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The Ghost of Ethel Merman

August 8, 2016

When we got to the hotel in Copper Center the night before last Siobhan was certain that she heard Ethel Merman singing God Bless America. There was a flag ceremony going on outside our window, but I heard no music and I don’t believe that it was there.  As we know, ghosts only appear to those who believe, and Siobhan believes, but I do not.  So the only explanation is that Ethel’s ghost had taken residency in Alaska.

We had a bit of a lie-in in the morning and then took a quick walk around the grounds.  Fabulous views are becoming ordinary to us, but seeing the Alaskan pipeline wind up a mountain was very cool.

The hotel was up a long winding drive, and as we drove down it to head to Valdez, we came upon a terrible accident.  An RV camper seems to have gone into the back of a tour bus.  The front of the RV was smashed completely and it seemed as if no one could make it out unhurt.  Traffic was backed up in both directions and the shaky asian passengers in the tour bus were making their way into shuttles to head up to the hotel

We turned around and drove back up where we indulged in a large bloody mary and salmon chowder (I resisted explaining to the chef what chowder should be).  We left a few hours later and though both vehicles were still not cleared, we were able to drive through.

We had abandoned our plan to do a side detour to an old mining ghost town, but when we reached the turn-off we couldn’t resist and took the drive.  The high twisting road offered plenty of gorgeous views of the mountains, clouds lifting off them, and more than a few scares for Siobhan (who is afraid of heights).  “NO – it’s slippery” she yelled as I turned on to one steep, gravely embankment.  It wasn’t and we walked a ways down the mountain.  It was great.  After passing Three-Mile Lake, then Two-Mile Lake, and finally One-Mile Lake (really), we arrive in Chitina , population 126.  There was an old bar and an “art gallery” and little else.  The art gallery was for sale, much like one of the bars in Talkeetna, and we weigh the pros and cons of buying it, but left empty handed.

The road to Valdez was peppered with waterfalls (this one was especially amazing!) and foggy mountains.  Visibility was slim and the rivers came up to the road, but we made it in one piece.  Valdez was leveled in an earthquake in the late ’60s, so there is no old town, but the port is lovely.  Wild bunnies overrun Valdez, and were constantly underfoot.  The food options in Alaska are surprisingly disappointing.  Everything is expensive and there hasn’t been good seafood yet.  As we wondered from place to place in search of something that looked good, we stopped into the Totem Inn, which, so the advertisements said, was known for it’s crab legs.  As we walked in, we knew the hotel lobby feel would not work for us, but a waitress with a large feather fascinator on her head approached us.

“You look festive” I said.  “Very festive, ” added Siobhan.  “So, we hear your crab legs are amazing,” I said.  “Yes – tell us about the crab legs, where are they from? Are they really amazing” said Siobhan.
She looked at us both in silence for a minute and then, in a heavy russian accent asked “so…you vant menu?”

Another waiter dressed for Mardi Gras bounced over and told us this was the place to ear.  I asked about another restaurant that had been recommended and he said “no no.  I”ve never eaten anywhere but here.  This is the place to eat!”

We went to the other place.

After dinner we walked the town a bit more and wandered into a bar on the water.  It was full of locals and a few tourists.  Siobhan and I pondered living up to potential and what we do next in our lives.  Other conversations around the bar were about the Olympics, the flint water crisis, and the best guns for camping.



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