Alaska- under our noses (21)

We’d passed it at least 4 times, but the Carr’s grocery store right next to McDOnald’s had a big sign with orange letters


So, we pulled into the parking lot and went inside to find some food.

Carr’s grocery stores was an Alaskan chain. Safeway (known as Von’s in L.A. where we live) moved up to alaska I don’t know when. But as long as I could remember, Carr’s worked their butts off to make their grocery stores a dream of what a grocery store could be.

Deli counters and in-store bakeries are de riguer now, but those were always part of Carr’s, even back in the 80s. Plus, a full service espresso bar, and an ice cream counter.  They had a HUGE produce section, which for Alaska is no small feat. There was also a large, several aisles worth of health food selections, sort of like a Whole Foods–Gluten-Free, Carob, granola, what have you.

Pretty much anything you could imagine that a grocery store might possibly have, they had. Because they wanted to run Safeway into the ground. The standard for grocery stores in Alaska was very high.

After I moved away, Safeway bought Carr’s. End of an era.

So I expected that the quality would have also fallen. Maybe they wouldn’t be 24 hours anymore. Maybe they would have shut down the ice cream counter or the espresso bar.

The people who told me that Safeway owned Carr’s sounded sad and disgusted with the situation.

But the store was even BIGGER. I know for sure it was bigger because I remember that part of the strip mall being a fabric store. Now the grocery store had taken over that space.

There was a whole long aisle of nothing but all varieties of chips. My grocery store here in L.A. has maybe a half aisle.

I was happy to avail myself of their bathroom, a  welcome change to a flush toilet after the outhouse earlier.

The donuts were very fresh, still being transferred from the baker’s racks to the clear-door cabnets. I took a fritter and Chris got a bagel.

Then I wanted a coffee. Alaska has the best coffee.

We went back to the car. I looked around in this familiar strip mall to see what was changed.

This surprised me:

A Kaladi brothers coffee shop in Wasilla. I regretted getting my coffee from the Carr’s now. I remembered how they had brought espresso to Alaska when I was a teenager and how it was SO GOOD.

Well, a rising tide lifts all the boats. My  coffee was better than anything I’d had in California in many years.

“Did the coffee wake you up?” Chris asked.

“’s good. I feel better. But I still want to sleep. Maybe we could stay here?”

“It’s too crowded,” he said.

“um….Maybe we could go see Hatcher’s Pass.”

Alaska – where can we eat ?(20)

We left the subdivision and Bull Moose Drive. Back on Shrock and then at the cross roads of the corner store/ gas station again.

“where now?” Chris asked.

It was close to six. Maybe we could finally get breakfast. “Back to McDonald’s, I guess.”

Through the rain on the roads that were becoming familiar to us both now. We got to the parking lot and parked right by the door. I was so tired I couldn’t decide which would be better, getting out of the car or not moving.

There was a man cleaning the parking lot. I remembered doing that when I worked there. I felt bad for the guy though, because it was raining. At least it was a good sign that a worker was there. It wasn’t quite six yet. I got out of the car to ask him when the place opened.

He was older than I realized. “When are you open?” I asked.

He kept his head down and focussed on sweeping. “They open when someone unlocks the doors,” he muttered.

Old men who work at McDonald’s seem universally crabby. I got back in the car.

Chris: “What did he say?”

“Not very helpful. But look, there are more poeple waiting.”

Some trucker type men in baseball hats were piling up by the door. “Good,” I said to Chris. “When they go in, we’ll know that the doors are open.”

I admired the men standing in their T-shirts in the rain. They were unconcerned about the cold and wet. I remembered being that way too. Even now, I am significantly more willing to be rained on than almost anyone in L.A. But not this morning.

Our car clock showed 6:03. Then 6:10.  Maybe our clock was fast?

But the shirtsleeves were getting restless. They pounded on the door. Clock showed 6:15. Finally a girl came out, with the drive-thru headset on. She spoke to the men.

I got out and asked her, “What’s going on?”

She spoke in an unapologetic monotone: “The computer is down. We can’t sell you any food.”

“When will you be open?”

“The computer is down. I don’t know when it will be working again.”

Back in the car, I told Chris the computer was down. “She didn’t even apologize. I think when I was working here, they would have apologized, and maybe put a sign in the window.”

“Well, where can we eat?” he wanted to know.

“ummm..” Now that a warm place with table and chairs wasn’t available, I guess we’d have to make do. “We could to the grocery store and get a donut.”

“A grocery store? At 6 on sunday morning? They won’t be open.”

“Well, when I lived here, Carr’s was open 24 hours. Let’s go see. It’s right here.”

getting the joke

So the new guy at work seems to enjoy my humor a bit more than the guys who are used to it.


Yesterday, I went onsite to research a reported audio problem We were all skeptical because USERS LIE

But there was something wrong. And this equipment was the new model. And VERY hard to work on. Me, to new guy, over videoconference: “I’ll need your help with this one when we get the replacement part. And bring your swear work dictionary, because Holy Crap!”

A few weeks ago, the department had to eat it’s own cooking. Instead of the usual audio conference for the staff meeting, we were doing it video conference. New guy had to stay in the watch the phones, but said “You should go into the video conference room if you feel presentable.”

Me: “Sure, why not? I’ve picked most of my scabs off”



Alaska- Memory Lake (19)

I wanted to show my husband the lake where I’d spent so much time.

When we moved there, we were told the lake was Memory Lake. Later we learned the name had been changed from “Swamp Lake”. You can see it that link that the lake is kinda two lakes with a little connecting bit. We only knew the near side of the lake for the longest time.

When we first moved to Wasilla, I was in 7th grade. I was still in school, that bus ride away to Peter’s Creek. I did NOT want to move to Wasilla, because I knew my social standing would drop immediately. There were NO cute boys in Wasilla. Okay, maybe one but he was not very nice.

But it didn’t matter because almost right away I was informed that I would be homeschooled. Social standing was a thing of the past. Social flattening was more like it.

But THAT left us a lot of time to learn the mysteries of the lake. My brother Chris liked to fish in the lake, and caught about 10 little trout or landlocked salmon. They were 9-12 inches long, really not big enough to eat compared to real salmon. We fed them to the cat.

We wondered where the lake got its water. We kinda tried to go around the perimeter to see if a stream flowed in. But there were houses all around the lake, so we were nervous about trespassing.

This was our lake. There was a public lake, Wasilla lake, that people would go swim at. People would even drive from Eagle river sometimes to go swim at our lake. They used to swim in Mirror lake, just past Peter’s Creek, but then Mirror Lake got Beaver Fever and you couldn’t swim in it anymore. But this was our lake. We could walk to it anytime.

Chris was the one who stuck to it. And he discovered that there was a whole second lake  past the choke point.

The subdivision had it’s own well, and that empty lot was how we accessed the lake. The lake was surrounded by swamp, so we learned the art of choosing the highest bumps of plants in the flat meadow of swamp between the road and the lake. Otherwise, we’d get a shoeful of bog. I had no interest in fishing, but I liked the lake. I liked ice skating and went every day I could. Chris Ice fished with holes that other people left, because he didn’t have a borer.

In the summer, he would go somewhere and fish from the shore. Sometimes we would swim, but I couldn’t swim near the fishing line for fear of getting hooked. Mom didn’t want me to swim alone, but I talked her into letting me if I had a life jacket on.

Here’s the picture: Alaskan summer, where temperatures above 70 are rare. The lake, aptly named Swamp Lake, colder than the air, with lake weeds and leeches and deep silt at the bottom.

We tried to fathom the muck at the bottom of the lake once. I wiggled my feet down into it as far as it would go. It got colder as you went down, very cold. I stopped when it got up to mid-calf, but only because Chris suggested that the leeches probably lived down in there. It was harder to get my foot out than in.

I checked my feet carefully for leeches after that. It was true, the leeches lived on the bottom mostly. The strategy when swimming was to leap out into the water and touch the bottom as little as possible. The life jacket helped with this, and we usually kept our shoes on. Even aside from leeches, the bottom was very slimy, ucky, cold and definitely something to avoid.

The leeches weren’t too bad. Wasilla Lake had worse leeches. I think we found a leech on ourselves a maximum of 5 times. The leeches were small, only about three brown slimy inches long, and you just pulled them off with a squeal and a shudder and that was the end of that.

We did discuss whether or not the lake weeds could tangle in our feet and pull us down to our deaths. Chris said yes. I thought it was unlikely. But we avoided them, since they were definitely slimy.

But when husband Chris and I drove past the entry point to the lake, it was very overgrown. I remembered a gravel lot. There were a lot of trees and bushes now. You couldn’t see the lake from the road anymore.

And it was raining, and neither of us felt like getting out and seeing the lake. I figured we’d get shoes full of bogwater if we tried.

Alaska – Past Wasilla (18)

“What do we do now?” Chris asked.

No breakfast or warm place to sit and eat it. McDonald’s must open at 6 on Sunday. There was nothing I wanted more than to sleep, my stomach wasn’t feeling that good anyway.

But we had a car and we had to go somewhere.

“Umm..” I said.

“Maybe we could find our hotel,” Chris suggested.

Oh God. Please, please let us find out hoteland go to sleep in it. I would pay anything.

“Yeah, It’s supposed to be near here,” I said. The address said Bogard road, which was right behind the McDonalds.

So I directed Chris on how to get to Bogard and we started looking at addresses. This hotel was not at all where I thought it would be. And Bogard was a lot longer than I remembered.

“Maybe they will have a vacancy and they’ll let us in early,” I hoped.

We did find it, a little hotel in a part of Wasilla I swear I’d never seen before. VERY little hotel. It was locked and the sign on the door said it opened at 9. They did have a number to call for out of hours.

“Let’s call and ask if we can get in early,” I begged Chris.

“I don’t think it would help our case to wake them up at 5 in the morning. Let’s just wait until 9.”

That made sense, even if I didn’t like it.

“Where to now?” Chris said.

“Um….I guess we could go see my old house.”

We turned around and headed off to Wasilla Fishook road. I kept being surprised at just how many trees were on the sides of the road.

I had forgotten that Shrock road did not exit directly off Fishook. There was a little dogleg, Seldon road. And even more surprising, Seldon road had this:


A real stoplight!

I had no trouble remembering THIS:


As a teenager, I would occasionally gather toghether some coins and go down to this corner store and buy candy. But it was a 45 minute walk there, so I didn’t go that often. I remember it as something I might do with a friend who came over when we were looking for a way to kill some time. I didn’t have TV or anything else at home, so, walking and talking seemed a good idea.

The little green-roofed shed in the front was certainly not there before. These things were all over in Wasilla, and they were drive through espresso stands. Unbelievable.

We went on to Shrock and then passed Black Bear and Red Fox (or some such roads) to find Bull Moose drive.


It sure wasn’t paved when I lived here. But I remember those mailboxes well. With almost no other way to socialize in home High School, I had many many pen pals.

I remember I stole mom’s  mail key. She took a while to notice, and then said that Dad liked to pick up the mail when he came home. That it was a nice thing he enjoyed. But there was no way I was going to wait the 4 or 5 MILLION hours between when the mail was delivered and when Dad came home to get any potential letters. I came up with a cunning plan. I would go LOOK at the mail, and if there was a letter for me I would take it and secret it home. The rest of the mail could stay for Dad.

The days were LONG people. Let me tell you. I waited for the mail to come almost every day. During the summers, I had to be by the window and watch the cars go by to see if the mailman went past. Sometimes I would get impatient and walk down to the mailbox a couple times, just in case.

But in the WINTER! The mailtruck wore chains on its tires every day. I could tell if it went by by the marks on the snowy/ice buildup on the gravel road. So I would not have to walk allthe way down to the mailboxes, I could just go check for tracks on the road.

Winter always lasted longer than summer.

But the house itself. Still standing:

But where did the stairs to the front door go?

Alaska – memory highway (17)

Wasilla was technically several miles down the Parks highway from where it leaves the Glenn highway. But Wasilla is a town that follows the highway, so basically it began right here right now.

“Oh my God!” There was a huge modern–medical facility?–Mat-Su Regional it said.

There used to be a little store below that hill. Was it a gas station? I couldn’t remember, but the store was like a gas station store. Thing about that store was it was the place the bus started.

Wasilla had no buses. But everyone commutes to Anchorage, so an enterprising guy with an old vehicle started ferrying people from this old store to Anchorage.  He didn’t advertise, it was just a word of mouth thing, kinda expensive for the time, 10 bucks I think. It had to be worth the guy’s time. My brothers Bryan and Mark used this way to get to Bible school the first year.

That store was gone. And a huge hospital loomed over it’s empty spot. Changes.

Except….even my tired eyes coulnd’t see much of a difference after that. Yes, new things were built. It was a little more crowded down the Park highway corridor. But the types of things were so ordinary that they blended in…to my eyes so accustomed to such things, a Carl’s Jr. and a Walmart did not seem like a change.

The overpasses were new. Never seen such a thing before. Some of the main roads were now OVER the highway and not stop signs to enter.

We made our way past what had been the mall of my youth, Cottonwood Creek. The frumpy Lamonts store and the ever desirous Jay Jacobs was no more. The Safeway where I shed blood and tears was part of that mall. It was paved over to be the parking lot for the Target under construction there.

With a Wal-Mart, a Sears, Fred Meyers, a huge Carr’s and now a Target, Wasilla was the Shopping Center for the bush of Alaska lucky enough to have roads.

The Mcdonald’s was right where I left it. I’d spent two summers employed there. Good memories there, 15 and 16 years old pegging the SOO unfahionable uniform pants to conform tightly to my calves.

It was approximately 5 am. It was raining. The McDonald’s was not open.

Alaska- reversing the old commuting trail (16)

I was desperate to close my eyes and sleep. I could have slept in the car, no problem.

But the scene demanded my attention.

“This is the road my dad took to work. This is how most of the people from Wasilla drive to Anchorage for work. It’s called the flats” I told Chris.

I looked around. It was a little different. “There used to be a whole lot of standing dead spruce trees. I never knew why. Now there is just a few…See? Like that one.”

I kept on remembering. “This road was considered really dangerous. You can imagine, the flat swamp to the one side that lets the wind rip over the highway. Plus, in the winter when it’s dark, moose can wander in front of you whenever they like.”

At the moment–4:30 am on a Sunday–the road was completely clear.

“Now you are going to see some real Rivers, not the skinny seasonal trickles we have in Los Angeles,” I told Chris. “There are three bridges ahead. Watch how wide the rivers are.”

We were upon the first bridge. I remember this river, the Little Susitna never froze in winter. It was fed by a hot spring. Not hot enough for spa treatments, but just hot enough that it didn’t freeze. The bald eagles would hang out there during the cold months and eat the rotting salmon.

The gravel river beds holding the water spread very wide. The three bridges must have covered the same river, because I only ever saw one name identifier. It was a wide, wide water flow into the inlet.

I knew after the three bridges came the turn-off onto the Park Highway. that was highway number three of Alaska’s three highways. It was the main street of Wasilla.

But what the heck was THIS?!? Ther was an overpass! This was new. At most, this turn off had be a T in the road, with a turn lane. I couldn’t recall if it had a stop sign or a stop light, but this massive overpass was a futuristic addition I had NOT been expecting.

Alaska- in the woods (15)

I had wanted to show Chris the Thunderbird Falls on the way to Wasilla. I had planned it as part of what we would do to kill the time until our hotel was available.

I saw the exit for Thunderbird Falls. “Right here!” I said.

We found the Thunderbird Falls parking area pretty easily. I didn’ remember it being a state park. They were asking for 5 dollars to park there.

I was really tired at this point. And I had to pee. Well, there was an outhouse there. I walked out into the rain to use it. Much better.

Back in the car, there was no way we were going to walk up the path to the falls right then. The rain, the cold, the nausea all conspired to make me want to stop driving and sleep.

“Can’t we stop here? I need to shut my eyes.”

“But we’d have to pay!” Chris said. “Let’s just go on to Wasilla.”

… …

“Boy, I wish we had gotten that hotel room in Anchorage.”

in other news

taking a pause from the interminable story of my Alaskan vacation, I have new pictures of the child.
daley child with arrow

Okay, so this takes some explaining. I drew a faint red arrow at the top to indicate where the doctor says its head is. It looks very frog like.

They is a long white thing underneath the frog grimace, that is an arm (only one arm is visible). Then there are two twinkly white spots underneath. Those are child’s feet.

My child has two feet.

The manual says my uterus is the size of a melon right now.

Chris: “What kind of melon? We need specifics!”

I suspect the melon is growing. Soon the uterus will rise out of my pelvic region (where it definitely is hanging right now) and move up into the abdomen area.

Alaska – we’ve left the city (14)

With Anchorage behind us, and Fairbanks far beyond the horizon of our plans, all nightlife was behind us.  24 hour cafes were not part of the landscape for at least 300 miles.

Eagle River was not a city. They were not going to have a place to eat at 4 in the morning. This came back to me as we hit the middle of the town, which consisted of a McDonald’s and a grocery store. I looked at it, and remembered that this was it.

How strange, to remember this place as ‘cool’ and yet now to realize it was a very nothing kind of town. And I mean nothing in the sense of big city nothing. It was FULL of woods and mountains. But not very much man-made civilizing strokes.

But, people don’t come to Alaska for all the civilization.

“There isn’t going to be a Denny’s here,” I told Chris.

“What do we do now?”

Indeed. If we wanted to sit and eat breakfast, we would have to turn around and go back to Anchorage. That magnetic pull back to Anchorage and a hotel room and bed –who cared the cost now–was strong. But I knew it was against the rules of manhood to backtrack.

Things we knew:

  1. there is nothing for us in Eagle River
  2. We were tired
  3. we were hungry
  4. Wasilla had our hotel reservation for the night

“Wasilla won’t have a Denny’s either,” I said. “All I know for sure is they have a McDonald’s. It’s the one I used to work at.”

But, we didn’t know, what time did the McDonald’s open? If it opened at 5, we could have a breakfast of sorts before too long. If it opened at 6, that would be less good.

It was raining again.

I had been planning that we’d be able to go visit Thunderbird Falls and Eklutna on the way to Wasilla. But all I wanted was some rest.

It was 4 am.

“Go back to the Glenn Highway,” I told Chris. Let’s hope McDonald’s opened at 5.