Jul 22, 2006

HANSEL, GRETEL AND THE BIG, BAD FIVE
GUSTAVUS, Alaska: Fogs erases the lodge, the sitka spruce, the fish-belly grey waters. "The landscape looks like a Chinese watercolor ... if Tarzan had painted it," my friend Edward says, quoting one of his articles.

"The landscape looks like planes might not take off," I fret. "Then what?"

Ed rings the tourism board. A media handler makes some backup arrangements. No sweat. Anything for "one of the big five," she says.

I rise to the bait. "Big five what? Geeks?"

"Alaskan travel writers," he replies. "Can you believe anyone takes me seriously?"

Well, yes ... and no. Ed's my imaginary big brother made flesh. I can't give him props or the planets will misalign, maybe schluffing off Pluto or something. But he's one of the few authors I admire. And he does have a Lowell Thomas Award. And a mention in Best of American Travel Writing. And a story teased on the next cover of National Geographic Traveler.

All that clout – but can he arrange for the plane to leave on time? Hell, no. The slacker.

We sit, sardined, on the runway for hours. Not even a pretzel in sight.

"Just another day in the office," mopes Mr Big.

"Yeah. Maybe I'll cut my hair and get a real job," I kvetch.

But it's just braggadocio. We're both lifers; what else could we do – being such lousy cublicle-gophers?

The Alaska Airlines jet finally takes off, then lands minutes later in Juneau. The hotel has no shuttle, so we catch an expensive taxi that reeks of piss and cigarettes. Racing to the waterfront, we order our final pizza crackers.

This foodstuff is unique to Juneau, where the premiere Italian restaurant bakes its pies for an hour each.

"Serve it raw," I demand, to little avail. These people are oven-struck, like fairytale witches. Forno-slap-happy. It's scary.

The waitress thuds down another brittle dough-slab, adorned with withered mozzarella and jalapeños. "That's not overcooked," she declares.

Lady, you'd be horsewhipped from Rome – no, from the entire Italian peninsula – for that desiccated pizza parody. Even Omaha would hassle you for such a brittle impostor.

I swallow my paesana pride. I choke down the slivers, so like stained glass.

If Mr Big can't get decent pizza in this town, no one can.

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