Orphan Survival Stories Index |
I arrived at the small airport in Fairbanks, Alaska in February of 1969, greeted by a temperature of about 40 degrees below zero. I was wearing only a summer style suit that was about two sizes too big for me, a black pair of regular Sunday style shoes and carrying a large cardboard box full of legal documents, which I had prepared over the last three years while incarcerated at a federal prison.
It was not my intention to return to Alaska upon my release from prison, but the authorities advised me it was mandatory that a prisoner return to the state that had originally sentenced them, and then they could leave from there.
I walked out of the airport, hailed a taxi and rode to downtown Fairbanks where I was dropped at the Co-op Drug store on Second Avenue. I had been away several years and though everything looked the same, I really did not know anyone in Fairbanks anymore, as most of my former friends had moved stateside. I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to go. I was given $44 in cash as I left the prison and that certainly was not going to hold me over, until I could find some type of employment and a place to live.
My feet were already starting to sting and become numb, due to the amount of ice and snow on the streets and sidewalks at that time of year. I was very lucky when I ran into an old army friend, who bought me dinner and gave me his winter coat to use, until I could get on my feet.
For hours and hours, I walked in and out of the arcades, stores and bars to stay warm, but would be asked to leave because I was not spending money in their establishments. I made my way over to the Northward Building, which was a large high-rise style condominium with little shops on the main floor. I looked for a corner somewhere in the lobby to sleep and stay warm for the night.
The next morning, I walked to the Alaska Parole Office and asked if there was any way they could help me. I was cold, did not have much money, had no place to go and no one to turn to. I was told in a very stern manner that they could do nothing, because I was not on parole. I was also told that if I did not get my butt off the street at night, I would be arrested.
I continued to walk around Fairbanks for the remainder of that day, eating as little as possible, trying not to spend any money, going from store to store and trying to stay as warm as I could under the circumstances. Later that evening, the temperature dropped to 47 below zero. I knew that I had to do something and I had to do it quick or I would be found frozen to death.
About 9 p.m., I returned to the Northward Building lobby, but was asked to leave by the maintenance department. I left the building and walked out onto Cushman Street, and headed toward Fort Wainright, about three miles away. I do not know why, because there was nothing there for me any longer. I guess because it was just some place I knew or just something to do. I had walked that route many times before when I was in the army.
The cold was unbelievable and I knew that I had to keep moving or be dead by morning. As I walked down Cushman Street all bunched up in my small winter coat, I saw the Travelers Inn on my left and looked in the window. As I passed, I saw people sitting in the lobby, reading newspapers, drinking coffee and laughing. I just could not take the cold any longer, so I walked in and sat down in one of the large lobby chairs.
The desk attendant asked me if I wanted a room for the night. I turned and told him I was waiting on a friend and I would let him know shortly. I had about $35 dollars left to my name and knew I could not afford a room. If I spent one penny of my remaining money on a room, the next day would probably be my last on this earth. After about an hour and after finally getting somewhat warm, the attendant asked me again if I wanted a room for the night. I stood up and looked at him, then looked out the window at the snow piled up along the sidewalks and road. I could not go back outside in the cold again. I just could not. I got up from the warm chair and walked across the lobby toward the desk as I pulled out my wallet. The clerk handed me the registration card, which I filled out and signed, then pushed the wadded up dollar bills toward him on the counter.
"You can pay for that tomorrow if you like, sir,” he said.
I picked up the money very slowly, placed it back in my pocket, then picked up the key and walked to my room, where I slept for about 24 hours straight. After I arose, I showered, picked up my cardboard box and coat, and walked to the front desk to pay my bill and head back out into the cold. When I arrived in the lobby, the clerk looked at me and said, "I thought you were going to stay with us another night since you did not check out this morning, sir.”
"I am not sure what I am going to do,” I replied shaking my head.
"Well, if you leave now, I will have to charge you for an additional night anyway," said the clerk.
I knew right then and there that I was screwed, and I was going to be arrested and taken to jail. I turned around and walked back to my room. I called the front desk and asked if they had room service, which they did. I ordered several sandwiches and a pot of coffee. When it arrived, I pulled out my wallet to pay for the meal. The bellboy said I could sign the ticket and pay the bill when I left the next day and I could also put his tip on the ticket, which I did.
It appears while I was sleeping; one of the bellhops looked into my cardboard box and saw all the legal documents I was carrying. Word had spread throughout the motel that I was a bigwig lawyer from the lower 48. By the time I realized what he had told everyone and by the time I had come to my senses, I had allowed this charade to continue on and on and on for more than two weeks. I was eating like Henry the VIII, not to mention buying steak and shrimp dinners almost every day for nearly all the motel employees, including house cleaners, bellhops, their friends, families, neighbors and most of the motel managers. I was throwing $10 tips around as if they were penny candy. This situation had really gotten out of hand and I did not know what to do about it. As there appeared to be no way out, I just continued to ride the gravy train.
About a day or two before the end of Roger's wonderful journey, one of the managers actually sent a girl to my room for the night, as payment for my kindness and generosity. Well, the time had finally come to pay the piper, and this piper did not have $2,800 to pipe. I was immediately taken to the head manager’s office and told Governor Walter J. Hinkle owned the Traveler’s Inn. I was in some "very serious trouble" and "up the creek without a paddle.”
The manager made several long distance calls trying to reach the governor, but was unsuccessful. About an hour later, the motel manager received a call from one of the governor's assistants; he explained the circumstances of the situation. While they were talking, I asked the assistant manager if I could have a pot of coffee. He ordered it and had it delivered by one of the bellhops who had just come on duty. The assistant manager picked up the ticket for the pot of coffee and laid it on the desk. I picked up the ticket and said, "Let me take care of that.” I signed the ticket, leaving the bellhop a $10 tip, which made the assistant manager start laughing so hard he began to choke and had to leave the office.
The governor's assistant wanted to talk with me so I was handed the phone. The man on the other end acted rather snooty. He advised me he was going to telephone the police after reaching the governor, and I would be arrested and taken to jail. He also made it very clear that I would have to pay back full restitution. I then asked him if I would have to pay back the money for "the prostitute the motel had supplied me" several days before. He immediately became very quiet, then very softly and respectfully asked to speak with the manager once again.
Well, I left the Traveler's Inn that evening with no winter coat. The manager did not call the police, but was told to take my coat and not to returned it, until I signed a written statement "to their liking" agreeing to pay them full restitution.
“I will take your proposal under consideration,” I said.
Then I left their establishment with my cardboard box under my arm.
Later that evening, I met with several of the employees from that same motel. They had taken up a small collection to help me, which made me rather teary-eyed. Several hours later, I met a tourist who was driving to the lower 48 the next day. He was willing to give me a lift, if I would pay for half the gasoline.
I have not been back to Alaska since that incident and I do not know why. GOD! Their hospitality was unbelievable!