The Kindness of Strangers

Linda Burton posting from Juneau, Alaska – “I thought you might like some brownies.” It was Brenda from upstairs, standing at the door with a plate of fresh-baked brownies and chocolate chip cookies in hand. I think it was back in the 60’s the last time a yet-unmet neighbor showed up at my door offering the kindness of cookies. But that old-fashioned friendliness seems to be the norm here in Juneau. This wasn’t the first example of Mayberry neighborliness since Grandson Sam and I got to town. It all began on Monday, with the “credit card” fright. Sam and I were at the Tram, ready for a ride to the top of Mt Roberts, and an overview of the Gastineau Channel. We’d verified the time and thought about all the things we’d do at the top; the gift shop, the nature center, and dinner. I reached into my zippered wallet for my card, but the slot for it was empty. I checked the other slots, not too worried yet. No card. I stepped out of the line and sat down on a bench, checking every other possibility, rifling through my backpack, emptying it clear to the bottom. I checked my pockets. No card. Now it was panic time.

The restaurant! That was the last time I used the card. Sam and I had a late breakfast at the Sandpiper, right next door to our hotel. I remembered that the restaurant was only open till 2 PM and it was after four o’clock now. I tried calling anyway; no answer. And worse yet, I knew they were closed on Tuesday. Ay-yi-yi, I couldn’t wait two days to know if I’d left the card in the little “pay your server” book. Yet I was almost sure it was there. Next thought: call the owner. Next thought after that: find out the name of the owner. Next thought: Katie! The Visitor Center next door had been our stop before the Tram; I’d spent an hour there talking with Katie, recently moved to Juneau from the Lower 48. Katie told about the friendliness of the place; she’d moved in January, of all times. The weather was freezing cold, but the people were not, she said. “Every day there was someone at my door, there to help me unpack. I know it’s isolated here, but it doesn’t feel that way. People take care of each other.”

So now I’m back in Katie’s line at the Visitor Center, hoping she will take care of me. I explained my problem: how can I find the restaurant owner’s name? She called her main office, she called the Chamber of Commerce; they couldn’t find the answer. “How about the City Clerk?” I ventured. We found the number in the book, I called; it was nearing 5 PM by now. A woman answered; “Do you keep a list of business owners?” I asked, explaining why I needed to know. They did not, she said, “but wait a minute.” She went away, came back, and said “Somebody here just happens to know.” Voila! She gave me a contact name and number. In how many places might that happen? I called the man’s home, he answered, and the good news is the card was in the restaurant’s safe. He made a special trip in to retrieve it and hand-delivered it to my hotel. The kindness of strangers, indeed.

Brenda, Katie, Chuck, June, Samantha and Dwight, everywhere I turn I have the same experience. Samantha Efird and her father Dwight have just purchased Juneau Car Rental. What nice people! What great service! Samantha picked us up and told us all about Juneau on the way back to their office; Elena is the Great Dane mascot there; Dwight brought the dog out and had her do tricks for Sam; a great start to any day. June works the afternoon desk at our hotel; a native of the town and just about the friendliest person I’ve ever met; she found a bike for Sam to ride and chats with him like she does her own granddaughter. “Hi Sam, Hi Linda,” everybody knows our name. And Brenda, who is looking after her grandbabies while her daughter settles in to a new job, brought cookies. 

There’s a joke we hear in town: there are three ways to get to Juneau, can you name them? Everyone guesses the first two – by air, and by water. Most of us have flown in, or come by cruise ship or ferry. But a lucky few lay claim to that third method: the birth canal. “I was born here!” they proudly proclaim. Birth canal, Gastineau Channel, or Alaska Airlines, the residents of Juneau seem happy to be here, where nobody is a stranger for very long.


Sandpiper Cafe, 429 W Willoughby Ave, Juneau, 907-586-3150

Juneau Car Rental, 907-957-7530,

Juneau Convention and Visitor Bureau,