Dispatches from Alaska: The Last American Frontier, the First Great Armenian Falafel Stand

When I visited Alaska for the first time last year, it was close to the end of August and the summer was just about winding up. My husband (fiancé at the time) drove us clear across the country from New York to Washington and then up through Canada, British Columbia and Yukon Territory. I say “he” drove us, because every time I took the wheel, he gripped all available handles in the car (and I swear I saw a tear running down his cheek at one point), so I yielded to his persistent desire to live. Because I wasn’t driving, I feverishly geo-located us on my technologically adept iPhone and went into crisis mode every time I lost cell tower connection, my eyes scouring the vast blue skies for a glimpse of those coveted thin, white antennas.

We had no clue what was waiting for us at the end of this highway.

(Side note: If anyone needs marriage counseling, I highly recommend driving the route we did at the pace we did. All problems are resolved by sheer proximal closeness. They have to be solved; 7-10 hours of driving will save you lots of money on counseling, but you will rack up a gas bill instead. Pick wisely.)

I had no clue. I mean we all know it’s called “Yukon Territory,” but does anyone ever try to comprehend the depth of what a “territory” might represent? There’s nothing around for miles. And when I say nothing, I mean, you better haul your own gasoline on the roof of your car ‘cause their ain’t nothing out there but the remains of vultures that couldn’t make it out.

“Let’s drive the Al-Can (Alaskan-Canadian Highway),” said Bobby. “Sure” said the Sagittarius in me. So we drove, 7-10 hours a day for a total of 6,800 some odd miles. My mom made us a barrel (yes barrel) of cheese beuregs to have on the trip. We sent her back a photo of the empty barrel bottom by the time we left Chicago. Armed with Manuel and Harout CDs, we waved hello and goodbye to America as we drove in and out of small towns most of us have never heard of, much less plan on visiting.

The quality of food declined as we drove west, and by the time we hit Seattle neither of us bothered looking at the menus; one of us usually rushed to the bathroom while the other simply followed the “order me what you are getting” formula. We entered Alaska on the 13th day of our adventure, through a town called Tok. When I say town, I use the term loosely. It was more of a frontier settlement with a handful of establishments separated by the highway. However, on our 12th day we were still in a foreign country, in a place called Fort Nelson, Yukon Territory, Canada, and we both realized that the inside of the car started to smell a little “ripe.”

Robert: Hokis, we need to do laundry.

Karine: Ok Bobby jan,there’s a place, drop me off and you can go wash the car.

About 30 minutes later, Robert walks into the laundromat with a strut that only a man with a newly washed car could display.

R: How’s it going, hokis?

The ‘exotic’ Delta Junction, where we couldn’t even find someone to take our photo. We opted for the poor man’s version.

K: Bobby, I need money, I ran out.

R: Ok, how much do you need?

K: $32.

R: ?!?

K: $8 a load to wash and $8 a load to dry, and it’s self-service.

His new car wash strut deflated, Robert went to the front to find out if I wasn’t trying to swindle him for late evening snack cash.

R: Ma’am, how much is a load?

M: $8 a load to wash and $8 to dry.

R: ?!? Vai yes ko… Here you are, hokis (handing me the wad of cash we would have to turn into tokens).

While folding our clothes, a young chap (YC) also folding his got into a conversation with Bobby.

YC: So, you working on the patch, eh?

R: Patch? No? Um, what?

YC: The Oil Patch. I work on the oil patch, do you? (Apparently there is a huge oil field nearby.)

R: No, just driving through.

YC: It’s great money, $600 a day plus expenses. It’s about two miles from here; you should give it a try.

We shrugged it off and kept on driving. Our next stop was the end point of the Al-Can Highway, Delta Junction. “Wow, Delta Junction! Sounds like there is activity and shops and perhaps some falafel,” I said to myself. There was a rather large intersection with a gasoline/souvenir shop (which also sold guns and ammunition inside and propane outside).

K: Bobby jan, I want falafel.

R: Hokis, this place serves pizza, you better get used to it.

K: Did we bring the zaahtar?

R: It’s gone. We finished that in Idaho.

Pizza sounded good. So we had pizza.

Robert and I looked at each other and realized that Adam Smith’s sophisticated reach extended to Fort Nelson’s unsophisticated yet lucrative laundromats, and we knew in that instant we wouldn’t get used to the Alaskan pizza. We both sorely missed falafel at that moment.

Karine Macri Tovmassian

Karine Macri Tovmassian

Originally from Bucharest, Romania, Armenian-Greek writer Kariné Macri Tovmassian received her bachelor of arts degree in honors English and foreign languages and literatures from California State University, Northridge. She received her master of arts degree in commercial diplomacy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, in Monterey, Calif. She serves as an active consultant to governments, agencies, and philanthropic organizations. Most recently, she left her position as an adjunct faculty member in the department of arts and sciences, humanities section at TCI College in Manhattan, teaching writing composition. She is currently moving to Fairbanks, Alaska, where she awaits Sgt. Tovmassian’s return from war. Her grandfather, Hagop Krikorian, an Armenian Genocide survivor, originally from the village of Hayeni in Dikranagerd, had a tremendous impact on her love and compassion for the eccentricities of her tribe. For more information on Tovmassian’s writing and to view a selection of her other publications, visit www.ThinkerExtraordinaire.com.
Karine Macri Tovmassian

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  1. Yes, Kevin. We shall have to chastise Sgt. Tovmassian for giving me last-minute instructions on the chronological order of our travels. Please replace “Fort Nelson” with “Dawson Creek.” I stand corrected.

  2. The intersection spoken of here in Delta Junction does NOT have a place that sells guns and ammo on the inside and propane on the outside. I know because I live in Delta Junction.

  3. It did when we were there. And if the second photo ever gets posted you will see the propane tanks out front, Mitch. I wasn’t daring enough to photograph the weapons then. But I have another photo of the rows of weapons and ammo at the Walmart in Fairbanks. 

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