angeles was "only" 29 minutes. In New York, nearly 5 percent of the commuters reported a 90 minute one way commute.

Now on the other end of the spectrum, cities like Wichita, Kansas and Omaha, Nebraska reported average commutes of about 16 or 17 minutes, roughly the amount of time it takes a New York commuter to get a Latte to go from the little stand outside the parking garage.

Naturally, Alaskan cities are too small to be surveyed in the Census figures. Even Los Anchorage falls below the 250,000 population threshold.

Alaska as a state, though, has been quantified by the grand assessor of commuting.

The Census says that Alaskans - on average - commute 18.9 minutes to work each day. That places Alaska as 44th in the nation. The only states with shorter commutes than Alaska are Iowa, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and North and South Dakota. That makes sense. It's a pretty short "commute" to the barn.

My own personal commute to work is just under 35 seconds. That includes the time it takes to parallel park on Dock Street. But not the time it would take me to get a Latte, if I wanted to get a Latte, which I don't because I don't drink coffee, but that's another digression. Maybe I should add the extra time it would take to me to drive to Tatsuda's to buy a soda.

Many of you are probably thinking " Thirty-five seconds! What a doofus Kiffer is for not walking to work."

And you would be mostly right.

It is only about a five minute walk from home to work. But that's downhill all the way. It is a little more "strenuous" commute home, back up the hills. Walking back up takes about two days, including pauses to stop to discuss acclimatization schedules with my Sherpas. One can't be too careful when pulmonary edemas are concerned.

But since it I have a "less than a minute" driving commute it is probably natural that I was somewhat horrified that my friends out in the Waterfall subdivision take 20 times longer to get work than I do.

After all, the average commuting time in San Jose is 24 minutes and the goofball who commutes from over the mountains only takes six or seven times that.

Using his yardstick, I should be looking for an affordable 10 acre "ranch" on the Far West Side of Gravina (how about by Grant Creek!) from whence to begin my morning commute.

So, now about that bridge


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

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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