Alaska – dinner at the Trout House (30)

The Trout House, or Windbreak Cafe, was exactly the sort of place I was hoping to have dinner. It was not a chain, like the kind I had too many where I live now.

Pretty fancy fish, and pretty homey kind of cafe.

I hadn’t seen Ray in a very long time. I am terrible with faces, so I was a little nervous.

But Chris and I walked in, and I saw a classic computer nerd type sitting there, his back to me and his pony tail far down his back.

That was Ray.

He and his wife Sherry were there, very happy to see us, and we scooted into the chairs around the table to catch up. Of course I had to tell them about the massively long day we’d just had.

Chris, who’d never met these two, was able to chime in at various points. I’d never had a chance to get to know Sherry very well. I think the only time I her was when I crashed their wedding.

I was hanging out on the UAA campus visiting some other people that day, and someone said they had to go to his wedding. I’d known he was getting married, but I didn’t know it was that day. The two guys (another friend from that first year of college and a guy who happened to have been my neighbor in Wasilla) encouraged me to come even though I’d not been invited.

It was a great party. They were very happy and I was welcome to take part of it.

Anyway, Sherry (by reputation) was super cool. Getting her PhD in English Literature, which is way cool to begin with, and in addition, Ray had never said a single negative thing about her ever. That’s got to be a very good sign.

She was a smart and charming as my expectations had led me to believe.

We talked about the changes that had happened. All the stores and restaurants there. The demolishing of the mall, which I regretted. And the installtion of more stoplights and–god forbid!–overpasses.

“It’s starting to look like Los Angeles!” Sherry said.

Before I could visibly roll my eyes at such incongruous comparison, Ray told us that Sherry had done her undergrad work at UC Riverside. So she actually DID know a little about what LA looked like.

The difference was stark to me. But if you equate overpasses with LA, that’s not far from the truth. And when Wasilla (the Mat-Su Valley, really) goes from zero overpasses to three…..

okay…i guess…I’ll give it to you.

Ray told Chris how we’d met. “I was a nodie at the computer labs at Mat-Su college..”

I’d forgotten he was a nodie. The tech guys who answered questions at the various computer labs were called Nodies. Each computer lab was associated with a “node” and therefore the guys called themselves…oh…nevermind…it was a super nerd thing to be.

But it was hard to tell who was nodie and who was just a lab rat. I was a labrat, because of the tremendous joy that email communication brought to my soul. I didn’t know anything though. So when I had a question, I turned to whoever was handy and asked for help. That might be a more experienced labrat…or it might be a nodie…I couldn’t tell. And the nodies hung out in the lab even when they weren’t working.

I thought nodie was a very cool job. I wished I could be a nodie. I think there was one girl nodie…In Anchorage…but I knew I wasn’t good enough. They seemed all-knowing to me.

Ray went on “..and this ray of sunshine appeared in the lab.”

who, me?

I had no idea.

It was great to see Ray after so many years. He was very much the same. We were done around 9:30, settled the bill and took our leave.

The sun shone like late afternoon, and we’d had a good nap.

“Where do you want to go now?” Chris asked.

THIS was the Alaskan summer sunlight I remembered.

“Let’s go back to Hatcher’s Pass!”

Alaska- supper (29)

I had told Ray that we would meet for dessert at 7.

At the time, I thought that we would be in our hotel and done taking a nap. I thought that we would have gotten up earlier and gone out to explore the town and have had dinner already.

Things had not turned out the way I expected.

I woke up about 6, and Chris was still fast asleep. I read some to let him keep sleeping. But I was concerned about being late. And we were supposed to eat dinner FIRST.

But Chris was tired, and still sleeping.

I woke him up at 6:30. It took a good long time to pry ourselves out of bed and get out to get over to the appointed meeting place:


This seemed like a cool place. Naturally, it wasn’t there when I lived there.

Although the restaurant was new, the view across the highway was as familiar as the back of my hand:


I know those mountains. They are what mean mountain to me. I live next to mountains. This is what the mountains look like near me:

They look like they belong in the desert. Because they do. Of course, in deep and rare winters, they have snow on them, and they look like real mountains then:

2007 2008 027

That photo is from deep January, and they never look like that.

The one thing Alaska is good at, that Wasilla is really good at, is mountains.

But it was time for dinner.


Alaska – social engagement (28)

So, the one thing I had actually planned for a time on this trip was to meet a friend from college.

I’ve been talking about all the things I remember from when I lived in Alaska. And you might well imagine that there were people involved in some of these memories. But these people, on the whole, were not people I wanted to see again.

I moved (back) to Alaska with my parents when I was 11. Yes, I had been born there. And I lived there until I was 7. At that point, my parents joined a group of people who felt ‘called’ to establish a church in Humbolt County, California. So we moved down to Hippie Central, California and established a church for four years. But then, things didn’t work out, in a way that was unfortunately painful to my parents.

And their impulse, when thinking of where to hole up and lick their wounds, was Alaska. So, they packed up us kids into a VW van and drove up the Al-Can to re-establish their family in the 49th state.

Which led me to re-experience Alaska anew as an 11-year-old. And eventually led to my parents’ decision to live in the city of Alaskan strip mall, Wasilla.  And it was there that the personal tragedy of Home Schooling took hold.

However, I do remember being really really pleased with my first year of college. First semester of college, 1990, in Mat-Su Community College.

Now, I can see I was a rank Noob about the whole thing. I had found high school to be thoughtlessly easy. Yeah, I had to study, but nothing that required any more attention than I usually gave to whatever novel I was reading. And homeschool was an entirely part-time endeavor. Start at 9, done at noon.

COLLEGE, though, that was the desired and feared obstacle at the end of the prison of homeschooled high school. I had the impression that college was hard and that it was serious and that I would have to work at it. And that if I screwed up in college it would be unsalvageable. On my permanent record.

After all, not only was college work supposedly harder than anything I’d done in High School, it was also the den of Satan where I would fall into the clutches of secular humanists and Evolutionists. I had my doubts about  that, but that idea had been expounded from so many sides for so long, I couldn’t entirely dismiss it.

So, in cautious preparation, I informed my mother that I would be taking the minimum of courses the first semester. The math went like this: 12 credits was technically a full-time student for the purposes of the Pell Grant, my educational sponsor. But for the first time, I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t screw it up. I wasn’t going to go full-time. Just 9 units for me, and I would fully fund it.

“Mom, I don’t know how well I’m going to do in School. Maybe College will be really hard. I’m just going to take it easy for the first semester and only take 9 units.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”


and none of the answers satisfied me. I remember the classes I took:

English  (composition)



Here is me, at the start of my first college semester:
mat-su student ID

Note the tufts of curly hair sticking out of my quasi-fro. It’s as if I were a fledgling bird moulting the last baby feathers.

Just for some perspective, the next semester, barely 3 months later, I had acquired a better polish:


Those were simpler times. The blurred-out section in these college IDs was where the authorities had put my social security number. The WHOLE THING!

Anyway, the first semester of college was fantastic. I learned things, I spent time around other people and life was exciting.

I honestly do not remember meeting or befriending any females at the time. You would think that typing class in particular would have been rife with possibility for female friendship. It certainly was overwhelmingly attended by women. There was only one guy in the class:


Fact was, Ray was super cool. He was simply too much fun to talk to. The females in the class terrified me. They seemed to be blonde, eyelinered, and hairsprayed within an inch of the planets ozone depletion.

And Ray was interesting, full of dry humor and snarky comments. Truly, now that I think about it, he may have been the very first guy to introduce me to my life-long preference for the companionship of smart nerdy men.

Girls I can take or leave, but put me next to a smart nerdy guy, and I’m immediately charmed.

So Ray and I hung out and talked during the breaks of typing class. And often, after class was over, we’d walk together to the computer lab. I was taking a computer class too. The computer class was definitely the most challenging class.

I wish I had worked harder at it. But the nice men in the computer lab were so helpful I left that class having turned in very little of my own work. I wanted to understand what the class was teaching, but  the guys explained the concepts by showing me how to do it, and before I knew it they had DONE the work and were saying “See?” Only I didn’t really. But the homework was done and I got an A.

Personal nerdom was yet to come.

Anyway, Ray and I kept in touch over the years through email and IMming. I hadn’t really kept in touch with anybody else from college.  So, this first night, I wanted to see Ray again face to face and catch up–holy god, EIGHTEEN YEARS after we first met.

We’d arranged to meet at the Trout House, a cafe that had not existed when I lived in Wasilla. He’d bring along his wife, and Chris would get to come too.

As long as we woke up on time.

Alaska -home sweet hotel (27)

Back to Bogard road and our hotel and pending BED.

We got in and the young lady who was running the hotel was behind. But she kindly gave us a room that was ready to be occupied instead of the one the computer had assigned us.

A key…metal and on a chain…was given to us and we entered our room rolling our bags behind us.

The room was better than I would have thought. We had a whole little kitchen, fridge, oven and all.

“Look!” I said to Chris. “We have three closets!”

“Why would you need three closets?” he wondered.

“Well, you need a place to hang your moose!”

Chris, my clean-cat husband, went to shower after the world’s longest day. I collapsed on the bed. The joy of soft horizontality seeped into my muscles and bones for a good ten minutes. Then I realized my skin needed a rest too, and I hoisted my weary bones up to find my satin jammies.

THEN, approximately 30 hours since I last slept in a bed, I fell wholly asleep.

Alaska – lunch (26)

“So where do you want to eat?” Chris asked.

After the longest day of my life, spent mostly in the rain, all I wanted was a bowl of chicken soup. But i knew Chris would want a hamburger.

“Why don’t you get a soup from the deli here, and then meet me at the Carl’s Jr.?”

Freaky thought that Wasilla has a Carl’s Jr. But that was a good idea. He could have his hamburger and I could join him with the soup.

“Can you make it across the parking lot?” He was makign sure I was okay.

“I think so.”

So I got a big bowl full of soup and ventured across the parking lot. It was larger than it looked. But I made it there before Chris had his burger.

11:30 and we still had a half hour to go. We cooled our heels until we could finally get into the hotel.

Alaska – the everything store (25)

“Well, what should we do then?” Chris asked.

It wasn’t quite 10, and the motel said that we wouldn’t have a room until noon. It still wasn’t quite time for lunch, so we had yet another hour to kill.

“We should go back and see Fred Meyer’s. We can shop until it’s time for lunch.”

Wasilla had more places to shop than when I lived there. Wasilla has a right to be called, even if my no one else but me, the Strip Mall of Alaska. The ‘strip’ would be the Parks Highway, but still.  They’d closed down the real non-strip mall of my youth, but in an early trend adopting move, they’d fully stocked the area with big  box stores. A full Sears, a full Super Walmart, a Home Depot, the already discussed Carr’s grocery store. And then there is Fred Meyer’s.

There had been a Fred Meyer’s in Anchorage for a long time, even when I was a teenager. But when I was an adult (barely) they opened it up to be a full service Fred’s. Grocery store!

So that was ..gasp…15 years ago. And Fred Meyer’s has made a good relationship with Alaska. On their website they advertise bush delivery. Next day even, as long as the bush  planes are flying.

I had been wanting Chris to see the inside of a Fred’s. I’d described it to him before, but really, it was something you have to experience.

Where we live now, Super Walmarts are feared and protested against.  In fact, there was a long grocery store strike because the owners were tightening belts against the onslaught of Walmart carrying grocery-store items. The workers struck for cherry benefits, and it went on for months. In the end, the workers just gave up because unions have little-to-no power on the west coast anymore.

Anyway, the Super Walmart idea is to have a full grocery store with dairy, produce and everything in the same store with all the usual Walmart things–which means everything.

Chris and I had encountered a super Walmart on our trip to Yellowstone in Bozeman Montana. But Bozeman is small. And their walmart was small,  comparatively.

As a shopper, I was familiar with the idea of having everything in one store-BECAUSE I’D EXPERIENCED IT IN FRED MEYERS. In Anchorage. I thought it was a great idea, very convenient and it should come to Los Angeles already.

I hadn’t been to Wasilla since the Fred’s opened there. I wondered what this one would look like.

So I wanted Chris to see this. We wound our way back to the Fred Meyers and entered through the side next to the garden center.

Garden center! Landscaping. My former city was civilizing itself. Hard to believe.

So we went inside, and beheld a store that had a slightly more finished interior than a Costco. The floors were covered, not just plain concrete, and the shelved contained inventory that was not still Plastic-wrapped. But that was the extent of the polish.

Directly in front of us were couches. Full upholstered, huge-armed couches that Chris and I had learned to associate with living rooms that were not cramped for space. To the right, we saw large packages of assorted fireworks. To the left, fishing tackle and hip-waders.

We walked over to the couch. “Not bad.” I said.

Further on we found an entire aisle of identical dining chairs stacked seat to seat. Further on was an aisle of insect repelling devices.

“We need to get you a maternity muumuu from Alaska” Chris was delighted with the thought. “Where are the clothes?”

We walked through aisles of dizzying diversity, took a right at the deli, bakery, and espresso counter and found the clothes. We looked through the ladies section, and though there was a large selection of large sizes, I couldn’t find the maternity.

I spotted a store employee and asked her “Where is your maternity section?”

“We don’t have one.”



I guess it wasn’t an everything store after all.

Alaska – Palmer, the civilized city (24)

I showed Chris where to find the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. It’s not really a highway, just a substantial road (meaning two lanes with the occasional turn lane).

It was drizzling.

Palmer is really close to Wasilla. It’s a farm town, though, and was started by “the colony”. During the depression, President Roosevelt tried anything he could think of to boost the economy and called these collective stabs in the dark “The New Deal.”

Palmer was one of those deals. He persuaded a bunch of down and out farmers that Alaska couldn’t possibly be colder than the midwest in the winter, so why not go? He would give them a place to live and 40 acres for free. Remember, this was before Alaska was a state (1935). I cannot imagine why this would give the economy any kind of boost. But, hey, I wasn’t there.

A bunch of families from Minnesota in particular, and surrounding states, came up to Palmer and were housed in a tent city to await their 40 acres (no mule). This was not what they had in mind. True, the winters in Palmer were actually less cold than the winters in Minnesota. But the SUMMERS! summers are far far far less warm. So far less warm that tent living was not a pleasure.

Some of the people stayed. Many left. Palmer was peopled by folks who understood what a town was for and why it might be a good idea. Civilization was not something that the Palmer farmers were running from.

Therefore, there were houses of a certain vintage in the area. Original Colony Houses. These houses had a kind of charm that made them very distinctive in their surroundings. They would have been unremarkable if located in North Dakota or Minnesota, but architecture and homeyness was scarce in Alaska.

So, Palmer has a fairly concentrated downtown area. They boast a soda fountain, a fabric store, near the library and post office and train station

And a Carr’s grocery store and a McDonald’s across the street is around the corner.

Palmer did not have a mall, or the many big box stores that Wasilla has.

“This does look a little more like a town,” Chris admitted.

“We never came here,” I said. “I guess it was too far away, and we just didn’t have a reason. I guess I remember coming for special things, like maybe for 4-H.”

“What else is there to see here?”

“Um…” I said. “This is it.”

Alaska- peaceful (23)

Ohh…it felt so good to lie still with my eyes closed. I slept, and Chris ‘rested’ for a good hour and half. We roused a little before 9.

Nine! The hour when the hotel was staffed. We turned around and went back to the hotel.

It had stopped raining–mostly–and the road had become very familar by now. Three trips in less that many hours.

The hotel was locked. But another guest let me in.

The first room I passed had a young woman cleaning it. The office was down the hall. No one was in it.

So I walked down the hall back to the cleaning girl. “Oh, yes, just a minute” she said.

She was the only worker there. I looked pitiful and begged to get into the hotel early. She said that  they were totally booked.

‘But I guess I can get a room ready for you by noon.”

“Thank you so much!”

There was a promise of a bed. We just had to get through the next three hours.

“Where to now?” Chris asked, back in the car.

“Let’s go check out Palmer.”

Alaska – Hatcher’s Pass on a Sunday Morning (22)

Hatcher’s Pass is a place I best remember for our sledding trips. Every once in a while, in the winter, someone would get a sledding trip together and we’d get up there and sled down the incredibly steep slopes.

It wasn’t that far away though. This is the view from the intersection with the corner store near my house:

That mountain is one side of Hatcher’s Pass. My mom had some kind of obsession (as it seemed to my teenage assessment) with going hiking there. She’d go with Dad a lot, and be all rapturous when she got back. She always wanted the whole family to go.

I could think of nothing I’d rather do less than go hiking with my family. I put up a fight. If I’d been born 25 years earlier, they would have called it anti-social. But I wasn’t anti-social, I was just anti-PARENT at that point.

Sledding, though, that was fun. If mom had suggested THAT, I might have gone along with it.

Anyway, this was summer and no sledding was going to happen.  In a weird twist, we’d be doing exactly what I’d always fought against my mother to not be doing. Just looking at nature.

Amazing how close it was. I had always remembered it as further. Here’s what we saw:

And I can’t leave out the river:


This is not a desert. It’s a damp, cold land.

It was raining (not evident in the pictures). So we drove on. We saw the Independence mine buildings, something I’d never paid much attention to while living there. Hatcher’s pass is an abandoned mine, a fact wholly obscured for me by it’s sledding promise.

Chris and I saw it, and we saw the river and the not-all-the way melted snow. I just wanted to sleep.

“Stop. Let’s just sleep.”

“No, they will charge money. See?”

Oh yeah. I forgot this was a state park. Yep, it was 5 bucks. I was tired and weak, and I wanted to kill Chris at this point, but I was too weak. He turned around, a familiar maneuver, something that promised YET AGAIN no sleep.

I thought about venting my murderous thoughts at my husband, but I remembered he was pretty tired too. And really, would it improve the situation? We were stuck as we were.

And then! and THEN! we had stopped. Chris found a pull-out just outside the park. One that DIDN”T CHARGE FIVE DOLLARS.

“Do you want to stop here and sleep?” Chris asked.

It wasn’t even 7 am. “Yes, yes” I said. The car was warm. Since we were in one place, I could shut my eyes and finally rest.

I sipped the last bit of my warm coffee and pulled my shawl up to my chin.

sweet oblivion.

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.”