Road Trippin’ 2015: Up Around the Bend

Having survived the night at our less than luxurious lodgings, the Jarhead and I staggered out of bed Tuesday morning and prepared to face the day.

The first item on our agenda—after showering up, packing up, and settling up—was to procure a hot breakfast. With this in mind, we loaded the car and wandered back to the restaurant that had closed early the previous evening. This time we found the place both unlocked AND open for business, but completely empty except for the woman standing behind the counter and a young man—presumably the cook—whom we could see through the window to the kitchen behind her.

Hoping the lack of customers had to do with the limited number of people living or passing through the area—as opposed to, say, a recent outbreak of salmonella or listeria—we chose a table and sat down. Sometime later, we were approached by the woman who looked about our age and seemed several degrees less than thrilled to see us. I don’t know if it was the dead eyes or the mumbled greeting that gave it away, but this gal clearly was not pleased by our arrival, nor was she willing to make an effort to conceal that fact.

Perhaps she wasn’t as unhappy to have us there as much as she was unhappy to be there herself. Maybe she wasn’t feeling well, I allowed, and there had been no one available to cover her shift. Or maybe she was just a miserable person who enjoyed making other people uncomfortable. Either way, it was obvious she wouldn’t be going out of her way to make our visit a pleasant one.

To be fair, I hadn’t expected anyone to throw confetti or fire a cannon when we arrived. Nor would I expect her—or anyone, for that matter—to be overjoyed at having to wait tables at 7am on a dreary day in the sticks of Alaska. But I also didn’t think it was asking too much for her to smile and say hello when she grudgingly handed over the menus.

I wasn’t about to point this out to her—although, believe me, I was tempted—in part because I didn’t want to make a scene that ended with our walking out and going hungry, but mostly because I didn’t want my food to arrive with a complimentary side of saliva. Instead, I graciously accepted both the menu and her half-hearted offer of coffee, and hoped the quality of the eggs, hash browns, and deer sausage they served would make up for the inhospitable atmosphere.

As we sipped our coffee and waited for the food to arrive, the Jarhead and I flipped through the various booklets, brochures, and other materials we had picked up over the last few days to check out what there was to see and do between Glennallen and Valdez. Our options included a hike up Worthington Glacier, a visit to Blueberry Lake, hiking, biking, whale watching, fishing, ferry rides, boat rides, train rides, and helicopter rides.

Holy cow, I thought as I reached the last page of our largest booklet. There was so much to do I was exhausted just thinking about the possibilities. Expressing roughly the same sentiment, the Jarhead swapped his booklet for mine, and we continued to read.

While we were reading, three more parties arrived at the restaurant. These included two older but not old ladies in tourist clothes, two thirty-something men in work clothes, and an elderly gent who I’m sure was wearing clothes but for whatever reason, I can’t seem to remember what kind.

My lack of recall on that topic may or may not have had something to do with the arrival of our food, which to my delight and relief, was both delicious and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. It looked and tasted so good, in fact, that I momentarily forgot about the server and her attitude. Of course, by then we were so desperate for a hot meal, she could have brought us each a plate of toasted construction paper wrapped in foil and drizzled with Elmer’s glue and we probably would have gobbled it up like cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.

With my hands, eyes, and mouth now too busy eating to read travel guides, my mind was free again to contemplate what was going on around me. The two young men had been the first two arrive, and were being treated about as warmly as we had been. Although I’m ashamed to admit it, this made me feel better about how we’d been received since I no longer had reason to suspect it was personal.

The older fellow had arrived next, and unlike the other two men, had been greeted both warmly and by name. He was also treated to friendly conversation about the news and weather. This irked me somewhat, since you shouldn’t have to KNOW someone in order to be pleasant toward them, but I tried not to let my indignation get the better of me.

The two ladies, meanwhile, had arrived last and were now getting the full court press, which about set my hair on fire. Because I knew from their clothing and southern accents that they were not locals, but tourists just like us.

So what gives? I wondered as the server stood beside their table several feet from ours gesturing with the coffee pot like she was at home with her two best friends.

And then it hit me: She, too, had a southern accent. And while it was clear from their conversation that they had never met before—because, YES, by then I had abandoned my good manners and started to eavesdrop—they were carrying on about this and that as if they’d known each other for decades.

It wasn’t fair. I may be a tourist and a damn Yankee but I have lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, and I can do a southern accent with my eyes closed and both arms tied behind my back. And I definitely would have used one if I had known that was all it would have taken to avoid feeling unwanted and unwelcome. If I’d known which state she was from, I probably could have approximated her specific dialect and the two of us could have carried on like it was old home week, too.

I realized then that I’d gone around the bend. And at that point, I wondered if the Jarhead could sense it too. For although ALL of the aforementioned thoughts had—somehow—gone unspoken, I had gone WAY too long unspeaking. Which, in the Jarhead’s experience, is not always a good sign.

“Whatcha thinking about?” he asked, having finished his own food and scavenging what remained of mine.

“Just pondering what we should do with our day,” I lied without hesitation.

Sometimes it’s best not to tell anyone what you’re really thinking.

At least, not until the moment has passed.