Sgt. Preston and other cool friends


I’m not sure Mark Twain was right, that travel cures you of prejudice.

But late this summer I was reminded of Twain’s remark when my wife Toni and I took a tour of Alaska.

Of course, even on a tour bus and a cruise ship that covered hundreds of miles in Alaska you only see a fraction of this our largest state.

For me, a drive promised far too many hairpin curves and narrow mountain passes to venture into the interior in a rented car.

A couple thousand other tourists on our cruise ship agreed. We saw lots of other retirees but also younger couples on our ship. A few guests even brought their children and, I assumed, their grandchildren.

I should mention my delightful surprise encounter as we were on our way home. It came in the airport terminal in Toronto. At first, I thought I recognized the back of this man’s head. He was waiting for his flight as we were waiting for a different flight.

I was right as I discovered when I walked around the partition. It was my favorite comedian and TV sit-com actor, Bob Newhart.  I introduced myself as a fan. He greeted me and we chatted a bit before the announcement came for him and his aide to board their plane, I assumed for Hollywood.

Bob Newhart (left) and Larry Hayes
Bob Newhart (left) and Larry Hayes

I’ve interviewed senators and various members of Congress and state government. Even Bill Clinton. Big shots. But I don’t think I was ever as nervous as I was meeting Bob Newhart.

I’ll be darned if I can remember much of the conversation.

Back in Alaska, the other highpoint of our journey came in Skagway. The name of the town was familiar to me from listening to the radio broadcast of “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon.” It was one of the towns on the frontier that the Royal Canadian Mounties policed.

I couldn’t believe it when we crossed a street and there was Sgt.Preston’s Lodge. The web site boasts “excellent service.” Of course, I thought. This man and his wonder dog King would accept no less than excellence.

Two-weeks gives you little time and a only brief glimpse of our 49th and largest state. An hour or two hike in the Denali National Park shows you more pine trees than you ever thought existed.

The moose we saw seemed even bigger than you imagine. The whales mostly revealed their gigantic tales. We saw no bears. Soaring eagles watch over their land.

Mount McKinley, Denali
Mount McKinley, Denali

Certainly Mt. McKinley has you pause in a reverent silence at the wonder of America’s highest mountain.

No wonder natives refer to it as “the great one.”

As always, travel introduces a person to people you never would have met at home. That’s a bonus far beyond the breathtaking scenery.

I found waiters on the cruise ship to be uncommonly friendly and gracious. Paul, our guide on land, was full of himself but informative to a fault.

I can’t promise if you sign on to a tour of Alaska, you’ll encounter a famous TV or movie star at the Toronto terminal. But I can promise great food, interesting towns, awe-inspiring scenery and friendly people.

If you run into Sgt. Preston or Bob Newhart, tell them Hayes sends his greetings.

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