Wednesday, July 2, 1969, 7:35 pm, Provo, Utah
Recruiting deck hands, fishermen and sailors from Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula port was not a passive task for Captain Samuel McGee. It was an adventure in intrigue. Since purchasing an old relic of a ship an ocean away from the Gulf of Alaska, he was desperate to find a few hearty and hale men with enough talent and stamina to operate it on the open sea. Getting home to the Icy Strait to restore it was proving to be a bigger challenge than he thought.
The long, lean, unshaven and unkempt Australian born immigrant scoured the alleys along the ancient cannery docks that dotted the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk. He was searching for the men who, just hours before, had pocketed his enlistment bonus after signing a contract of employment. The captain was ready and anxious to leave port, but his crew was nowhere in sight.
During the search, he thought about replacing what now appeared to be a gang of undisciplined hired hands, but time was running short. From experience, he sensed that it would be a more difficult undertaking than to simply retain those he had already employed. He deduced that his deteriorated tug would have to be manned with a band of vodka drugged misfits.
It had been only a few days since he had enlisted his small troupe of rag-tag youth, most of whom he had found huddled together for warmth in the squalor of the busy Russian seaport. Even though they initially appeared to be an economic way for the captain to man his ship, the project was becoming more expensive than what he bargained for. Under the unforgiving pressure of time, he finally paid a ransom to local authorities to help him round up the miscreants and get them onboard his ship.
McGee’s persona was that of a harsh master, but his recruits did not fear living the infamously harsh lives of galley slaves once they were on the high seas. Even though they might have been intimidated by his unique style, their greatest foreboding was the angst of having to subsist for long stretches at a time without their beloved alcohol. They were set on having one last binge before leaving port.
It was past midnight when McGee and his hired authorities finally located the recruits. As had been expected, they were drunk and passed out behind one of the seaside bars. The Kamchatka Border Guard considered the inebriated men’s signed contracts and cashed enlistment bonuses to be sufficient conscription. Their conclusion was helped, of course, because McGee had the presence of mind to pay them partially in advance and the balance upon delivery. The captain secretly hoped this initial experience with his motley crew was not a harbinger of things to come once they were out on the high seas.
When they were a safe distance from port, McGee resorted to using fear to sober up his crew.
“Throw all excess baggage overboard!” the captain bellowed to his First Mate, above the roar of the stormy sea. Then, spitting in the face of the nearest cowering deck hand, he followed up with “…an’ ‘ow much d’ ye weigh, mate?” To a man, they soon became submissive and followed their captain’s orders.
Months at sea exposed sailors to Mother Nature’s most extreme elements and many a seaman could only survive by finding humor in such an otherwise terror filled life. Whenever a good jingle was discovered, the crew committed it to memory and they alternately recited verses to one another.
From one such narrative that was titled A Nautical Extravagance, Captain McGee adopted his seafaring nickname of Cap’ting Snook and from the same poem, he rechristened his newly purchased vessel, the Rigagajig.
For self-aggrandizement, he frequently commanded his misfits to recite his adopted poem and they reluctantly did so, as if it were a mode of conciliation to their volatile captain.
Once the swabbies procured their sea legs, Cap’ting Snook made haste through the Bering Sea past the Pribilof Islands. He then passed through the Aleutians between Akutan and Unimak Islands; then across an unseasonably rough sea in the Gulf of Alaska. Finally he and his crew found refuge in the calmer waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage, where he discretely anchored close to his fishing business in Elfin Cove.
▪ ▪ ▪
Meanwhile, down in the lower forty eight, events were transpiring that would eventually introduce an unrelated group of sport fishermen to Snook and his summer drama:
Standing waist deep in the Provo River in mid-June, his fly rod bent to the maximum, Gary Liddiard was about to land an oversized rainbow trout
As he reeled down his line and then pulled the rod skyward, a loud and energetic band of river runners riding the rapids in old patchwork inner tubes rushed around the bend, blind siding and knocking him off balance in the swift river current. The boisterous band continued downstream, all the while cursing the fisherman for being in “their river” and, thereby, causing them to briefly veer off their watery course.
Liddiard was livid. His detractors were vocal. As had happened time and time again, the river proved to be too small for both river rafters and fishermen to peacefully coexist.
To no avail, the drenched angler unsuccessfully grasped for his prize fly rod, but it had washed downstream behind the inner tubers. What should have been a peaceful and fulfilling commune with nature had become a frustrating and expensive morning for Gary. Something had to change! The fisherman vowed to find a better location to enjoy the peace and solitude he felt he deserved in his retirement years. Juvenile inner tubers be damned! Liddiard was not about to let them determine the quality of his fishing obsession. He alone would make that determination.
Within hours, he contacted and scheduled a trip to a highly recommended fishing lodge on the banks of Alaska’s Inside Passage. He would be there in the middle of the Coho run in late July.
Tempers shortened and horns intermittently blared as congestion in the notorious L.A. morning traffic increased to epidemic proportions. With no chance of escape, Dusty O’Neal and Tyrone “T-Bone” Jameson patiently sat in their car, as if they were trapped in a huge parking lot. They grew increasingly restless and felt anxious when, along with hundreds of others, they were penned in without a chance to escape the Ventura Freeway. They had hoped to get to the movie studio in time for make-up. However, as time slipped by, they knew their hope was in vain.
It was the final day for shooting their new film, a remake of Wyatt Earp, and this was not the best time for them to show up late. Notwithstanding, getting there on time now appeared to be out of their hands. They would never be able to get to the studio through such a motionless gridlock. Today, the producers, directors and the other actors and supporting staff would have to wait for the stars to arrive.
Construction was the culprit causing the delay and the overheated road crew seemed oblivious to the needs of the motorists. Since the flag men controlling the flow of traffic knew that they would not be getting out of the hot sun any time soon, “why,” they sadistically reasoned to one another, “should anyone else be allowed to vacate this misery any faster than us? Fair is fair! Right?” Staring down the motorists became their form of entertainment and their method to retain their sanity.
Finally, in accordion fashion (or more descriptively, in imitation of an oversized motorcade slinky), the rows of steaming, overheated vehicles started moving. Within a few yards, however, everyone again came to an abrupt stop. Everyone that is, with the exception of the car directly behind the famous actors.
The cigar smoking, bigger than life character sitting behind the wheel of his beat up ‘84 Oldsmobile was in deep and animated conversation on his cell phone. Distracted, he slammed loudly into the rear of the actor’s car. The metal-to-metal crash caused the emergency bags on Dusty’s late model BMW to deploy, attesting to the degree of impact of the two vehicles.
After freeing themselves from the pressure of the ballooned safety bags and regaining composure, Dusty mumbled to Tyrone, “Do you remember our fishing trip to Alaska a few years ago?”
“Yeah, I remember,” replied Ty. “That was a better time than this!”
“It was a week in Paradise,” continued Dusty. “I’ve had it with this L.A. traffic and smog… and this damned, non-stop mass of humanity.”
“Let’s make a phone call then,” T-Bone grinned. “That dude at the lodge might still have a room available, even at this late date. His number is in my cell phone directory… I’ll make the call right now.”
“Good idea, Ty. I’ll call the studio and have them contact Incident Management so we can get this mess cleaned up. We’ve put in some long days and it’s time we took a break! We’ve earned it.”
As it always was in the Arizona summertime, the mid-afternoon hot spell was consuming. The desert climate was especially disagreeable for one California Bay Area transplant who always found the heat suffocating, unforgiving and without justification. He could find no vindication for not being able to comfortably breathe.
Dr. Franklin Hulme, D.D.S., was aptly nicknamed Randazzle* by one of his old college buddies. Masculinely attractive by all measures, he was athletic and well-conditioned. Even in his sixties, he retained a full head of dark, often mussed hair. The D.D.S. was intelligent and knowledgeable by any standard, and he was wealthy. In short, the handsome, mustachioed dentist considered himself to be a “hustler”, even for a man his age.
“I’m roasting in this heat,” the perspiring dentist stated to his wife. “Even laying around the pool doesn’t help. I’ve got to get out of here and go back up to Alaska, just to cool off!”
“That’s your excuse every summer,” laughed his beautiful wife, Gloria. She knew that when her husband’s mind started longing for a fishing trip, there was nothing she could say or do to change it. He had been making annual excursions for over a decade to different fishing camps along the Inside Passage and she knew this year would be no different.
“I personally love the Arizona heat,” she continued. “I really don’t understand why anyone would choose to leave the comfort of an air conditioned home for a primitive place like Alaska!” “Yeah. It’s primitive all right. Long, cool days. Sun drizzled rain. Bears, eagles and whales. World class boating and fishing… you’re right. It’s hard to understand.
The conversation unceremoniously ended when Randazzle dove into the cool water of the swimming pool. Even with a few unseasonable storm clouds rising in the western sky, the sweltering heat outside the family pool remained stifling.
The next morning, Randazzle got up early. “If I’m not in Alaska,” he thought, “I can at least enjoy a weekend fishing at the lake.” Careful to not wake his wife, he dressed quietly and went into the kitchen to make a sack lunch. When finished, he grabbed his dog by the collar and slipped silently into the garage.
The handsome dentist carefully hooked his fourteen foot aluminum boat, the Sea Nymph, to his Range Rover and proceeded to back out into what had become a torrential desert downpour, with winds that were blowing upwards of fifty miles per hour. Discouraged, Randazzle reconsidered his solo fishing trip and pulled his vehicle and boat back into the garage. He turned on the radio looking for a weather report and listened as the broadcaster said the storm would go from bad to worse during the weekend. He slumped behind the wheel in his car for over half an hour before wisely deciding to scrap his weekend fishing adventure.
After much contemplation, Randazzle went back inside his house, quietly undressed and slipped into bed. Cuddling up to his wife’s back, now with a somewhat different adventure in mind, he softly whispered “the weather out there is terrible!”
“Yeah,” Gloria sleepily replied without turning over. “Can you believe my idiot husband is out there fishing in that?”
At that moment, Randazzle decided it was past time to pack his bags and return to Alaska! He also knew it was time to re-think his life.
*Randazzle–Noun: Derived from combining the adjective ‘randy’ and the verb ‘dazzle.’ Randy–Adjective: Lecherous, displaying excessive interest in sex. Dazzle–Verb: amaze, astonish, bedazzle.
Hoping to recharge his diminished confidence by engaging in a romantic interlude along his way to Alaska, Randazzle took a commercial flight from Phoenix to Seattle. He then took a taxi from the airport to Bellingham and, upon arrival, entered the ferry terminal. Once inside, he made preparations to board the Alaska Ferry Columbia.
Hulme’s travel agent booked his departure two days prior to the time the other Alaskan Bear Lodge fishermen chose to depart by airplane. This allowed him time to enjoy a cruise up the Inside Passage and still reach Juneau the same day as the others in his group.
Hoping for additional adventure, he opted to travel by way of a different route. He envisioned himself starring in a plot of conquest. One that resulted in an exciting tale he could share with the new friends he would make at the lodge. The aging dentist was desperate to reestablish himself as a “player.”
Randazzle knew he looked good. He always looked good. Nevertheless, as was his habit, he double checked himself from every angle in the ferry terminal men’s room mirror. First, he checked his teeth. Then he checked his hair. To be certain of himself, he rechecked his smile. Finally, growing in self-assurance, he engaged in mirroring a collage of facial expressions and then stepped back to review his profile. He was set.
Satisfied that he was at his best, the lifelong tomcat instinctively sprayed three shots of breath refresher into his mouth and then revitalized his already overpowering Elsha 1776 musk cologne. After leaving the men’s room and boarding the Columbia, the D.D.S. was on the prowl for young feminine talent.
At 6:00 p.m., the four hundred eighteen foot ferry disengaged and left port, right on schedule. The huge marine vessel was beautifully outfitted and very similar to a small cruise ship in appearance as well as its state-of-the-art accommodations. Alaskan citizens take pride in their intracoastal public transport system and Randazzle was pleasantly surprised with the impressive quality of the ferry.
His stem to stern reconnaissance ended on the seventh level deck at the rear of the ship where he spotted small groups of coeds setting up camping tents in the open air section. They were busy affixing their tent stakes to the boat’s metal surface with layer after layer of duct tape. Even though the ship had over one hundred cabins available for rent, most of the young travelers chose to pitch camping tents in lieu of paying the extra few dollars to rent a berth.
“The mating game has become so easy,” he smiled to himself. “These days, it’s like the chicks hang out a neon ‘available’ sign. It’s not like it was back in my college days. Now, it’s more like picking low hanging fruit. Easy.”
The common areas inside the Columbia were more than adequate for Randazzle’s romantic aspirations. In addition to two restaurants (one a short order snack bar and the other an upscale dining room with panoramic views), the facilities included a theater, a gift shop, and a beautifully outfitted piano bar. Toward the bow, there was a common area with reclining overstuffed chairs that were lined up in rows to allow scenic views for the passengers.
The ship’s cabins ranged from small efficiency bunk bed apartments to larger and more elegant staterooms. Boasting a twenty million dollar construction cost in 1974, the Lockheed built vessel propelled through the Inside Passage at a comfortable eighteen knots-per-hour. As mentioned, Randazzle was pleasantly surprised.
When the ferry reached port in Wrangell, the wealthy dentist spied what he had been looking for. From his binocular view on the seventh deck balcony, he watched a pair of Scandinavian twin sisters board the Columbia. Going over his mental check-list of feminine attributes, Randazzle deemed them both perfect. Visually, they were worthy of his attention from top to bottom.
“Since he exuded the confidence of an affluent professional, meeting the twins was easy. Before reaching Petersburg, the D.D.S. had convinced the svelte blondes that the two extra bunks in his luxurious stateroom would be much more comfortable for them than sleeping on thin cushions placed inside a tent on the steel floor of the ship’s solarium.
“My aging grandparents would be very happy if you took their bunk,” Randazzle reassured the Scandinavians. “They wished desperately to make this cruise with me, but at the last minute their failing health kept them at home. I promised to send them pictures and to do my best to have a good time in their absence. You two can help make the old timers happy by sharing what was to be their evening quarters!”
How could the twins resist? The late afternoon already showed sporadic signs of nighttime stormy weather. They would be sleeping outside in a rainstorm at best and possibly, in an arctic gale at worst. In their innocent minds, Randazzle seemed more like a caring parent than the scheming voyeur that he really was.
“What could go wrong?” they rationalized. Convinced they could assuage his failing grandparent’s concerns by keeping him company, and in addition, by supplying the old folks with pictures of their grandson along the journey, they enthusiastically agreed to the dentist’s proposition.
Randazzle sniffed success. He innately discerned that he “still had what women want.” He knew he was back in the hunt and was becoming increasingly overconfident with his talent and charm. His adrenaline flowed.
Yvonne and Yvette, enjoyed the overwhelming generosity of their new benefactor. They took pictures of him as the Columbia passed scenic mountains, waterfalls, logging and fishing outposts, lighthouses and other scenic sites along the cruise. So that all three could pose in the picture together, passersby often volunteered to snap photos with Randazzle’s expensive Nikon zoom lens. With encouragement, the twins draped their lithe, young bodies around the excited old hustler in one sensual pose after another, often playing the tease to their new found sugar daddy.
The afternoon waned and started to turn to evening and Randazzle persuaded the giddy twins that they should dress semiformal for dinner. During the hour and a half layover in the Petersburg port, he provided his American Express card for the beautiful debutantes to outfit themselves with elegant attire. They spent freely, each procuring a fashionable wardrobe for what promised to be an upscale evening on the ferry. No expense was spared.
With boxes and bags of hastily acquired clothing in hand, they hailed Petersburg’s beat up local taxi cab and barely made it back to the ferry before the dock’s doors closed. The departure horn sounded and soon the ferry again set sail toward Juneau. Randazzle’s senses were aroused and his nostrils flared as he escorted the twins back to his cabin to dress for the evening.
Dinner at the ferry restaurant was exquisite. Yvonne enjoyed Crab Louie and Yvette feasted on Scallops Mornay. True to form, Randazzle devoured a ten ounce New York steak, rare, with two orders of clams on the side for an aphrodisiac. All three cleansed their palates with Cabernet Sauvignon before finishing their meals with red velvet cake and vanilla bean ice cream.
Daylight quietly turned to twilight and a sense of romance lingered in the air. Leaving nothing to chance, Randazzle escorted his mesmerized guests to the cocktail lounge. The pianist was playing classical Mozart over the conversational buzz of his piano bar patrons. Champagne flowed freely as the aging barroom horndog continued to pick up the tab for the appreciative, jaw dropping twins.
All three clinged closely to one another, clutched arm-in-arm as they laughingly left the lounge to weave their way to the stateroom. Randazzle sensed victory.
▪ ▪ ▪
Waking up late the next morning, the aging Arizona playboy was confused. His confusion turned to embarrassed anger when he discovered the ferry was docked in the Hoonah harbor and he was alone; curled up in a blanket on the hard floor of the stateroom. He had somehow slept through the Juneau layover and retained only a fuzzy recollection of the activities after leaving the piano bar the night before.
His Alaska fishing trip was about to commence and he instinctively recognized that his “sure thing” romantic interlude had somehow gone wrong. Looking around the room, he focused on a note taped to the mirror. It read:
“Dr. Randazzle, Thanks for a fun time! …and thanks for the new outfits and warm, comfy beds. (Sorry you had to sleep on the floor!) After our vacation, we’ll mail your cell phone, your maxed out credit cards and your wallet to your wife in Arizona. We hope you didn’t get a headache from the sleeping pills we slipped into your champagne.
—LOVE YA LOTS! YVONNE AND YVETTE”
Angrily, Randazzle grabbed his fishing gear and disembarked the Columbia. He walked briskly until reaching a narrow, busy roadway that led to downtown Hoonah. He was in a hurried search for a way to get from Hoonah to the Alaskan Bear Lodge, which he learned was just a mere twenty five minutes across the Icy Strait.
Since he had missed making the planned connection with the other fishermen in Juneau, Randazzle felt pressured to find a way to the lodge so he could get himself back on schedule. He started waving at passing cars, hoping to hitch a ride with someone that could be of help to solve his dilemma.
The aging hustler felt older, but not much wiser. “At least,” he rationalized, “I still have my Nikon camera and it holds plenty of evidence of my conquest with those detestable twins. My new fishing buddies will be impressed when they see my pictures!”
Once Randazzle came to terms with his predicament, he became practical. “I need to find a way to get to the lodge so I can get back on schedule and sort this mess out,” he rationalized. “Without money or a cell phone, I’ll have to apply my charm and common sense.”
After the dentist disembarked the ferry and walked through the passenger loading and unloading lot, he was on Hoonah’s Front Street. It was the busiest street in town and began at the Icy Strait Point Cannery on the north. The road then meandered southward past the ferry terminal, through town and past the Icy Strait Lodge. Within a short distance thereafter, Front Street changed from a well maintained paved road into a gravel path which wound its way into an awe inspiring, tree filled countryside.
Hulme could see a cruise ship anchored in the harbor adjacent to the Cannery. He was not anticipating that he would also see half a dozen bright yellow and orange kayaks full of enthusiastic tourists, rowing their way across the harbor, but that was the scene playing out before him. Front Street’s narrow two way road was bustling with activity and there was only a small road base shoulder for him to stand on without being too close to the traffic.
Randazzle assumed the position of a hitchhiker, squaring up with the street and sticking out his thumb. The first vehicle to pass was a white, late model twelve passenger tourist van. Even though it appeared to be overflowing with Asian sightseers, the driver slowed and pulled to the side of the road. He invited the hitchhiker to “get in! Wherever you’re headed,” the muscular chauffeur smiled, “I’m going that way, too.”
The front rider’s side seat was vacant, so the D.D.S. opened the door and hopped in, pulling his single piece of luggage behind him. He plopped the small travel case onto his lap.
“Welcome to Hoonalulu!” the driver laughed. “I’m taking cruise ship tourists on an exclusive tour, but you’re invited to join us. My name’s Keith Skaflestad.”
Not wanting to run up a bill that he could not pay, the dentist introduced himself and replied “I don’t have any money…”
Skaflestad laughed and replied, “Well, neither do I, so this should work out just fine!”
The burley driver then put on a microphone headset and pulled his van back onto the pavement. As he drove south on Front Street toward town, he began what sounded like a recorded travelogue. Enjoying himself and laughing loudly at his own jokes, he proceeded as if he was oblivious to the fact that his van was full of non-English speaking Asians who did not understand a word he was saying.
Nonplused, Keith drove through Hoonah pointing out what he considered to be the highlights. “Over there on your right is the post office and on your left, there, is the police station. Two of our three cops were shot and killed in a shootout last year. It’s always something around here! If you go up this road and turn to the right, you’ll be at the city dump. We won’t be going up there, though, unless we have a hard time spotting some bears out in the country. The smart bears all go to the dump every afternoon for lunch, so if we don’t see any out in the bush, I know where we can find ‘em!”
He continued, “We have eight hundred people here in Hoonah and I’m related to around six hundred of them! My grandpa married a Tlingit and so did I, so I’m related to both the whites and the natives. Half of ‘em love me and the other half hate me! Go figure.”
Hoping to get to the fishing lodge on schedule, Randazzle told Keith of his predicament. “One way or another, I need to get over to Excursion Inlet, to the Alaskan Bear Lodge. I paid for a week of fishing, but somehow I slept through the layover in Juneau. Since I didn’t get off the ferry there, I missed meeting my fishing group and ended up here in Hoonah. How can I get from here to Excursion?”
“I’ll get you there,” promised Skaflestad. “It isn’t far from here. As soon as I’m finished with these customers from the cruise ship, I’ll be heading across the Icy Strait to Excursion. I need to go up the Inlet to pull my crab cages, so I’ll be going right past your lodge. I can drop you at their dock!”
“Whew,” thought Randazzle. “This just might work out after all.”
“Are you hungry?” asked Skaflestad. “I own a little cafe in town named Grandma Nina’s and we make the best halibut tacos in Alaska. After I drop off these paying customers, we’ll go have lunch!”
“Thanks. Yeah, I’m getting hungry. I can pay you when I get to the lodge and find a way to access my money. I’ve lost my wallet.”
“Don’t worry about that!” returned Skaflestad. “The money part always works out. You can earn your lunch by helping me pull my crab cages.”
“The Hoonah tour should be over soon, since the town is so small,” thought Randazzle. However, he did not expect that the tour included taking the tourists deep into Hoonah’s outback to “see the bears.”
Two hours later, Skaflestad turned Randazzle and the band of inscrutable tourists back towards town. (Thanks to the unpaved gravel roads, however, it seemed like much longer than two hours!) With no bear sightings on their expedition, which the guide suggested was “a rare occurrence!” they started toward the city dump to finish the tour on a high note. After observing Randazzle’s tension beginning to mount, he concluded the Japanese guests would not care if he skipped the city dump portion of the tour.
To keep everyone’s focus on bears, Skaflestad asked no one in particular, “Do any of you know the difference between a grizzly and a brown bear?” Forgetting that none of his guests spoke English, he surmised that the sea of oriental grins and blank stares could only mean that they hadn’t a clue.
“The answer is about fifty-miles!” he laughed. “Grizzlies and brown bears are the same animal, but they’re called brown bears if they’re within fifty-miles of the ocean. Browns eat fish and grizzlies don’t. Other than that, they are the same.”
“Ok. Here’s another one for you,” he continued. “What animal family do the bears belong to?” Again, nothing but blank stares. “Jeeze, you people seem to have become disoriented, if you’ll pardon the expression! Ok, I’ll give you a hint: The females are called sows and the males are called boars. Now can you guess?” Still nothing but stares.
“Are you serious,” Randazzle asked? “Bears are from the pig family?”
“Yep. Now, how can you tell the difference between the sows and the boars? …other than the obvious way, I mean. Just by looking, can you tell?”
“No idea,” Randazzle answered. “How?”
“The sows have a flat, pug nose and the boar’s noses are long and pointed!”
“Well, I’ve learned something,” Randazzle admitted. “Not to be pushy, but is this tour about to end? I need to get to Excursion.”
“Yeah, we’re almost done. I promised these folks they’d see bears, but I think they’re happy just talking about them. They look pretty content as it is.”
Everyone was relieved when the van was again on a well paved road once they entered the city limits. To bring his guests back into the conversation, Sakflestad put his headset back on and continued the verbal portion of his guided tour: “There on your right is the school. I was the varsity wrestling coach for a while; that is, until I had a fight with the principal and got myself canned.” Again, he laughed at his joke and went on. “Ok, Dr. Randazzle, the bear tour is over. I’ll run my guests back to the cruise ship and then we’ll go have lunch at Grandma Nina’s. Afterward, we’ll board the Karen- Marie and go pull up some crab cages. When the day’s crabbing is done, I’ll get you to your fishing lodge.”
Skaflestad carefully drove his van through downtown Hoonah, past Grandma Nina’s Café and north toward the Icy Strait Point Cannery. As they motored along, Keith started cussing under his breath. “It’s that damned officer Andy and he’s got his red light on. He’s pulling me over! What the hell? I’ve been going the speed limit. Damn it! He’s harassing me again!”
With no room to pull over on the right side of the road, the guest filled tourist bus signaled left and pulled slowly into the compact Hoonah Trading Company parking lot. Alaska Wildlife Trooper Andy Torgensen followed closely behind and just to draw attention, pushed a button and emitted a short blast on the police car siren.
“What now, Andy?” Skaflestad asked incredulously. “You can’t leave me alone, can you?”
“You need to come with me to Nugget Falls,” Andy replied. “Right now!”
“I can’t,” Skaflestad replied sternly. “I have to finish my tour and I promised my friend here that I’d get him to Excursion. I can’t leave right now.”
“Give the keys to your friend, Keith. He can take your guests back to the cannery. You’re coming with me, NOW! This is official Brotherhood business! You don’t have a choice!”
Skaflestad gave Randazzle instructions to take the tourists back to the Cannery and told him to go to Grandma Nina’s for a complimentary lunch. “Andy insists on taking me to Mendenhall Glacier in his chopper on some official business. He says we’ll be back in a couple hours, so enjoy your lunch and feel free to drive around and get acquainted with Hoonah. Don’t worry. I’ll get you to your fishing lodge before dark.”
Randazzle had no choice. When Skaflestad left in the trooper’s vehicle, he confidently put on the headset and, in broken Japanese, told the confused orientals to “Shitoberuto o shimeru! Wareware wa, danpu ni mukatte iru!” (“Buckle up! We’re headed to the dump!”)
The Asians were ecstatic. “Kuma! Kamera wa junbi ga dekimashita!” (“The bears! Get cameras ready!”)
The van was filled with excitement as it left the Hoonah Trading Company parking lot and traveled toward the city dump. Guests were engaging with one another in animated conversation and frequently expressed themselves in bear attack charades, complete with the accompanying growling and menacing facial expressions. Randazzle’s decision to complete the bear hunt had turned them into an even happier band of tourists, if that was possible.
As an afterthought, when they reached the center of town, Randazzle pulled into Grandma Nina’s and ordered “Fish Tacos for everyone, compliments of Keith Skaflestad!” In a few minutes, they were back on the road with lunch and drinks in hand. They ate in merriment as their new guide drove toward the smoky hillside that identified the location of the dump. The van soon turned off Front Street and wound through a paved, forest lined lane leading to the landfill.
When the enthusiastic tourists rolled past the barrier gates, they were not disappointed. As promised, several bears were in their “natural habitat” foraging through the trash for lunch. Digital cameras of all shapes and sizes appeared and the excited patrons pointed and snapped picture after picture, all the while talking loudly to one another.
Their conversation was expressive, but not decipherable to the Alaskan who was standing at the back of his vehicle unloading trash. “Hell-o-mighty,” mumbled the man as he finished pushing a pile of tree limbs out of the bed of his pickup. “They came all the way from Tokyo to take pictures of bears foraging in garbage. Tourism must be the business to be in these days.”
While the event progressed, the sightseers felt an urgency to get out of the van to take better pictures. “What value is a bear photo if we’re not in it?” they reasoned in their native language. Using multiple poses, they commenced to frame one another in photo after photo, taking pictures of the inquisitive bears at different angles in a myriad of snapshots.
After a few minutes and several hundred clicks of high tech Japanese cameras, the tourists had meandered to the north side of the dump. The van was parked on the south side and the bears had moved to the middle where two of them sensed an opportunity before any of the sightseers recognized the impending situation.
Two of the bears smelled the half eaten fish tacos and greasy wrappers that had been left on the seats of Skaflestad’s van. Comically, they galloped single file in a serpentine path toward the vehicle. Once there, both bounded through the van’s wide open sliding door and vigorously commenced eating the fish tacos.
Simultaneous with the bears’ entry, Randazzle, who was the solitary occupant of the van, scrambled to get out through the driver’s side door in a visible panic. “Skaflestad is going to kill me for this!” he shouted at the bears. “Get out of here!” The bears were not impressed. The sow was soon joined by her smaller cub, the larger one already enjoying his taco feast inside the twelve passenger.
In what was a matter of minutes (but seemed like an eternity), the bears had devoured the leftover food scraps. One at a time, they disembarked through the sliding door and bounded back to their original foraging spot on the landfill hillside. In shock, Randazzle and his gaggle of stunned onlookers made their way back to the van.
In addition to the ripping and, in some cases, the utter destruction of the Asian’s backpacks, the van’s seat covers were shredded and one seat was broken. Bear scat indiscriminately spotted the van with reeking aromatic proof that the demolition was not caused by human vandals.
Unexpectedly, Randazzle’s debut as a tour guide was wildly popular with his guests. However, he knew he was in serious trouble with the tour company owner. The Asians had an exciting “Last Frontier” story to tell their friends and each of them rehearsed their personal version as the tattered vehicle slowly limped back to Hoonah.