Somewhere There’s a Town Called Skagway

Somewhere there’s a small picturesque town in Alaska called Skagway where six of us, all South Carolinians, spent a few memorable hours. We knew it was going to be a fun day as we stood waiting on the deck. As we studied the mysterious graffiti on a huge rock across the way and then glanced at the town villages to our left, we practically bristled with excitement and impatience.

Finally the disembarkment began, and beneath an overcast sky, we walked down the gangplank and strode toward the town. A small shuttle bus took several  passengers to the downtown area, but most of us chose to take the coastal trail so that we could get a better look at the ships in the harbor and some of the local scenery.

Six of us began the excursion together, but the cold and wind began to aggravate Judy’s oncoming cold, so she and her husband Carl left shortly after arrival. My friend Jeanita and I enjoyed browsing through the shops along Main Street, including a fur shop where she spied a coat like one she had purchased years ago. The town (at least the area where we were) was neat, clean, and pretty. Businesses were all well-maintained, and it was a pleasure to walk up and down the main drag and a few blocks off to the side where the homes were.

“Can you imagine living in a place like this?” I asked Jeanita.

“No. I mean, look at those mountains. How would it be to walk out your front door and see them on every side?”

“I know, I know. And then right around the corner, there’s the water,” I said, walking into yet another store.

“But oh my gosh, it’d be so cold,” Jeanita said. “It’s only September, and we wouldn’t be able to stand the wind without our vests.”

There were jewelry stores, souvenir shops, and even a museum. Attracted by its façade, we went into the museum/gift shop. Dark and a little musty, it was unique in size and interesting. It was probably the smallest museum I’ve ever visited, and yet it contained a treasure trove of artifacts and gold rush memorabilia. We browsed through the building and left with jade bracelets and matching earrings. We’ve never been able to pass up a deal, and the jade combo was no exception—buy the bracelet and get the earrings free.

We sauntered into a bakery and vowed to come back for muffins. We didn’t. Not really a regret. Just a fact. You can’t do everything and eat everything. Time and the human digestive system won’t allow it. We went into several jewelry and souvenir shops. Although the businesses were technically souvenir shops, they had a different feel about them, especially the one with native art and jewelry.

Our husbands had walked apart from us most of the day, laughing and talking about who knows what. Near lunchtime, the four of rendezvoused at the Red Onion Saloon. In its heyday, the business operated as one of the finest dance halls and saloons in the gold rush town of Skagway. It was also a bordello, and today visitors can tour the rooms upstairs for a small fee.

Diners from the various cruise ships filled the tables, and we four sat near the front, a location affording good views of the outside street action and of the restaurant goings-on. The servers all wore dresses with low-cut, form-fitting bodices. In keeping with the spirit of the bordello past, the girls had money stuffed in the front of their dresses. We enjoyed the upbeat ambience of the place and agreed that our chowder and chili dishes were quite tasty.

We talked to our server, and when Thomas, Jeanita’s husband, asked her what she was going to do when the ships left, she simply said, “Relax.” She then turned to us and said that actually she was somewhat of an artist and that she made Christmas ornaments of twigs. When she described the ornaments in detail, I recalled seeing them in a gift shop for the price of $44. Artistic or not, the tiny twig tree was too pricey for me.

Reluctant to leave a place with so much charm and beauty, we stopped by the souvenir shop on the way out. Purchases in hand, we rounded the curve leaving town and walked briskly back to the ship in the chilly, damp air.

Look for the Red Circle

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Brrrr. Sunday morning was cold. I woke up first and quickly showered and went down for breakfast before anyone else was stirring about. Say what you will about the Comfort Inn. Their waffles, especially the chocolate ones, are yummy. In this particular establishment, there was a gentleman standing ready to pour, cook, and put them on a plate for you. Nice. I got my waffle and perched on a stool overlooking the other diners and providing a nice view of  44th Street.

Before long, the other members of our little troupe were up and ready to hit the streets and avenues. We took a few pictures and then parted company for a few hours. The younger set went to Rockefeller Center and Little Italy, and the rest of us went to Liberty Island and Ellis Islands. While part of me would have liked to see THE TREE and then look for bargains in Little Italy and China Town, I wanted to immerse myself in the spirit that surrounds that Lady in the Harbor more.

The four of us got directions to the nearest subway stop two blocks away and rode the subway all the way to the Rector Street stop. Regardless of what you’ve heard, New Yorkers are helpful. I’m not saying they’re as warm and open as some people in the South. I’m just saying “Ditch that stereotype.” Ask questions and they will help you. Manhattan is in the tourist business.

Along the way to the subway stop, we saw Mickey Mouse and some other interesting things you don’t see in Camden, Elgin, Conway, or Pawleys Island, the places where we’re from. We got on the right subway but began walking in the wrong direction. Observing our perplexed and anxious looks, a woman came up and asked if she could help, and after hearing us, she said to get on the #1 train, the one with the red circle. At least that’s what I heard, and every time I saw a red circle, I said, “Let’s go this way,” and it worked.

I can still feel the excitement as we took a left turn with an incline and got caught up in the midst of hundreds of people. Seriously, if we hadn’t made note of each other’s clothing and hats so that we could keep up with each other, our day might have turned into a disaster instead of a success. Sure, we had our phones, but for some reason, our batteries kept losing their charge.

One of the things I love about the city is its diversity. Rich, poor, old, young, black, yellow, white, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, beautiful, and homely—all are there, and no one looks askance at those who are “different.” That said, we sat near an Asian couple with one of the sweetest, most adorable babies I have ever seen. Dressed for warmth and lying in his stroller, he stared at his pretty mother and made a lot of “ba” sounds. Clearly smitten with her chubby cheeked little cherub, she communicated joy at his efforts.

We made it to the Rector Street exit and got a little turned around once we climbed up the stairs to the street. It was cold and overcast, and although we could see the water, we weren’t sure how to get there. Finally, with the help of our iPhone maps we made it the whole two blocks to Battery Park. Told you we were small town girls.

Although it might sound clichéd, the four of us fell in love with the setting, including the huge squirrels, the barren trees, and the Urban Garden. We joined the rush of people streaming towards Castle Clinton to buy their tickets, and after going through security, we boarded the ferry headed for Liberty Island.

Despite the cold, I stood on the upper deck so that I could get a good view of the statue as we approached. No matter how many times I see her, the Lady always gives me a little thrill and a sense of wonder. How many immigrants to this great country have seen her? Did they feel awe, relief, fear, dread, excitement, or what?

I recall a story in which a son asked his quiet, somewhat morose immigrant father to tell him about the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Thinking his dad would tell him about some gorgeous but unattainable “real life” woman, the man was taken aback somewhat when his father stopped fishing, looked at him with moist eyes, and said, “The lady in the harbor.” A pivotal moment, that’s when the son, a teenager at the time, began feeling awe and a deeper love for his parents instead of embarrassment for their “old world” ways, language, and clothing.

Back to December 14, 2014, we got off the ferry at Liberty Island and walked on the grounds oohing and ahing with the appearance and “feel” of the place. We asked someone to take this picture, probably my favorite of the weekend. With the New York skyline behind us and Lady Liberty in front of us, we were a happy foursome. We took some other pics and then went into the gift shop/restaurant area for some hot chocolate.

After about an hour on Liberty Island, we boarded the ferry for the trip to Ellis Island. Next time………