April 1, 1986 – April Fool’s
We’re in the landing pattern coming into Alaska and Robert is looking out the window at TONS of snow. Turning to Peggy, he says: “What the hell have you gotten us into?” So much for golf…
We found a condo and settled into a life of dealing with snow. Fortunately, the condo was only for six months while we looked for a regular home. At the expiration of the lease we moved into a house we found. Our new home had a large backyard and a garden. There still were a bunch of leftover plants, like cauliflower and other moose munchies scattered about the garden. Within a couple of days, we were greeted one morning with a moose cow and her calf in the backyard, clearing away last years leftovers. We watched for a couple of minutes before Mama Moose got nervous and decided it was time to go. With one, lazy leap, she cleared a 6 foot fence with room to spare. The calf wasn’t so lucky. He/she misjudged, didn’t clear the fence and landed in an inglorious pile of legs on the ground. It was up instantly and without much ado, recalculated launch trajectories, obstacle height, and required acceleration force and launched itself over the fence!
Living in Alaska is like living on an island. Oh, there is a road to the Lower 48, but when we were there it was mostly gravel, long distances between fuel stops, and we’re not sure if it was open all year around then. In the winter, in Anchorage, you’re lucky to get 4 hours of sunlight; you have to get used to the dark quick. But the dark does bring one thing (assuming there is no cloud cover): the incredible Northern Lights! We saw our first on September 26, 1986 at 0700 hours. Robert has just dropped Peggy off at work and was driving home when they appeared. He HAD to pull over off the road and watch. It was AWESOME! And 23 degrees, so the commune with The Wonders of the Earth only lasted a few minutes before common sense won out and toes and fingers were grateful. Macho Chick wasn’t so lucky. Oh, she got to see the Northern Lights, but she was in formation. In 23 degrees. And she wasn’t the only one breaking formation and staring at Nature’s Phenomenon.
Snow, moose, darkness, isolation, Midnight Golf, long summer days complete with bugs of the B-52 variety. Pretty mixed bag. The biggest problem we had with the assignment was that within two weeks of our arrival, we were notified that the tour of duty in Alaska was now four years instead of three. Shit. So, we bought a dog.
George was a Beagle and really had no business in Alaska – they are not cold weather dogs. Plus, we got screwed. We did not expect to be buying a papered dog, just a Beagle (Robert’s fault – he likes Beagles). Turns out the poor dog had been mistreated and was never trained well. He howled and tore up things when left alone; he peed on the carpets (attention seeking?); and, like all Beagles, he like to chew. Everything. So we got him a cat to play with: Georgette, The Mouth. George and Georgette (or GQ). Now there was a pair. GQ thought George was her mother and nursed on George – who didn’t seem to mind. They became buddies – The Howler and The Mouth. Never a quiet moment. We tried to train George and took him to obedience school and later got stuck with a $2000 vet bill for eye surgery. We tried hard with George, but when we learned he couldn’t travel, we had to take him to the pound. The Mouth, on the other hand, was more adventurous and didn’t seem to mind traveling.
Oh, one adventure with George, he thought that since he was a Beagle, he knew how to hunt. One morning some moose were in the front yard trimming the trees. There was 3 or 4 feet of snow on the ground and the moose were making trails in the snow. A photo session was called for so Robert grabbed the camera and tried to carefully open the door not wanting to scare the moose off or let George out. Not careful enough though, George managed to dart out and headed down the sidewalk barking away. He got into the trail of the largest moose and started to chase the moose. Or so he thought. He was bounding – he couldn’t run – thru the snow and got within a couple of feet behind the Big Guy. Bad move. The moose, almost as if it were swatting a fly, threw his right rear hoof back, barely missing George’s nose. George instantly realized the power that almost took his head off, pulled up short, stopped barking, threw it in reverse and beat cheeks out of there. It could have turned out very tragic, but instead it was a funny comedy routine of animals.
We played a lot of golf in the summer, including the Midnight Sun Scramble (?) where we played until 2300 or everybody was off the course. It was during one of these scrambles that Peggy got a Hole-in-One! Now, a HIO during a scramble does not allow you to be awarded anything except recognition, so Robert informed the course manager of the accomplishment. But, because the manager had a personal grudge towards Robert, he pettily refused to announce or even mention Peggy. Furious, Robert stood on a table, called for attention, and announced Peggy’s HIO to the applause of the crowd – as it should have been. Scramble or not, every golfer deserves recognition for a hole-in-one. So, the score in our families: Robert’s dad – 4, Peggy – 1, Robert – 0.
Unlike Fred King at Andrews AFB, this civilian employee, whose job it is to keep the troops happy, thought he was running his own fiefdom and was only responsible to himself. Robert had made complaints about the way the course was being run (unofficial enlisted troop restrictions that should have never been in place) and the manager was forced to do it the right way and not HIS way. Thus, the animosity. The exact same thing happened at the Heidelberg Golf Course, except this time, after the manager was made to understand that he served the troops, not the other way around, Robert and the manager became friends.
We took a couple of trips within the state while we were there. One trip, we decided to drive all of the paved highways in Alaska. Well, that took two days. We took the train up to Denali Park and that was short, but FUN! Unless you are in to hunting or combat fishing, Alaska has limited things to do. We always found something to do, like eat. We had some favorite and some not so favorite places to eat.
Let’s start with our favorites (in the mid to late 1980’s). First up, Marx Brothers in Anchorage. Opened in 1979, they are still operating and as popular as ever. Excellent food and service in the several visits we had over the years. Second on our list was the Crow’s Nest in the Cook’s Hotel. The staff was always friendly as demonstrated one night when we ordered escargot (you know, snails). A couple of minutes later, the Head Chief comes up to our table and says he’s developing some different sauces for the escargot and would we like to try some? Wow. That was cool. And, of course, we tried three different sauces (standard garlic and oil, a mustard sauce and a tomato sauce) and all three were superb and we were unable to declare a “winner”. To counter the enjoyable dinners at these two restaurants, we had two horrendous visits to two other supposedly excellent restaurants.
For Peggy’s Big Three-Oh, we rented a limo and invited another couple to join us. Things got off to a rocky start when the limo broke down on our way to pick up the other couple. After forty-five minute delay, the limo company who ran the package we had and had made all the reservations, finally dropped us off at the Double Musky Inn. Things didn’t improve when the table we were assigned was in the traffic pattern for a lot of the staff, thus a lot of coming and going all around us. Our waitperson showed up and asked if we would like drinks and we ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon and ordered escargot for everyone. From that point on, the service was the pits. And we mean the bottom of the deepest dark pit in the world. Yes, it was that bad. The bill was in excess of $250 (big bucks in 1987) and our normal tip would have been $50 for good service, $75 for a really good waitperson. We were not generous with our tip.
The folks we took to dinner returned the favor and took us to Stewart Anderson’s Steak House. Another supposedly good place to dine, but we found it vastly overrated. Our friends had made reservations for seven and we arrived on time, only to find they had “lost” the reservation (not sure how you do that, but, ok…). So they asked us to wait in the bar and they could seat us in twenty minutes. Twenty minutes later, nothing. We went up to the host and asked how much longer it was going to be. They had forgotten about us. Unbelievable. We should have left right then. They finally seated us and it was almost forty-five minutes before ANYONE showed up. And that was the quality of service all night long – dismal at best; horrendous at worst. Our friends were embarrassed they took us there. The finally coup d’état came when we ordered after dinner drinks – which also took awhile to get to us. After “Cheers”, Robert tilted the glass towards his mouth only to find a fly doing a backstroke in his whiskey! Because we weren’t the ones who set this up, Robert hadn’t said much to the staff all evening about the poor service. However, ruining a really good bourbon was enough to push Robert over the edge and in a voice guaranteed to be heard throughout the “restaurant”, he exclaimed: “GET ME THE MANAGER!” The manager showed up rather quickly and Robert explained the entire evening – lost reservations, left in bar, 45 minutes to get served, and finally the fly in the bourbon. We were comped the four meals and the manager apologized profusely, but the damage had been done and we never went back. Or to the Double Mushy, er, Musky Inn.
These experiences were in 1986-89 and maybe things are better at the last two, but when we went, it was not a pleasant experience, especially for the amount of money you paid.
Robert got a computer teaching position at a for profit vocational school and learned that for profit education sucks. The dollar speaks louder than abilities and the standards were “bent” so the student could pass and the school get paid. He didn’t last long.
Bad restaurant experiences and a one year tour extension aside, Alaska was an interesting place to live. And, no, we never met Sarah Palin. Whew.
The Longest Journey
In August of 1989, just before we headed back to the Lower 48, we decided to drive all the paved roads we could. It wasn’t a very long trip, but it was full of beauty.
Canadian Air Show
The Canadian Snowbirds came to town and put on a great show! And these guys don’t mess around, they fly six, seven, and nine bird formations! We spent the day memorized.