"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, February 26, 2010

News of Adrian's Death

You know how when some people come into your life, you know they’ll be there forever? Then, life intervenes and you wander off on separate paths, running into each other occasionally here and there, now and then, and years go by without contact. A rumor passed on from a mutual friend lets you know that friend’s general whereabouts and well-being. Or not.

Suddenly, word of that person’s death arrives at your doorstep. No, you say, I was just thinking about him a couple weeks ago. I was wondering how he was, what he was up to now, and if he had ever quit smoking. I remembered this story and that story about him, and those stories brought smiles to my sad heart. Then I tried to recall the last time I’d actually seen him, and I scanned back through the years like riffling through a Rolodex, and realized it’s been almost twenty years.

But that can’t be. It seems like only yesterday Adrian was standing at the bar in the lodge my husband and I owned, telling stories about his dad, and the time they lived in the tiny village of McCarthy where his parents owned and operated the legendary McCarthy Lodge.

A much newer incarnation of the McCarthy Lodge.

McCarthy was a boom town that sprang up five miles downhill from the Kennecott Copper Mine in the early part of the 1900s, one of those places that provided “rest and recreation” (with very little rest) for the isolated miners from the mine. When the price of copper plunged, the mine closed and was abandoned, but a score of hardy

folks remained at McCarthy. The old railroad that hauled copper to Cordova for shipment was shut down, and the railbed used as summer access to McCarthy, with many a rail spike showing up for decades afterwards to smite an unsuspecting tire.

Ruins of Kennecott Copper Mine, circa 1985.

In the winter, however, the only way out of McCarthy was by airplane, dogteam, or mare’s shank. Adrian was a teen-ager in high school then, but high school was almost a hundred miles away in Glennallen with only wilderness in between, so Adrian, age 17, flew himself to school every day in his dad’s small plane. When he and the weather felt like it, that is.

As usual, Adrian was in some hot water at school with a male teacher, so dad and the teacher had a face-to-face to resolve the latest problem. Adrian’s dad took offense when the teacher made the mistake of calling Adrian a boy. Dad set the teacher straight, in a rather colorful description of the things his son did that qualified him to be called a man, and admonished the teacher to treat Adrian as such.

Dogteams on main street of McCarthy, ca. 1985. Lodge is uphill on left of road.

My husband and Adrian worked together on several construction jobs, the last one on Amchitka Island. When my husband, the Master Mechanic for the job, needed a particularly difficult thing accomplished, it was Adrian to whom he turned. Adrian’s official job was as a Teamster tire man, a dirty, strenuous, dangerous job that involved changing tires not only on the assortment of fleet vehicles, but also on the huge heavy rubber-tired earth-moving equipment. Those tires were often as tall as a man. Or more.

Adrian was, in the very best sense of the word, a world-class scrounger. Of course, that “sense” was qualified depending on whether or not you were on the receiving end of the scrounging. If you needed something, Adrian could "find" it.

The commissary in our construction camp on Amchitka sold beer to the workers, but each employee was restricted to a six-pack a day. Adrian seemed to have an unlimited supply of beer and Bailey’s, and neither the US Navy personnel over-seeing the job nor the civilian project management team could figure out how Adrian managed to host an after-work happy hour in his room every day for a dozen or so co-workers.

Unfortunately for Adrian, one of the Navy officers was walking past the open door of the raucous happy hour room at the same time an empty bottle escaped and rolled into the narrow plywood hallway. A few words were exchanged and the officer left, but we all saw the handwriting on the pink slip. Shortly afterward, Adrian left the island for a two week R&R, and sure enough, he was not on the list of returning employees.

He did, however continue working in Anchorage for the Alaskan company that was one-third of the joint venture on the project. Eventually, one of those particularly sensitive tasks came up, and Adrian accompanied a very expensive engine on a chartered flight to the island. His job was to seethat all went well with delivery and off-loading of the engine. Once the plane landed safely on the remote island, Adrian, by order of the Navy and project manager, was not allowed to set foot on the surface of the airstrip and had to remain on the plane, all of which we thought was particularly funny and only added to the repertoire of tales about the amazing Adrian.

Adrian, in his imaginative way, got his payback. On Dec. 23rd of that year, the project was completed and signed off, and the remaining workers left the island for good. We'd been on the uninhabited island since Jan. 5 of that year, with no breaks. When we arrived at the Anchorage airport that night, Adrian was there to greet us with champagne and a white stretch limo that would carry us around town to various refreshment establishments and on a tour of Christmas lighting displays.

The exciting plank bridge over the Kuskulana River on the road to McCarthy, built as a railroad trestle in 1910. It has been refurbished since, as isn't anywhere near as exciting to cross. Planks were missing off the old 500 foot-long bridge, and the river could be seen 283 feet below.

Parked behind the limo at the airport arrivals curb was a white Dodge van that was to pick up the project manager, the one who had much to do with Adrian’s banishment from the job and the island. Always polite and friendly, Adrian greeted the project manager as he held open the door of the limo for us. There would be no tour of Anchorage bars and holiday lights for the manager.

Thus, when word circulated a couple days ago that Adrian’s heart had attacked him and taken him away, and I realized I hadn’t really seen or talked to him in almost two decades, I figured Adrian had a lot of explaining to do. Which is exactly what he did this morning when he called and quoted Mark Twain: “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Spike from defunct Copper River and Northwestern Railroad. They continue to pop up along the gravel road to McCarthy, which is the old railbed.

It was his dad Winston who had quietly slipped the bonds of earth on a peaceful Sunday morning, perhaps an out of character way to pass for a man who had lived life to the fullest. I’m sure, however, that in passing he epitomized the words of advice on the plaque that hangs above my computer, the one about skidding “in sideways, totally worn out, shouting Holy S…! What a ride!”

And, I’m sure he was every bit as proud of the stories that surround his son today as he was of the teenager he called a man to a high school teacher, many, many years ago.

And yes, Adrian did quit smoking.


  1. Funny you should mention Adrian because when looking for a photo I found the one of you, Ken, Adrian and Rick in front of the lodge in the 90's and was going to see if you wanted a copy. One of those happier times.

  2. I'm not really anonymous, my finger slipped off the mouse.

  3. Your missing muse is obviously back. Great story, well told. Sorry about Adrian's dad, but glad to know he is still topside. Some deft language here -- I loved the "handwriting on the pink slip" and the image of that white limo; also the photographs help connect the amazing dots, too. I've missed our back and forth. Good to be back.

  4. "...Adrian's heart had attacked him and taken him away..."

    ...a very clever way to describe a heart attack!!

  5. "...she's baaaaaack!" good job!