Shopping sprees were rare and memorable

One winter while living in Slana, a couple months after our devastating 2002 Denali Fault earthquake, I took a two month leave of absence from my school aide job, and my husband, Gary, and I drove our truck camper Outside to visit family in several states. One of our stops was at his sister Diana's home in Gilroy, California, which is located near an outlets shopping complex. This really excited me since I had not had time to drive to Anchorage to shop for replacement items destroyed in the earthquake.

When Gary and his mother decided to drive to San Francisco for the day on business, I realized it would be the perfect opportunity for me to go to the outlets. Besides my list of mostly kitchen items and a few things for my school job, I also wanted to window shop with no one hurrying me along. People who have not lived remotely, will not understand how excited I was about having a whole day designated for nothing but shopping.

During our periodic trips to Anchorage, with a minimum 4.5 hour one-way drive, there was only time to purchase groceries and other basic household and hardware necessities, even with spending the night in town. We usually returned home with a few things on our list not crossed off, having run out of time. Leisurely browsing was rarely considered.

Gary and his mom dropped me off when the outlets shops opened at 10 a.m., with the agreement that I would call when ready to come home. With over 95 stores, I knew I couldn't dawdle or there wouldn't be time to check them all out. If a purchase was made, I asked the clerk to hold it for me behind the counter and made a list of the stores I would need to return to, when Gary came to pick me up. With only a 15-minute food court hot dog lunch break, I concentrated on shopping and the day flew by.

This was back in the days before pay phones became obsolete. Actually, we did have a cell phone, but there was no cell service in Slana and we didn't even think to bring it along on this trip.

About 6 p.m., I located one of the several pay phones and called to check in and say that I needed more time. When Diana answered she said, "Where are you? We've been worried! The guys are over there driving around the outlets looking for you."

Well, I was shocked and frustrated at the same time. Driving around looking for me was as ridiculous as looking for a needle in a haystack. My fun day of shopping had unexpectedly come to a disappointing screeching halt.

I gave Diana the name of the store nearest to the pay phone. Keeping me on the line, she used her cell phone to call her husband Jim's cell phone. Diana wouldn't hang up until she got confirmation from Jim that I'd been "found."

Jim and Gary arrived in less than a minute. After I got into the car, I had to listen to a repeat of the concern and questions from Jim. "Why didn't you call earlier? No one shops that long! We were so worried!"

Gary hadn't been worried, but he couldn't very well sit at home while Jim searched for me. With all the turmoil, I knew it was best not to ask for more shopping time and my "shop till I dropped" day ended before the stores closed at 9 p.m. Jim graciously drove me around to all the shops which were holding my purchases. For years during repeat visits, my brother-in-law made comments of disbelief about my shopping marathon, but for me it was a pleasant memory.

We lived in Slana another 10 years and I enjoyed other shopping trips both in California and Colorado, when leaving Slana in the winter months became our routine. It was either feast or famine shopping – feast during the winter and famine during the summer.

Now that we live only five minutes from a Three Bears store in the Mat-Su Valley, I can go shopping for one item, on a moment's notice if need be, and leisurely wander the aisles while I'm at it. I still recall my California outlets shopping day with fondness, but with my current location and lifestyle, there is no reason for any more shop until you drop days.

Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan currently living in Palmer. Email her at

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Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan now residing in Palmer.

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