A shopping trip to Fairbanks

On Friday we went to Fairbanks.  We left at 9 in the morning, after putting together what we needed for an overnight stay.  We didn’t have a fire in the wood stove that morning, and Jerry turned off the well pump just in case there was freezing or leaks. 


The dogs traveled in their cage on a platform behind the driver’s seat.  From that perch they can look out the window.  Even so, they hate the ride. 


The road was pretty good.  Three weeks ago it was covered with a thick layer of densely packed snow.  Government trucks regularly scrape the road surface, and by Friday, April 19, it was almost completely free of snow.  Snow was piled high beside the road, and in a few places, with daytime temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s, it had melted into lakes. Water had flowed over the road and frozen at night when temperatures fall to the teens or 20’s. 


In those places we had to be careful.  One set of tire tracks was ahead of us. It probably belonged to Bea and Terry who had planned to start for town early.  After a while we came upon a road truck using steam to melt the frozen spots. 


We arrived in Fairbanks at 12:30 and headed for Barns and Noble where we got coffee and snacks.  That is, Jerry got a double chocolate cupcake and I stole nibbles of it.  There I made my first purchases.


We were in Fairbanks for about 25 hours.  The purpose of the trip was to buy things we had run out of, or found we needed.  Here is, in part, what we bought:


Books:  I bought a memoir, A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, and Intern by Sandeep Jauhar.  These were entirely impulse buys.  The first book I happened to spot on the way to the ladies room, and the second on the way out of the store.  I bought the Thomas book because, from a quick glance at the beginning, I saw that she met her husband through a personals ad.  (I met Jerry through the internet, so I could relate.)  The other book I bought because I had just read Better by Atul Gawande and liked it.  Intern will be the third doctor book I have read recently.  (I also read Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, and I can’t remember the author’s name.  She’s a neurosurgeon.  The book isn’t here and I’m not on the internet, so I can’t look it up.)


I bought 2 more books, both about Alaska’s wildlife.  One, Interior and Northern Alaska: a Natural History by Ronald Smith, is all text.  There I can read about the animals I see or hope to see, and some of the trees and plants around my house.  The other, Wild Alaska by Doug Lindstrand is a beautiful picture book.  I’ll use it as a reference for painting. 


Last week I painted 2 little Alaska pictures, and Jerry mounted them and made frames.  I gave them  as prizes for Mah Jongg, which was at my house.  One picture (bears) was reasonably good, and I designated it for the winner.  The other (a caribou) was for the loser of the evening.  I liked that one a lot less.


Next we went to Wal-Mart (yes, I confess it.)  There I got a dish pan, dishwashing liquid and some of those pot scrubbers with tough scratchy green plastic on one side and yellow sponge on the other.  I had been washing dishes for three weeks without these things, and I can’t tell you how great is to have them again.  I did have a bit of dishwashing liquid, but its nature seemed to have been altered by being frozen all winter.


At Wal-Mart I got 2 plastic wine glasses for travel (impulse), a lemon reamer (I used to squeeze lemons with my hands, but my arthritis is so bad I can’t do that anymore.)  I got a cast iron griddle to make pancakes for Jerry.  I don’t eat them myself.  Fattening.  And I got a quart of ultra-pasteurized cream, also fattening, but I sometimes use it for cooking.


Next we went to Michael’s.  That is, I went to Michael’s, and Jerry sat in the car with the poodles.  (Real men don’t enter Michael’s.)  I bought paint brushes – little tiny brushes for little tiny paintings.  Then I bought knitting needles.  It hurts my hands to knit these days, but I think I should exercise them, so I knit for a few minutes at a time.  I’ll get Dana to teach me how to knit socks.


After that we went grocery shopping, mostly for lettuce and broccoli.  Fresh vegetables are unavailable in Manley at this time of year.


This may not sound like much shopping, but it was after 4 and we were really tired.  We bought a bottle of wine and a bag of Cheetos and went to our friend’s Fairbanks house where we stay overnight.  We were alone there because they are at their Manley house.  We went out for dinner.  Our friend’s house is in downtown Fairbanks, so there are a few restaurants we can walk to.


We walked on cracked and damaged sidewalks, past huge piles of dirty snow in vacant lots, and run down buildings, many with boarded up windows or for rent signs.  This part of Fairbanks never looked prosperous, but the economic downturn has hit hard here.


I said, “I like seedy looking places.” 


“You ought to like Fairbanks, then,” Jerry said.


We ate at a small place where we have eaten before, so we knew the food would be terrible, but it is convenient.  We have not found a good place to eat in Fairbanks.


The next morning we had breakfast at a 24 hour eatery on Airport Road where we usually see lots of people from the military base dressed in their crisp, flashy camouflage uniforms and berets.  There were no soldiers there, and I wondered whether they were all in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Jerry said at this time of year they might be out on maneuvers.


Then we went to Home Depot where we got fittings for the replacement toilet tank (to replace the one that froze and cracked last winter.)  Our friends gave us an old tank left over from one they had replaced.  In the Alaska bush nothing is thrown out that might come in handy some day.


Jerry also picked out lumber to make new steps to our deck.  Then we bought more groceries, including 2 beautiful t-bone steaks to eat with Bea and Al (who lend us their house in Fairbanks and gave us the toilet tank).  We stopped at Office Max to get printer ink and a charger for my phone because I left mine at the last motel we stayed in.


Next we filled a big blue oil barrel with heating oil for our oil stove.  Jerry says the place we filled it hasn’t changed in the 25 years since he went there last.  


We ended our stay in Fairbanks where we started, at Barns and Noble, for coffee and lunch before driving back to Manley.  B&N was crowded, and looked as though business was booming.  Inside B&N everything is clean and new and comfortable.  A group was playing and singing live folk music.  It could have been anywhere in the United States, except for the huge roaring (gas) fireplace surrounded by soft easy chairs, all occupied by slumbering readers.


On the way home Jerry had painful cramps in his hands, so I took over driving at Wickersham Dome and drove to Livengood.  We got home a little after 5 o’clock.  We were both really glad to be back.             

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7 Responses to A shopping trip to Fairbanks

  1. Jan says:

    I love cast iron (I love pancakes too). Was it Lodge brand? Was it pre-seasoned?

  2. dale says:

    I love reading about this Alaska jaunt! thank you.

  3. anne says:

    If you are going to knit socks and you can only knit for short periods, then my advice would be use a sports-weight or double-knit weight yarn, not the normal sock or “fingering” yarn, and use bigger needles. I just did a pair like that and it went really fast and the socks were/are very comfy. I got this advice from an 80+ knitter, she said she switched to the heavier yarn and bigger needles because of her eyesight, but it works for me due to the increased speed.

    Love hearing about your life in Alaska…

  4. Duchess says:

    Real men don’t sit with poodles.

  5. Old Woman says:

    Jan, yes it is a Lodge and preseasoned. However, when I first began to use it the pancakes stuck. Now it works okay. However, it cost about $17, and an old one I have back on the island that cost about $3 works just as well.

    Dale, thanks, but I must admit that watching snow melt is getting old.

    Anne, I’m using bigger needles than usual and thicker wool, and it is perhaps a little better, but my hands are pretty sore.

    Duchess, Indeed, I had noticed that irony. Originally I had written dogs, but I changed it to poodles. Real men have a really tough time.

  6. rosie says:

    your alaskan tales make me feel that Brittany is a relatively easy place to live…I should be able to manage two wood stoves, and we hardly ever get snow!
    We are good at rain though…

  7. Annie says:

    I am so enjoying your stories from the frontier! This trip sounds exhausting! But necessary.

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