SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Like, Wow!


October 25, 2008
Saturday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska - The first time I remember seeing Phil Myerchin, he was riding his motorcycle.

jpg Dave Kiffer

Dave Kiffer

It's a clear memory because it was raining heavily and no one rides motorcycles in the rain around here, at least not intentionally.

Oddly enough, I can't remember what kind of bike it was, which is strange cause I usually remember those sort of things. But as usual, I digress.

Anyway, I was in eighth grade and I saw this guy burbling through the rain on his bike. He was hard to miss. It was a small bike and he was a fairly round man at that point. He also had a bushy beard and some very prominent front teeth. It appeared that an unusually large beaver was riding the bike.

He pulled over near me, I guess to check something on the bike. As he bent over the engine, a large truck went by and splashed a puddle onto him.

"Like, Wow!" he exclaimed, but with what appeared to be a smile on his face.

Seriously. That was all he said. I certainly would have declaimed in a much more colorful manner. But he didn't.

It occurred to me a few weeks ago, when I read that Phil had died, that hearing such news, he would have just shook his head and said "Like, Wow" again but in a sadder tone of voice. Seems like he was always saying, "Like, Wow" about one thing or another.

Mr. Myerchin was the chemistry and physics teacher at Kayhi for about a hundred years. Actually, it was only about 30 years, which is still a long time to suffer the weather around here on a motorcycle.

When I was at Kayhi in the mid 1970s, he'd probably only been at it a decade or so but he was already a fixture. He was one of the few teachers still around who was there when my older siblings wandered the same halls in the 1960.

"Another Kiffer," he said while reading the role during the first day of Chemistry. "Like, Wow."

At the time, I couldn't tell if it was a happy "Like, Wow" or a sad one.

As class went on, we learned that most of his "Like, Wows" were cheerful ones or at least those of bemused surprise or exasperation.

Like the time several students had snuck into the chemistry lab during "brunch break" to use the burners to bend some glass tubing.

Why, you ask?

Well perhaps "don't ask, don't tell" applies here. Either that of the 5th Amendment. Let's just say that the students were being creative by building their own "controlled substance" inhalers.

"Whatcha doing?" Mr. Myerchin asked when he came upon the busy little crew.

"Uhhhhhh, making some crazy straws?" one clever student quickly answered.

"Like, Wow," Mr. Myerchin replied.

It was definitely a "I really know what your doing" type of "Like, Wow."

But at least he didn't go overboard and call in the authorities. He just advised them to finish up and take their "creativity" elsewhere.

Mr. Myerchin was clearly a "cool" teacher. But he was also a very good teacher

Another time, an entire class decided to pull a prank on him. "Pop Rocks" had just come out and the class members filled their mouths with the candies and sat patiently in their seats waiting for him to come into the room.

That - in itself - was pretty suspicious and he eyed the silently seated students with a raised eyebrow.

On cue, all the mouths opened and the sounds of "pop rocks" filled the room.

"Like, Wow," Mr. Myerchin said with big smile. He immediately launched into a fascinating discussion on the carbon dioxide-sugar chemical reaction that caused the mouth popping delicacies.

And then showing he was "up" on the subject, he launched into an experiment that showed that - despite the common rumor floating around - that pop rocks did NOT create an stomach explosion when mixed with coca cola. Instead it caused just a little extra gurgling.

He was always doing something like that.

Just when you thought you had lured him off the subject he would take your seemingly unrelated question or insight into account and lead you back into whatever the topic of the day was.

And, dang it, you'd realize after the fact that you had learned something!

For example, I will always remember that when a body falls it can increase in velocity up to 33 feet per second, for each additional second it falls (I think!).

I remember that because we were discussing gravity in Physics and I tried to get him off the subject by asking him a question about mountain search and rescue of which he was one of Ketchikan's best known practitioners.

I asked him how much rope mountaineers should carry with them.

He thought for a moment and then noted that it was not usual for people to have up to 150 feet of rope. But that's probably too much, he added. Then he smiled and went back over to the black board.

"Now, say you have a body falling at a maximum increasing velocity of 33 feet per second, per second," he said, drawing a stick figure on the board.

Then he drew the figure making a long fall to the bottom of the blackboard.

"When the rope comes to a stop," he continued, "What happens?"

No one had an answer.

He then drew the stick figure separating into two halves, arms and torso continuing on in one direction and the legs heading off in another.

"The body doesn't."

The entire class broke up into a fit of hysterical - albeit really morbid - laughter.

Mr. Mycherin just stooding watching with a big smile on his face.

"Like, Wow!" he finally added.



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

Dave Kiffer ©2008

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