Thursday, August 03, 2006

Surviving the frontier

I typically don’t like flying, although I am becoming more accustomed to it. But it’s just not natural. The only thing I dislike more than the thought of being on board a massive passenger jet as it plummets to its fiery doom is the thought of drowning in a cold, unforgiving body of water. I’ve always heard people say that drowning is a peaceful way to die, but how do they know? Have they done it?

I’m not really afraid of flying. I’m secure in my Christianity and I know that all my post-life arrangements have been taken care of. I also realize that if I’m suddenly called home to glory, I won’t have to worry about making the house payment at the end of the month. Life will be much easier when it’s over.

Still, flying is just not natural. (Unless you're a seagull)

However, when duty calls, one must answer. To this end, a co-worker and I boarded a plane for Alaska last Sunday. We had a week’s worth of work ahead of us in the northern most state, a place neither of us had been before.

The flight was relatively uneventful and the airline only lost one piece of luggage. As my co-worker was discussing this at the flight counter at 3 a.m. on a Monday morning in Fairbanks, Alaska, the lady working there pointed out that we should be happy. After all, five of our six pieces showed up. Interesting concept, but apparently she failed to realize that we really wanted all six pieces of luggage.

All in all, though, our experience was good. We ate our fill of reindeer sausage, fish and crab legs. And the fact that there was about 22 hours of sunlight a day didn’t bother us much when we turned in each night.

The scenery around Fairbanks was really interesting. From a distance, the mountains were a gorgeous, imposing image in every direction. But on further inspection … let’s just say I didn’t know that Alaska had that much swampy, marsh land.

And the trees were none too impressive. The landscape was covered with black fir trees. These were skinny, scraggly trees reaching skyward with awkwardly placed limbs and fronds. They are called black fir trees for a reason … because they are black except for some blueish-greenish fronds on the ends of their scrawny little limbs. Apparently, they are one of the few trees that will grow in that cold, marsh land.

Anchorage was a little different. There was more green greenery covering the mountains, and there was, of course, earthquakes.

At roughly 5:20 a.m. on Thursday morning I awoke to the violent shaking of my motel room. The quake nearly rattled me completely off the bed. It didn’t last long, however. By the time I realized what was going on, it was over. My co-worker got online and discovered that it was a 4.9 on the Richter scale, centered about 4 miles from where we were staying.

I can honestly say I didn’t mind the quake so much. It was no big deal. But I was angry that it woke me up so early in the morning. I’m not someone who can just crawl back in bed after I have woken up, especially when I was scheduled to be up in another hour-and-a-half anyway. The problem was that it was 5:20 a.m. on Thursday and I knew I wouldn’t see another bed until we got home at 2 p.m. on Friday.

Another thing one should know about Alaska is that every business of any type is apparently required by law to have a bear on display as you enter through the front door. Our motel in Anchorage had two. I referred to this as the “Bear in a Box” phenomenon, drawing a few chuckles from our Alaskan hosts as we sat down to lunch on Thursday afternoon.

It was at this lunch that I experienced another strange Alaskan phenomenon known to locals as chicken fried steak. Being from Texas, I know darn good and well what a chicken fried steak is. Legend has it that the western cuisine originally found its way onto the plate in Lamesa, Texas, my birth place. Being a connoisseur of this West Texas staple I decided to try the Alaskan variety to see if they do it justice.

Now … don’t get me wrong … I like sausage gravy. My mom used to make it all the time. It is a rare treat to find a restaurant that actually cooks the sausage, then makes the gravy using sausage grease. A lot of places will dump some crumbled up sausage into their already prepared gravy mix and call it sausage gravy, but we all know that is not the real deal. However, it is safe to say that sausage gravy belongs on a biscuit, not on a breaded, deep fried processed meat patty. Apparently, Alaskans are unaware of this notion. The taste sensation was somewhat unique. The mixing of the meats created a sensory overload for my taste buds. It’s not that it was bad, but I just wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be eating. But then, why would expect anything different. This was, in fact, the only time I have ever been served chicken fried steak in a bowl.

The flight home wasn't too bad. I was seated on the back row of the plane. The only seat behind me was the lavatory, a seat that saw plenty of action throughout the nearly seven hour flight. I wish someone would explain to me what the fascination is with airplane lavatories. As soon as the plane is off the ground, people are lining up for the lavatory. Flight attendants are moving serving carts one way or another to make room for the constant stream of people wandering up and down the isle in search of relief. Do these people not use the bathroom before they get on the plane? My idea of a good time is not spending seven hours on a cramped airplane eagerly anticipating my turn in the john. But maybe that’s just me.

I also understand that people flying coach are going to experience a certain level of discomfort during a seven-hour flight. The seats are cramped and there is very little leg room. And I know that people want to lean their seats back and try to relax as much as possible during the flight. However, I would like to believe that most people would be kind and gentle when they prepare to lean back, invading the personal space of the person behind them. Once again, apparently that’s just me.

I’m a little above average in height, making plane rides all the more uncomfortable. The person sitting in front of me apparently had no concern for anyone else’s needs during the flight home. As soon as the wheels left the runway, the older gentlemen slammed his seat as far back as it would go, crashing into my knees. The two people sitting next to me looked in disbelief as a pained expression crossed my face.

No apology. No explanation. No moving the seat back up even a whisker to alleviate the pressure on my joints. But that was OK. I’m sure this gentleman didn’t rest very well because I know he felt it every time I shifted in my seat. Which turned out to be quite often … you know … since the seats were so cramped and uncomfortable.

But we made it back no worse for the wear. I survived the plane flight and all of our luggage made it back, too. Which is a good thing. We will need it next week when we head for Austin.


peripateticpolarbear said...

I have always wanted to see Alaska.
Sorry about the know it wasn't me. I'm so short, I see no point in moving back the seat---no, no, I'm so considerate! Taht's it's ! Considerate!

jonboy said...

people like you are greatly appreciated.

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

OMG...I am so sorry that you had faux chicken friend steak! That just ain't right!

And I love your picture!

little david said...

Did your hosts in Alaska carry a rifle in the car to shoot game out the window? I got the feeling when I was there that the inhabitants have an anxiety about letting edible creatures wander by without bagging them. Maybe it's just thinking about those dark winter months when all that is available is frozen chicken-fried steaks.