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Story Last modified at 5:47 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Times just keep on a-changin' – Part 2
Mountain Echos

by Frank E Baker

Editor's note: This is the second of columnist Frank E. Baker's two-part review of changes he's witnessed during a lifetime in Alaska.The first column appeared in the July 21 edition.

During my lifetime Anchorage has been home to an interesting cast of characters and unique social phenomena:

Remember the Spenard Divorce — you know, where the wife would shoot the husband to get the marriage over with, then got a prison sentence of five years with five suspended?

Spenard is also proud home to Chilkoot Charlies, a watering hole that after only one visit changes you as a person. After the Bird House burned down, they built a miniature version of the establishment inside 'Koot's. Alaskans will agree that the Bird House changed people at the cellular level. Some people suffered amnesia or changed their names after hoisting too many at that place.

Anchorage was home to cynical broadcaster Herb Shaindlin, now deceased, who fanned the airwaves for nearly 50 years. One of his programs, "Desperate and Dateless," attracted one of Anchorage's all-time biggest radio audiences. Shaindlin became well known for his late-night sign off: "Remember, we're all in this ... ALONE."

No other newspaper publisher on the North American continent would have reacted to a physical attack the way the late Bob Atwood did when he was 78 years old. Atwood tackled the intruder to the ground and commented later, "I hit him hard in the face, and when he moved, I hit him again."

Nor did any American newspaper have a searing, sarcastic columnist like the Anchorage Daily News' Mike Doogan, now a state legislator. Nor did any other city in the United States have a master poker player that was a master furrier like Perry Green.

No other state had a poet/bush pilot/governor, like the late Jay Hammond.

But oil prosperity caught up with us, and as Anchorage became more like cities in the lower 48, it was given an endearing moniker: "the closest city to Alaska." I suspect that even though we're modern and sophisticated today, we still fondly remember the Alaska of old.

You might have noticed that I left Sarah Palin out of these rambling reminiscences. It's simply because, from where I stand and through all that I have experienced in Alaska — first as a territory and then as a state — I can't see her from here.

What didn't happen: In a lifetime of major events, a lot of big things were discussed that DIDN'T occur.

These included moving the capitol from Juneau; building the Rampart Dam; building domed cities in the interior; making Delta barley a thriving agricultural project; building a causeway across Turnagain Arm to shorten the distance to Seward; building a causeway across Knik Arm (that's still being talked about); building a chemical plant on Fire Island (I've gotta admit I like the wind turbines better); building roads to Cordova and to Juneau; constructing a railroad spur off the Alaska Railroad to Alaska's western coast; and of course, building the Alaska natural gas line — which I sincerely hope will someday happen.

In closing, I'll take this opportunity to note some things that will assuredly never change:

1) A ride on the Alaska Railroad, like the Hurricane Turn, will always be a treat.

2) The best hamburger in Anchorage will be at the Lucky Wishbone;

3) Lake Otis and Tudor will be the worst intersection in our city;

4) Reverend Jerry Prevo will not age;

5) The guy who does the radio ads with the jumbo 'herking' prawns will continue to annoy me, and probably a lot of other people;

6) People will forever junk up their yards with old refrigerators and car bodies;

7) Alaska's road signs will continue to be riddled with bullet holes;

8) The Alaska Legislature will always claim they need more time to get their work accomplished;

9) They will never open a McDonalds in Talkeetna;

10) Eagle River's Bear Paw Festival will always be Alaska's best annual festival;

11) Despite dire warnings, people will continue to get trapped in Cook Inlet's mud flats;

12) With only one road out, Seward will continue to be one of the worst towns in Alaska to pull a bank heist — not that I am condoning such activity anywhere;

13) And finally, you will never see a Shakespearean outdoor theatre in the round at two locations: The Butte, or Hunter Creek, at the end of the Knik River Road. I would like to be proven wrong.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 27, 2011.