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Sunday, September 30, 2018

A sex predator in the White House is OK, but the jury still is out on Brett Kavanaugh

Cartoonist Kevin Siers of The Charlotte Observer shows Republicans drinking from Donald J. Trump's libation, and saying, "If these women were so worried about being attacked, why did they show up to our party?"
Cartoonist David Fitzsimmons of The Arizona Daily Star didn't take sides after the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. Fitzsimmons says, "And the victim is ....?"


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Many Americans are having second thoughts about supporting Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after the judge showed a total lack of judicial temperament and claimed to  be a victim of a left-wing conspiracy.

Meanwhile, when President Trump told the United Nations General Assembly his administration has accomplished more than any other in history, 100 world leader, their ministers and ambassadors laughed, interrupting his speech.

Another chaotic week exposed an all-out partisan war over allegations Kavanaugh, described as falling down drunk, tried to rape a 15-year-old girl during a gathering in 1982, when he was attending a Catholic high school. 

Still, Republican senators agreed to postpone a vote in the Senate to approve his nomination to the nation's highest court to allow the FBI to question others who were at the gathering.

Trump, the sex predator in the White House, gave the FBI a week to interview those named by Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged Kavanaugh tried to rape her.

Her powerful testimony at a Senate hearing -- and Kavanaugh's tearful, angry rebuttal and claim "the Clintons" were taking revenge on him -- kept millions riveted to their TVs on Thursday. 


Cartoonist Bruce Plante of the Tulsa World called Christine Blasey Ford "courageous."

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Clueless, error-filled column on all-electric Tesla Model 3 is better than negative news

"Electric FUN," a front-page column about all-electric cars or EVs in The Record of Woodland Park on Monday, was illustrated with the Mitsubishi i-MIEV, an EV that was withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2017. Sales of the small Japanese car, which had a range of only 62 miles, totaled 2,108 over 7 years, according to GreenCarReports.com.

REPORTER CLAIMS MIDSIZE EV
DOESN'T HAVE A TRANSMISSION


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- John Cichowski, a columnist at The Record of Woodland Park, wants you to meet his wife's cousin, Bob.

Bob Silverberg, who owned a 20-year-old Honda, now drives a  new Tesla Model 3, the all-electric car that's been buried in negative news since deliveries to customers began last year.

But the Page 1 column on Monday in the once-great local daily newspaper was upbeat and positive, with no mention of past production problems, delayed deliveries or the eccentricities of Elon Musk, CEO of upstart Tesla.

Still, typical of Cichowski's work in the past 15 years, the column is filled with errors, and nowhere does the clueless reporter mention that Model 3, like all Teslas, is a zero-emissions vehicle that does no harm to the environment or to humans.

When he unveiled the midsize Model 3 in 2016, Musk noted more than 53,000 Americans die prematurely every year from auto emissions. 




Self-driving features

Chichowski, who calls himself The Road Warrior, begins the column with Tesla's "Summon" feature, which allows the owner using a smartphone app to stand outside the Model 3, start it and have it back out of the garage or, as Cousin Bob did, a carport.

But the reporter doesn't mention the owner of a  Model 3 can also have the car parallel park, drive and steer on the highway, and change lanes automatically.

'No gas tank'

Although he never tells readers the Model 3 is a zero-emissions car without an exhaust pipe, Cichowski does say the EV has "no gas tank."

All you have to do is plug it into "a wall socket," he says, but Cichowski doesn't mention Tesla's network of dedicated Superchargers (fast electric-charging stations) in New Jersey and across the nation, a key to the company's success.

He also exaggerates how much time a Tesla owner spends charging the car, and omits mention of a 240-volt wall socket any electrician can install that allows an owner to charge his EV in a few hours overnight just like he or she charges a cell phone. 

No transmission?

"Electric vehicles don't need transmissions. EVs run on torque," Chichowski claims, providing the two biggest laugh lines in the column.

"Torque" is the twisting motion produced by an internal combustion engine or an electric motor, but the car won't go anywhere unless you connect that torque to the driving wheels via a transmission.

Cousin Bob's Model 3 does have a transmission, but it has only 1 speed, so driving the EV is smooth, silent and -- with all of the torque available immediately -- effortless.

"I'm not polluting the air as much as I did with my Honda, and [my Model 3 is] a lot of fun to drive," Cousin Bob says.

Someone should tell Bob he isn't "polluting the air" at all.

For some strange reason, no photo of Cousin Bob's Model 3 appears with the column, but a photo of an "electric car" used in the Glen Rock July Fourth parade in 2017 appears on the continuation page, 6A.

More laugh lines

"The Model 3 doesn't even need a dashboard," The Road Warrior columnist reports. 

"Instead, it's got something we're already used to on our smartphones: a touchscreen -- except this one is almost as big as a chauffeur," he says, referring to the 15-inch touch screen on the Model 3.

"Like a phone, just touch it the right way and it'll do everything your dash did and more -- phone, radio, heat, air conditioning, etc., etc."

Gee-whiz. Will Tesla's wonders ever cease?


Using a free Tesla Supercharger in the Colonie Center Mall outside of Albany, N.Y., in 2017, I was able to add 100 miles of range to my Tesla Model S in about 40 minutes while my wife and I grabbed a bite to eat and used the restroom at the Whole Foods Market.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Democrats must shed their apathy, get off the sidelines and vote out Trump loyalists

"The Big Lie" is from cartoonist Bill Day, who lampoons the false and misleading statements that have defined the presidency of Donald J. Trump, including his repeated claim there was "no collusion" with the Russians before the 2016 election, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Find more cartoons at Cagle.com
Bob Englehart, onetime cartoonist for the Hartford Courant, shows a Trump supporter handing out "VOTE DEMOCRAT" fliers because "I just love America more!" than "I love Trump."

IF YOU VOTE BY MAIL IN N.J, 
DECISION DAY IS HERE


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- My mail-in ballot for the Nov. 6 midterm elections for Congress has arrived, and I'll be voting a straight Democratic line.

My hope -- and the hope of millions of other Americans -- is that we can swing control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to the Democratic Party, and start fixing all the damage to our democracy and the division we've seen since President Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017.

"Since the beginning of the Trump administration, it seems there has been a new crisis roiling our nation nearly every day," Columnist Michelle Alexander writes in today's New York Times: 
"A new, jaw-dropping allegation of corruption, a new wave of repression at the border, another nod to white nationalism or blatant misogyny, another attack on basic civil rights, freedom of the press or truth itself.
"Invariably, these disturbing events are punctuated by Trump's predictable yet repugnant Twitter rants."

This is the illustration that ran with The Times' investigation, "The Plot to Subvert an Election." 

'The Russia story so far'

Last week, The Times published "The Plot to Subvert an Election," an investigation that unravels "the Russia story so far."

"For two years, Americans have tried to absorb the details of the 2016 attack -- hacked emails, social media fraud, suspected spies -- and President Trump's claims that it's all a hoax. The Times explores what we know and what it means."

"The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come," The Times said: 
"Acting on the personal animus of" Russian President Vladimir V. Putin..., "well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign.
"And there is a plausible case that ... Putin succeeded in delivering the presidency to his admirer ... Trump, though it cannot be proved or disapproved."

Wear a wire?

The Times followed with another bombshell, reporting that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the special counsel's investigation, suggested last year that he should secretly record Trump to expose the administration's chaos, and discussed invoking the 25th amendment to remove the president from office.

Predictably, Rosenstein denied the story, and competing newspapers quoted sources who claimed he was being sarcastic.


Lampooning President Trump's lack of empathy for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. cartoonist Bruce Plante of the Tulsa World has the insensitive lout telling two people in water up to their neck in the Carolinas to "have a good time."
Cartoonist David Fitzsimmons of the Arizona Daily Star examines how men on a U.S. Senate committee are treating Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accuses Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers. "Why should we believe any woman?" one says. "Why ruin a good man?" says another. "Speed it up," says a third. "We're on a schedule."

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Enrollment hike of 120 students in 4 years doesn't justify building a $97M junior high

The offices of the Hackensack Board of Education and superintendent of schools at 191 Second St.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- When you take a closer look at the proposed $165.1 million building and renovation plan for Hackensack schools, the numbers just don't add up.

A projected enrollment increase and schools that are as much as a century old are the two main reasons cited by school officials to justify the proposal, which will have a tremendous impact on already high property taxes.

Even more troubling is the possibility of holding the referendum on Jan. 22, 2019, when winter weather could discourage many already lazy, apathetic residents from voting to approve or reject the plan.

Past elections

April school board elections usually draw only several hundred people to vote on candidates, and to say "yes" or "no" on the school budget, which accounts for 45% of every home and business owners' property tax bill.

In the April 2017 election, only 3% or 642 of the 21,397 registered voters in Hackensack cast ballots for candidates, and only 341 residents OK'd the $81.2 million tax levy to support a $109 million budget.

This past April 17, when 3 candidates backed by the mayor and City Council ran, turnout was higher -- 1,629 voters cast ballots.

Only 1,142 voted "yes" or "no" on the tax levy, approving the use of $82.8 million in property taxes to support the schools' $117.1 million budget.

Imagine how few would battle January weather to get to the polls and vote in a $165.1 million referendum.

Tax impact

"The tax impact would be decided before the possible January referendum," NorthJersey.com reported on June 30, quoting school board President Lara L. Rodriguez.

Rodriguez also told a reporter that if the referendum passes, it could take up to 8 months for the district to begin the renovations and break ground on the new school and a parking garage, and "we could have the schools open" by September 2021.

Enrollment hike

School officials project they will have to serve 120 more students in 2021-22 than now.

They cite a projected enrollment of 5,834 students in 2021-22, compared to 5,714 in 2017-18.

No mention was made of the 249 students Maywood sends to Hackensack High School, and a possible end to that relationship.

Century old schools

There's no question Hackensack's schools are old and badly in need of renovations and upgrades.

But why did the Board of Education allow them to get that way while raising the school budget every year in the last 10 years -- to where the money spent on schools is now more than the city's own budget?

$165.1M proposal

A new junior high school, with grades 7, 8 and 9, would be built next to the high school at a cost of $97.7 million.

That includes a parking garage for 200 cars to built next to the new school, replacing a high school  parking lot.

Alterations to existing schools would cost about $16.5 million; renovations would cost $17.5 million; upgrades to heating, ventilation and air conditioning would add another $33.4 million -- for a total of $165.1 million.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

President Trump is waging a 'war on truth' with help of reporters who spread his lies

With Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolinas last week, Dave Granlund, above, and other political cartoonists mocked an insensitive President Trump tossing paper towels to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory last year.
Jimmy Margulies, onetime cartoonist for The Record of Woodland Park, put Trump in the "Eye of the Storm." The president disputed a study that said 2,975 people died in the 6 months after Maria, and even said Democrats inflated the numbers.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Bob Woodward says President Trump is conducting a "war on truth" to discredit the Watergate journalist's book on the chaos inside the White House.

"I've never seen an instance where the president is so detached from the reality of what's going on," Woodward told "Today" show host Savannah Guthrie.

"This is a 'war on truth' by [President Trump]. He said these are unnamed sources [in 'Fear,' Woodward's book]. But these are not unnamed incidents. Specific people on specific dates.

"The incidents are not anonymous," he reiterated. "It gives a date, it gives a time, who participates, most often the president himself and what he says."

Of course, Trump's "war on truth" could just as well describe the tens of thousands of lies he told as a real estate developer, casino operator, presidential candidate and since he took office as president on Jan. 20, 2017.

Sadly, the vast majority of them have been disseminated with no fact-checking by reporters for TV and radio stations in those infuriating sound bites. 



Cartoonist Marian Kamensky also mocked the paper-towel tossing.
Cartoonist Adam Zyglis of The Buffalo News shows Trump tossing climate-change science in the toilet along with the study on deaths in Puerto Rico. People who live on the island are U.S. citizens, but can't vote in presidential elections. However, the nearly 500,000 who left between October 2017 and February 2018 to live in Florida, New York and other states can register and can vote in the November congressional elections.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Taxes -- or the lack of them -- are driving everyone crazy from Hackensack to Alaska

One way to interpret "THE LAST FRONTIER" motto on this standard gold Alaska license plate, which I saw on a tourist bus in August, is that the 49th state is the last frontier for an engaged citizenry. A close second is Hackensack, where lazy, apathetic residents rubber stamp higher and higher budgets from the city's Board of Education every year, driving up property tax bills.

Hackensack schools plan to ask
for your vote on $165M proposal


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- You might think long-suffering New Jersey residents, who pay some of the highest taxes in the nation, would be envious of Alaskans.

Residents of the 49th state pay no state income or sales taxes, and Anchorage, with 304,000 residents in 2014, also doesn't have a sales tax.

Recall the hysterical reaction of some New Jersey residents when Governor Murphy sought to raise the state sales tax to 7% from 6.625%.

The Record of Woodland Park, the local daily newspaper, published a front-page story accusing Murphy of trying to raise taxes on the state's hard-pressed "middle class." 

Yearly dividend

Alaskans also get paid every year from the state-managed Permanent Fund, which is fed by oil revenue and now totals close to $65 billion. 

This year, each resident will receive a dividend of $1,600. 

But "democracy suffers when citizens don't pay [taxes]," says Columnist Charles Wohlforth of the Anchorage Daily News.

In his Aug. 10 column, Wohlforth quoted the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington:
"The lower the level of taxation, the less reason for the public to demand representation. 'No taxation without representation' was a political demand; 'no representation without taxation' is a political reality."

Are taxes good or bad?

In 2004, Michael Ross of UCLA looked at 113 countries over a 27-year period, Wohlforth said:

"People may dislike taxes, and indeed they loathe paying more while receiving less from their governments," wrote Ross, reminding me of how our local property taxes go up and we receive less from our home-rule officials in Hackensack.

For example, my street hasn't been paved in more than 30 years, and other Hackensack streets are in bad shape.

"Ironically this loathing may be a good thing," Ross said.

"In Alaska," the newspaper columnist said, "we've spawned a political class that learned it can get away with just about anything as long as Alaska Permanent Funds payments keep flowing and broad-based taxes such as income or sales taxes are never put in place.

"They've left us worse off in many ways compared to when we stopped paying taxes in the 1980s -- worse education, more crime, stagnant incomes and, perhaps saddest of all, a pervasive sense of scarcity and collective impotence. We've learned as a society not to expect much."

Alaska also has a 7.1% unemployment rate, the highest in the nation, The New York Times reported in August.

Primitive road network

On our vacation in Alaska, we learned the tax-free state has the highest number of licensed pilots, because a primitive road system means many towns can be reached only by air or ferry.

That includes the state capital, Juneau, so residents cannot quickly and effectively mount a protest against state policies or proposed laws, even if they wanted to.

Alaska, our largest state, is said to be 2.5 times the size of Texas, but only 740,000 people live there -- far fewer than in Bergen County. 


There is no sales tax on meals at Simon & Seafort's and other Anchorage restaurants, where dinner for 2 can easily top $100 before the tip. Try the fine-dining restaurant's Alaskan Cod Rockefeller with Roasted Cod, Halibut, Salmon, Clams and Prawns in a rich tomato broth ($30), below.


Taxes going up?

Now, Hackensack residents are facing the prospect of higher local property taxes, if a referendum on a $165.1 million school building plan is approved.

The city Board of Education is proposing to spend $97.7 million to build a new junior high school on a sports field next to Hackensack High School.

The rest of the money -- $67.4 million -- would pay for alterations, renovations, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades at existing schools.

No date for the referendum has been set, but the schools superintendent's office says the proposal could go on the ballot as early as Jan. 22, 2019.

341 decided budget

Although school taxes account for 45% of the total tax bill paid by home and business owners, Hackensack voters have shown little interest in school board candidates or the proposed budget, and many may be unaware they can vote down the proposed tax levy.

In the April 2017 election, only 3% of the 21,397 voters registered in Hackensack cast ballots, according to Bergen County Clerk John S. Hogan's office. 

Of those 642 voters, only 341 residents, including those who voted by mail-in ballot, approved the $81.2 million tax levy (to support a $109 million budget).

If the referendum on the proposed $165.1 million school building plan is held in the middle of January, will even 341 people brave the weather to vote on it?


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Number of Trump's 'false claims' (or lies) nears 5,000, The Washington Post reports

Cartoonist Dave Granlund lampoons President Trump's reaction to an anonymous opinion piece in The New York Times written by a senior administration official. 
From cartoonist Taylor Jones: Federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh wouldn't be pinned down at his confirmation hearing last week on whether he believes Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling giving women the right to an abortion, is settled law.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail in the run-up to the Nov. 8 congressional elections, and President Trump's lies accelerated over the summer.

Those were only two of the developments in another week packed with news from the White House and the media Trump has been warring with since he took office.

"Buckle up," The Washington Post's Fact Checker said on Friday. "President Trump is on the cusp of making 5,000 false or misleading claims since his inauguration [on Jan. 20, 2017].

"In fact, things have accelerated sharply this summer. In June, 534 claims. In July, 448. In August, 469."

Meanwhile, "in a sprawling, highly anticipated book by Bob Woodward, the White House is depicted as an often-out-of-control operation where former aides stole papers from the president's desk and derided the commander-in-chief," The New York Times said.

In an appearance in California, Obama joined the front lines of the Democratic battle to take back Congress, describing the coming election "as a pivotal moment for a divided nation and a chance 'to restore some sanity to our politics,'" The Times said.

The former president urged Democrats to vote.


Cartoonist Adam Zyglis of The Buffalo News portrays Trump as a rabid dog.
Cartoonist Joe Heller of the Green Bay Press-Gazette in Wisconsin shows Trump's reaction to excerpts from the Bob Woodward book and the anonymous op-ed piece in The Times.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

In Homer, don't stay or eat here, and a lot of other advice for vacationing in Alaska

THUMBS DOWN: We paid $233.16 for a room with two queen-size beds at the Best Western Bidarka Inn on Sterling Highway in Homer, Alaska, on Aug. 10. I'm not sure why this roadside motel is named after a bidarka, a canoe covered by animal skins like those used by Native Alaskans.
THUMBS DOWN: One of the electric radiators in our room was broken, the beds were much too soft, the floor sloped and the TV remote barely worked.


BEST WESTERN IS WORST CHOICE

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Even if you don't want to fish for halibut, Homer, Alaska, offers a colorful farmers market, a nature center, scenic drives and four volcanoes across the bay.

But if you stay overnight, as we did on our vacation last month, the Best Western Bidarka Inn is far from the best choice.

In fact, the place is little more than a roadside motel with a faux log-cabin exterior and the worst complimentary breakfast I've ever had.

Our room had two electric radiators, but the smaller one in the bathroom didn't work. The two queen beds were much too soft, and the floor between them sloped down toward the wall.

The TV remote barely worked, and buttons had to be pushed two or three times to change a channel or perform another function.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the next day's free buffet breakfast didn't offer cut-up fresh fruit, nuts or raisins for the granola or egg whites for the mediocre made-to-order omelet, and the coffee was dispensed by a machine.


THUMBS UP: The Homer Farmers Market operates on Saturdays and Wednesdays until Sept. 30, and reopens next May.

Eating out in Homer

We drove a rental car 225 miles to Homer from Anchorage, mostly on two-lane roads clogged with motor homes and other recreational vehicles, arriving in early afternoon.

I loved my lunch special of the day at Cosmic Kitchen, a juicy Thai Wild Salmon Slider and Blackened Rockfish Slider, served with Sweet Potato Fries and Coleslaw ($10.25).

But my wife complained her Seafood Ramen Bowl ($14.29), though tasty, had hardly any broth.

The tables were turned at dinner at Pho & Thai Restaurant, where she enjoyed a bowl of Vietnamese Pho Combo ($12.50), but I hated my Pad Thai ($10), which was made with the wrong noodles and overcooked, dry tofu.

I was hoping to order wild Alaskan shrimp, but the restaurant served only low-quality farmed shrimp from Thailand.

We finally agreed over lunch the next day at Happy Face, a Korean-owned restaurant on the 4.5-mile-long Homer Spit with a menu of sushi, fresh seafood, Chinese and Korean food.

I liked my battered-dipped, deep-fried fresh Halibut with French Fries ($19.95), and she loved her stone-bowl Bibimbap, a Korean comfort dish of rice, shredded vegetables and beef, topped with a fried egg (also $19.95). 


THUMBS UP: The deep-fried fresh Halibut at Happy Face Restaurant in Homer, Alaska, called the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World. Gochujang, a Korean red chili paste, was available for the fries.
THUMBS UP: The Dolsot Bibimbap at Happy Face Restaurant was everything this Korean comfort dish is supposed to be and more.
THUMBS DOWN: The spicy cabbage kimchi was some of the best we've ever had, but Happy Face Restaurant charges $4.95 for a small bowl, and doesn't offer seconds at no charge, as does every other Korean restaurant I've patronized in the past 20 years.
HIT AND MISS: I enjoyed this Seared Alaskan Halibut with Warm Crab Salad and Vine-Ripe Heirloom Tomatoes ($41) in the Gold Rush Restaurant at the Denali Park Village Hotel. But my wife found her Red King Crab Legs to be much too salty ($39). With two a la carte salads, a soda and a 15% tip, our dinner totaled $118.50.

Tours and Wi-Fi

Each glass-dome railcar on the Gray Line Alaska tour to Denali National Park from Anchorage has a bartender, tables in front of every seat have brackets to hold your smartphone or tablet, and there are outlets to charge those devices.

But there is no Wi-Fi on any train or tourist bus, so if you try to post on Instagram and other social media or just want to connect to the Internet, it's hit or miss -- mostly miss.

You also won't find any Wi-Fi on board the high-speed catamaran used for the 26 Glacier Cruise with Phillips Cruises & Tours from Whittier, Alaska.

Adults pay $178.95 each, including a light lunch, but if you choose the Salmon Chowder, you'll find it's thickened with too much corn starch. Narration is by the captain and a Chugach National Forest ranger, and you'll definitely need a warm jacket, if you go out on deck to take photos.

We paid another $100 each to take the Alaska Railroad Glacier Discovery Train to Whittier from Anchorage, instead of driving our rental car there, and enjoyed the narration, sightings of Beluga Whales on the return trip and the guide's corny jokes:

"Bear tracks are tracks with no train on them" and "Silent dogwoods have no bark."

In Anchorage, we somehow missed the money saving Alaska Culture Pass, a total of $32 for admission to the Anchorage Museum and Alaska Native Heritage Center, plus a free shuttle that operates 7 days a week from May to September.

Princess Lodges

On our Gray Line tour, we stayed at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and the Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, two luxury hotels owned by Princess Cruises, but we found the rooms and food service weren't consistent.

We were supposed to stay at the lodge outside Denali National Park and Preserve for 2 nights, but at the last moment, Gray Line demoted us to the Denali Park Village, a less desirable hotel where the power was out when we arrived and stayed out for more than 2 hours, delaying dinner service in the restaurant.

I called the Denali Princess Lodge and managed to get a large, king-bedded room and bathroom with a walk-in shower for the 2nd night.

The following night, our smaller room at the McKinley lodge had a cramped, motel-like bathroom, with a discolored shower curtain and one of those one-piece plastic makeovers for the bathtub/shower that was starting to chip.


BIG HIT: I've never been a big fan of cauliflower, but one of the best dishes I had on our 15-day vacation was this starter of Roasted Cauliflower with Yogurt, Feta, Mint and Toasted Sesame Seeds ($9) in the North Fork Dining Room of the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. Our entrees were Crab-Stuffed Halibut with Cheddar Chive Mashed Potatoes ($45) and Short Rib Pappardelle ($28), we drank 3 glasses of red wine and our bill totaled $123.50, including a 20% tip.
BIG MISS: At the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, we paid $17.99 each for an awful buffet breakfast, especially if you don't eat Reindeer Sausage and Hickory Smoked Bacon. No egg whites were available, and premium berries were missing from the fruit salad. For some crazy reason, the breakfast is served in a darkened hall used as a music theater in the evening.
ANOTHER BIG MISS: After that disappointing buffet breakfast at the Denali Princess, we decided  to have an a la carte breakfast the next morning in the North Fork Dining Room of the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge. But my Smoked Salmon Benedict, above, skimped on the smoked wild salmon lox and the English muffin wasn't even toasted ($14.99).
BIG HIT: If you want to see this caribou and a wide variety of other wildlife in Denali National Park and Preserve, book the Tundra Wilderness Tour, an 8-hour guided bus ride, with frequent stops, that operates from June 1 to Sept. 13 ($173.20 for adults from the Denali Park Village Hotel, including a snack box and water). 
ELUSIVE DENALI: The highest peak in North America, Denali usually has its head in the clouds, but one day we saw the mountain from the deck of the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge -- 43 miles away. Denali's original name was Mt. McKinley.
SPLASHES OF BEAUTY: We saw beautiful wildflowers in Anchorage, above, and just about everywhere else we traveled in Alaska during our vacation Aug. 1-15, including the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, below. We found seeds to take home to New Jersey at Grizzly's Gifts on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage. 

More hits and misses

We didn't think much of the guest workers from Eastern Europe, Asia and other parts of the United States we saw working at the Denali Park Village Hotel and the Princess Wilderness Lodges.

After all, foreign guest workers have been a fixture on the Jersey shore for decades.

But when I got home, I read that Alaska, at 7.1%, has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, so why weren't Alaskans hired for these jobs during the 4-month tourist season (May to September)?

Hanan, our server for dinner in the King Salmon Restaurant at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, volunteered she was an Arab-American woman from Florida.

But she spoke almost robotically, and tried to upsell me to a more expensive glass of red wine, claiming it would "pair better" with the food I ordered. 

However, when she agreed to split two entrees, Asiago and Pine Nut Linguine ($25.50) and Sea Salt King Salmon over risotto ($49.50), she didn't mention surcharges I saw on the check later.

About those guest workers. We were told by our American driver-guide on the Tundra Wilderness Tour that a doctor from Bulgaria was washing tour buses for $20 an hour.

His American co-workers said he probably won't be returning next year, but the guest worker said he intends to return, because he was being paid more in Alaska than he is as a doctor in Bulgaria.


$45-plus for wild salmon? 

As someone who eats only seafood, I soon got used to paying more than $40 for a fillet of Halibut or wild King Salmon in a fine-dining restaurant in Alaska, where those fish are caught.

A Connecticut tourist we met on a train suggested that restaurants and other businesses charge as much as they can during the abbreviated, 4-month tourist season.

Unless you're a really big eater, skip Bridge Seafood Restaurant in Anchorage, where entrees are priced higher than at other fine-dining restaurants, because they include a free, all-you-can-eat salad bar.

And don't be surprised when the "signature" or "famous" salmon spread at Bridge Seafood and other restaurants contains 95% cream cheese and hardly tastes of the state's greatest wild fish.

The smoked seafood at Alaska Sausage and Seafood in Anchorage was another disappointment. 

We paid nearly $25 a pound for Kippered Halibut and nearly $24 a pound for smoked Salmon Strips, but I didn't read the ingredients label until I got home, and was shocked to see brown sugar, corn syrup solids, sodium lactate and sodium ascorbate had been added to the fish. 


AT THE RED CHAIR CAFE: The gluten-free Kale Bake Skillet ($15.50) at The Red Chair Cafe included asparagus, cremini mushrooms, grape tomato, zucchini, sliced almonds and a light mustard vinaigrette finished with aged white-cheddar cheese. A sprinkling of ground cumin or crushed red Aleppo pepper over the eggs would have added some needed eye appeal.
ARTISTRY: The Red Chair Cafe is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.

Korean food, breakfast

If you're a fan of Korean food, steer clear of VIP Restaurant in a strip mall at 555 W. Northern Lights Boulevard in Anchorage, where we had the worst Soft Tofu Stew ever ($14.49 each).

We liked our Veggie Omelets ($13 each) at the White Spot Cafe, 109 W. 4th Ave. in downtown Anchorage, but the place is so popular we had to sit at the counter and wait about 30 minutes for them.

A better choice for breakfast is The Red Chair Cafe, if only to see the art-filled interior, but here, too, we had long waits for our food, and on two visits, I wasn't able to order the signature Tustumena Smokehouse Salmon Benedict, because they had run out of the "seared salmon bacon" ($15.75). 

On most mornings, we were happy with the free buffet breakfast at our hotel, Hyatt House  in Anchorage -- fruit salad with premium berries; granola topped with slivered almonds, dried raisins and cranberries; an omelet of the day or a made-to-order omelet with or without egg whites; pancakes,  premium teas and more. 


And when we were too tired to go out to dinner, we found some appealing dishes on the bar menu, and washed them down with wine or Alaskan beer on tap.



AT HYATT HOUSE: My wife was very happy with her grass-fed All-American Cheeseburger topped with hardwood-smoked bacon ($13.75) from the H Bar menu at Hyatt House in Anchorage. I chose the Mediterranean Bowl ($12.50), below, an ancient grain and kale blend with pumpkin seeds and an Italian herb vinaigrette, and asked the kitchen to hold the chicken.