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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

North to Alaska

Our flight to Japan being rerouted we touched down in Anchorage which was still looking like a snowglobe that had just settled. It was early in the morning, like 1 or 1:30. Though, not too bad a time for me to call my friend Daniel aka Adolph. He lives in Alaska and is usually up rummaging into something at that hour. But, no luck...even though he was awake as expected, my friend was working in the oil fields somewhere in the middle of nowhere, far north of Anchorage for that week. But I had another trusted friend in the Anchorage area, but she's got a family, and she doesn't rummage around at all hours of the night like Daniel. I would call her tomorrow.

For the time being our airline, United, was handing out free accommodations for the night. Flight 881, that's us, we were a large mob of confused people descending into the quietest of airports that was still locked in a Winter Wonderland. There was this stuffed grizzly bear greeting us as we entered the terminal. And we all assembled in the main lobby of this airport, around a stuffed polar bear in a glass case, no one really wanting to stay in the airport; no one daring to go outside in the cold. Above us was this large mural of an Eskimo who looked like he was living the dream playing on ice. Don't know what he was actually supposed to be doing other than looking like he was having the time of his life freezing his butt off.

Though we, the passengers, were all a bewildered rabble, the workers of the airport, who probably had to get their snowshoes extra-early that morning to help with this emergency, started passing out these little slips of paper with the names of hotels on them. Whatever slip you got, that is the hotel where you would wind up. I got this slip with the name the Millenium Hotel on it. I didn't know what to make of it.

And then we all waited for each of these hotels to send their shuttle buses to come pick us up and carry us all to our respective lodgings for the night. Alot of us ended up waiting a long time, I don't know if this was because it took a good while for the shuttle bus drivers to scrub the ice off their windshields or because they drive really slow because it was the kind of night stray mooses amble out in front of buses, but either way we were in the lobby quite awhile. But I shouldn't complain, for it was really nice of United to put us all up in hotels until we got back on a plane. They finally announced to us we were to meet back at the airport at 4 the following morning to complete our flight to Japan. By then the airport would be open. Actually the airport was already open, but it was good to let that Japanese airport of Nerita work through some things. I'm sure there were people stranded at that airport everywhere. We left all our checked-in luggage on board the belly of Flight 881, and equipped with only carry-ons we were to return in over 24 hours. Until then, we could sleep, kick it around Anchorage, eat salmon, make ice scupltures, hunt walruses, you know, all the things that one does in Alaska.

You must understand that for the most part I was very confused about the day. I mean we had just flown across the International Date Line twice. I actually consider it a great feat to have traveled into Tomorrow, and then turn around and fly back into Yesterday all within the same day. -But it was not the same day, or was it? Anyways, I'm quite thrilled about the mental mindbinder. There is something deeply metaphorically about it all, though, I can't tell why. I feel like "Doc" Emmett Brown.

A good portion of the people on our flight, who were now all waiting to be taken to their hotels, were Japanese. I cannot imagine what most of them were thinking. By now, we had learned more about what had happened in Japan. The TV in the Anchorage airport was covering it now. The Japanese seemed to hold themselves so well. No one was freaking out, no one was even crying. I guess that's a cultural thing.

I met these two Japanese girls from the Tokyo area. They had the same hotel written on their slips of paper, so we just hung out waiting for the shuttle. I couldn't help wanting to do something for them. And all the other Japanese people on our flight. I remember during 9/11 when I was living in Russia, all these Russians placed flowers outside the American Embassy. I thought that was really cool. And then I recall, this one Russian whom I had met only once called me up, and said something very hallmarky and sincere, "My profound condolescences, I send to you and the people of your nation." And I was truly touched. But yet, I couldn't think of how to do or say such a thing to any of the Japanese. It would sound awkward and sentimental. Russians can get away with things like that.

When the shuttle finally came, we hopped in and it took us to this mysterious Millenium Hotel. It was everything that a hotel in Alaska was supposed to be. There was another huge polar bear in a glass case, this time showing off his fangs. There was a bunch of mounted types of deer or caribou above the hearth. And below it crackled and popped this massive fire in the fireplace. There were old rifles and harpoons on the wall. Even a stuffed mountain goat. Off to the side, was this pub where they served hardy Alaskan beer in frothy mugs, that were clutched by the large, hairy forearms of lumberjacks and the ancestors of salty whale-hunters who told tales and swore by the magnitude of their opulent beards, that such tales of bear-wrestling and glacier trekking were all true. I grew excited.
But it was not to be. For not too long after arriving, we found out that this hotel had no rooms left. We had to wait on the shuttle to take us to the airport again. I was disappointed. Though, a large part of this was because I just wanted to sleep.

So we all climbed in this shuttle. There was hardly any room, I threw myself in the back of the shuttle where they keep the luggage. One of the Japanese girls followed. Back at the airport, the few of us turned out of the Millenium Hotel, were given new slips of paper with another hotel on it. This time it was the more modest, The Puffin Inn. And then we waited and waited once again. For some reason the shuttle driver for the Puffin Inn kept driving by the airport and would call and say that he didn't see anyone outside, so he figured that no one needed a place. Idiot! I mean, who waits outside at 4:00 in the morning when it is like 3 degress outside? No, we were all inside keeping warm and trying to fight the time and the urge to sleep by making fun of hotels that have silly names like the Puffin Inn.

Eventually, he came and we entered The Puffin Inn. It was a Motel. Which, I could care less. They had a bed. At that point, that's all I needed. Believe it or not, it took me awhile to get to sleep, though. Maybe 6 that morning. I fell asleep resolved that I would try to sleep as much as I could tomorrow. And then call the Smiths and maybe see what Alaska is all about.
....To Be Continued


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