“Wow, I’ve never seen you like this.” Like most Americans in touch with a subject for 72 hours, Alaska State Trooper Mike Levi considered himself an expert on Detective Inspector Zed Protheroe. “What happened to you?” He asked earnestly, as Protheroe was checking out.
“Oh, nothing. Just need some food.”
“There’s a Humpy’s at the Airport.”
“Humpy’s. One of the best seafood places in Anchorage,” the hotel clerk helpfully offered.
“Ah,” said Protheroe. “I just want a chowder.”
“That they got,” confirmed the clerk, with an emphatic nod.
“Best in Alaska,” said Levi.
Protheroe was silent on the drive to the airport, nodding or shaking his head in response to Trooper Mike’s questions, even though Mike was driving and in the dark could not see the tired head movements. Soon they had parked, checked in and sat down at Humpy’s. Protheroe had a distant, almost wistful, look; as if he were reflecting on the adventures of the last four days. As they waited for the waiter to wait them, Trooper Mike caught the look and, from what Protheroe could detect, changed gear.
“That was some amazing thinking, man. Who could have thought – wool socks on a floating corpse holding the secrets to a murder!”
Wool socks on a floating corpse; 34 stab wounds on a headless torso. Fact was, Protheroe’s look was that of a hungry and tired man rather than a thoughtful one; he just wanted his chowder and beer, and then his seat on the aircraft, to go to sleep. Trooper Mike took Protheroe’s continued silence as license to proceed.
“… and Karla, the Romanian prostitute, was actually Guillaume, a Frenchman? … Never forget your first question: ‘how did the corpse get naked?’ … By the way, what was with the Aussie getting married in Jasper? …”
The waiter finally came. No, they did not have Alaskan Ale, Lager or Amber, or any of the other featured beers on the menu. They ordered Bud. And no clam chowder. There was smoked salmon chowder. Wait, no more left. No chowder of any kind. Fish and chips. Good choice. Waiter disappears. Beers arrive. No fish and chips. Mike drones on. Protheroe fades in an out. Thirty minutes later, Trooper Mike says, “Wait, they’re calling your flight.”
Still no fish and chips. The waiter is awol. Protheroe motions to the manager, asking about his order. The manager spits out, through gritted teeth, “It’s coming, sir.”
No bread on the table. Beer gone. Waiter shows up, finally, to announce that the fish is being caught, the potatoes are being flown from Idaho, the corn is being pressed for oil, “your order will be ready soon.” …
“Cancel the order,” Protheroe says to the manager, as he gets up to head to the gate. Last call. Fourteen hours from now, he will be back in Ottawa, in his own bed.
Skagway and the Glaciers
Skagway. Population 500; 2000 in the summer. Today, four cruise ships containing 10,000 passengers and 4000 crew are docked here. To put things in perspective, it is as if fourteen million tourists made day visits to Toronto each day over the course of the summer. The streets (all seven of them) of Skagway are clogged with the flotsam and jetsam of the visiting ships. You can buy a cappuccino here, but no internet. The Red Onion Saloon, formerly a brothel at $5 a pop, is doing brisk business, at $5 a pop. Only, the women dressed as Ladies of the Gold Rush remain dressed as they do business.
Later in the day I end up having a spruce-tip beer, made with spruce tips. The highlight of the day, however, is the heli-hike adventure: take a helicopter to a hanging glacier at 5000 feet, go over it, head to the next peak, at around 6000 feet; go around it, and then over it; hover in the valley; and land on literally four square-feet of concrete beside the White Pass and Yukon Route railway line. Then go for a five mile hike; return and take the train down. Avoid getting lost while photographing nature; avoid breaking a bainberry plant on your skin; avoid stepping into bear poo; and avoid falling off the railings of said railway train: even at 18 miles an hour, you can do serious damage.
I return to base camp – aka Sapphire Princess – in one piece.
And head directly to the Piazza for a tiramisu. No more. Instead they have peanut butter cups. I ask the patissière if she had bainberry jam to go with the tasty peanut butter. Roberta, from the Philippines, has no clue what I am talking about. (Bainberry causes lockjaw; just as well, if it stops you eating peanut butter, which is, as everyone knows, the food of the devil.)
That night the ship heads out to Glacier Bay, where we rendez-vous with Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers. In the darkness of the sub-Arctic night, there is a ship sailing ahead of us, one alongside and a third behind. Light pollution is atrocious on the deck; I see more stars in Ottawa. For the next two days, we will be “cruising” the inlets and hanging out in front of one glacier after another, the ship turning from side to side to let everyone (in the balcony of their luxury suites) see the ice formations. We are on deck.
If glaciers were people, I wonder what they would be thinking of all of this.
“Hey Marge, they’re back.”
“Yeah, and I’ve not taken a shower this morning; I look filthy. Ugh.”
“So I heard from Harvard, over at College Fjord – our bums touch when it gets really cold and moist – that these things are called c-r-u-i-s-e s-h-i-p-s. He still don’t know about dem ants running all over.”
“Well, a couple of them fell into one of my wrinkles the other day. Made quite a racket. Get this: if you squeeze them, they ooze red.”
“I gotta tell Harvard that. He loves red.”
I have lived among mountains and skied on glaciers. And yet, the utter magic of these massive blue structures, and their force in shaping the world around them, never ceases to amaze. On the way out of College Fjord the next day, we run into more humpbacks and orcas. They are swimming alongside the ship. Are they aware of us – I mean, us on board, not us as in the 110,000 tons steel structure gliding noisily through the water? What do they think of us?
The night before last on board, there is a semblance of life in the dance-club. 70s music – at least in principle; the DJ stretches it into the 80s and by 23:30 he’s doing J-Lo and Rihanna. For the first time in four years, I close a dance club down. Just as well, for the next night, the last night on board, proves to be a major disappointment club-wise.
The sixth day and the seventh night is gone; tomorrow, Saturday, we will hold Sabbath in Anchorage, after which, a 14 hour flight and I will be back in Ottawa, in my own bed.