If you haven’t read part I, you can find it at Anchored in Anchorage – Travelin Old Scool
First thing Monday morning Klaus and Sonja followed us to the only mechanic in the city that could get us in before mid-August or September. They followed mostly for moral support as I could not imagine the possibility of them towing Tomás’ giant, 12,360 lb. booty anywhere.
As though Tomás knew he had to get to the “hospital,” he limped into the mechanic on his last legs, and collapsed as we rolled in. He refused to start at all after that. He had gotten us safely to help and he had no more energy left. They brought out a forklift with a tow package and pulled him in to the emergency room. We were then informed that we could not stay with our boy. We would have to find other accommodations and pick him up after he had surgery and was, once again, fit as a fiddle.
We both pulled out our phones to google where we could find a room in Anchorage, in summer, during fishing season. A task that proved nearly hopeless. I lost count of how many “no rooms available” messages popped up on my phone but kept looking, determined not to sleep on the streets.
“I got one!” I shouted as the “book now” message popped up this time.
Then I saw the nightly rate, $300 plus tax. We had no choice but to book it. We booked six nights feeling optimistic that we would cancel the last few days and be on our way in no time. We packed our backpacks full of everything we thought we would need for the next couple of days and the mechanic gave us a ride to our hotel.
Extended Stay America—pretty decent reputation—I consoled myself that the $300 would at least include a pool and hot tub and a full breakfast.
The pool and spa were closed, the breakfast had been reduced to granola bars and instant oatmeal with a Styrofoam cup and hot water.
I had noticed a sign when we checked in that said, “Please excuse our construction.” I hadn’t seen any construction, so I assumed they had forgotten to take the sign down. I realized they had not, when we were awakened to the sound of jack hammers and skill saws the next morning.
The lobby, which I thought was lovely enough and in no need of a reckless remodel had been reduced to piles of chipped-up tile, electrical cords snaking through rivers of dust and around tables with chairs perched atop of them.
We tiptoed through the mayhem and out onto the street to meet our niece who had called saying she was visiting in-laws in Anchorage if we were anywhere in the area. We bought her lunch and had such a wonderful time catching up I almost forgot the $300 disaster that awaited us back at the hotel.
We stayed two nights and checked out early after finding a place for $175 per night. The Econo Inn, located in what we would later learn was the well-renowned “Fairview District.”
I noticed right away the boarded-up bank windows next door to the hotel were riddled with bullet holes and there was, what I am certain, a drug deal going down in the parking lot. Inside the receptionist rolled her eyes and asked our name through a mouthful of her lunch. She sat behind bullet-proof glass.
Kevin and I exchanged a nervous glance and I silently calculated whether it was worth our lives to save $125 a day.
We did manage to have an enjoyable day exploring Anchorage, we even took a trolly tour and watched some free informational movies at the Visitor’s Center. All while Kevin carried the weight of our computers, phones and anything else we deemed had any street value on his back.
The first night I resisted the urge to insist we shove a dresser in front of the door, and we slept “fairly” well. The second night, after another day of heavy backpacks and exploring the city, we returned to the hotel early to watch a couple of movies. Afterward we drifted off to sleep, only to be awakened by a pounding on our door. This was no gentle knock; this was a desperate pounding. The second of which was followed by, “It’s the police, open the door!” No way did I believe it was the police and knew for certain that cracking the door would be followed by a thug kicking it in, robbing and beating us.
“We’re not going to open the door. Go away!” I shouted.
“It’s the police,” Kevin whispered, “We have to.”
“You’re making this harder than it has to be,” came a booming voice from the other side.
“Baby, please don’t open the door,” I pleaded.
I could see the struggle my husband was having between his instinct to obey authority and his desire to protect his wife. “Show me a badge,” he shouted while pressing his eye to the peep hole.
“He’s got a badge, babe. I’m opening the door.”
I pulled the covers up tight to my chest and pressed my back against the headboard, steeling myself for whatever was to come next.
On the other side of the door stood two uniformed police officers, one tall and muscular looking more like a seasoned Marine than an Alaskan cop. The other shorter and bald with glasses. They quickly took on their good-cop, bad-cop roles.
The Marina cop turned to Kevin, “We had a call that a domestic abuse situation was happening in this room.”
Clearly shaken, with his voice quivering, Kevin responded, “We were sleeping, officer.”
He continued to question Kevin while the shorter cop turned to me, “Ma’am, do you feel safe?”
I wanted to scream hell no, I don’t feel safe, but it has nothing to do with my husband. Fearing the very utterance that I didn’t feel safe might be cause for Kevin’s arrest, instead I uttered, “Yes, I feel very safe with him.” Then I started blubbering. “We’re travelers. We’ve been married almost forty years. We have an RV. It’s broken down. We’re stranded here. . ..” I don’t know how long I went on before they finally left.
Both of us were left shaken to our foundations, there was no way we were going to get any sleep after that.
Kevin and I embraced as if we had just survived an unsurvivable event. He kissed me to comfort us both and said, “How about I pour us a glass of wine and we watch another movie,”
I puled out my phone and said, “While you get us the wine, I’m gonna get us the hell out of here,” and googled Couchsurfing.
Only one person responded to my couch surfing request—Wil Gerken.
The next morning an uber driver dropped us off at the address Wil had given us, with a question. “You want me to wait here?”
There were two RVs that appeared to be not in working condition and a pickup truck with its hood up in the driveway. We assured him we would call if we needed him to come back and approached the only door which led into a daylight basement. We knocked and after a couple of minutes we were greeted by a large, young black man who simply said, “Come on in. Take your shoes off,” and retreated to his room.
We stood there a couple of minutes before venturing further into the home and stood at the bottom of the stairs waiting for an invitation to proceed. A man finally appeared, and our trepidation dissolved when we met Wil and his bear-sized dog, Copper.
Wil was a divorced empty nester in a large home. He had rented three rooms to young men in their twenties, Arthur, the one who had opened the door for us; Steven, the house chef; and Vaden, a 22 yr. old from Arkansas who was shy and still wet behind the ears.
In addition to his permanent boarders, Will had accepted an exchange student from Ukraine, Viktoria, an awkward teenager with red hair. After Viktoria’s arrival the previous year, war had broken out and now Viktoria was a refuge who was being wrapped and strangled by red tape and bureaucracy.
The saving grace for Viktoria was T.J., the fifth and final permanent house guest along with her Pomeranian, Luc Suc. T.J. suffered from long-haul covid and lupus, she wasn’t physically healthy but her advocacy for Viktoria was strong and determined. She shared a room with Viktoria and they had become like mother and daughter and Viktoria knew she was safe with T.J.’s support and care.
Our room, as it turned out was an alcove outside of T.J. and Viktoria’s room with only a curtain for a door. The girls (which is what we immediately called them) had to pass through our room to get to theirs. We had zero privacy, but the girls spent most of the day in their room, T.J. on the phone with either the exchange services, visa services, doctors or DSHS, so it was fine-ish.
We shared our room a few times. Twice with two brothers from Germany, and once with a friend of T.J.s from the Kenai. The man who would later offer us his home, smoker and canner to process salmon that Kevin would catch (his blog coming soon) after meeting another friend of T.J.s and being invited to fish the Kenai River.
It didn’t take long to realize that amongst the eclectic motley crew that we mis-fit right in.
We had asked Wil for a two-night stay; ever foolishly optimistic the bus would be fixed “any day now.” He told us to stay as long as we needed, which would become nearly two weeks. To thank him I cooked and cleaned, while Kevin worked on motors, hung outdoor lights and mowed the lawn with a weed wacker.
Wil, Arthur, Steven, Vaden, T.J. and Viktoria became like family in that short time, and our lives are richer for having met them.
I guess the saying is true: Where there is a Wil, there is a way!
*Cover photo is our couchsurfing host, Wil and his daughter.
Click on photos below to see full size image.