I want to buy a pie for Allen. As a surprise. From this tuoristy place called Beautiful Downtown Chicken.
There really is no downtown in this town of 23 summer residents; 6 in the winter. So it's all for show; for the tourists who make it here, who drive very long ways from either Yukon or interior Alaska, in cars, motorhomes or on tour buses.
I read all about this intentionally rustic little place in "The MilePost," a guidebook to Western Canada and Alaska. On page 315 is a picture of Susan Wiren, "a pioneering-style woman," Beautiful Downtown Chicken's owner. She's smiling out at me, standing in front of a motherlode of fabulous looking pies, holding one up, waiting to hand it over to me. Now. Oh yum.
So when we get to Chicken, we find a row of three businesses, all wooden, all looking like a set out of "Gunsmoke." We pull up (in the mud). Park. I go in.
And WHAM! I'm hit with acrid, rancid smoke. Shudder. Through the haze, I see a long wooden counter. And behind it, next to the left wall, a double utility sink holds a pile of steaming red potatoes two feet deep and three feet long. Two institutional-size soup pots sit side-by-side on a stove against the back wall. Their lids dance to the rhythm of the boiling food inside.
To my right is my prize: Pies. Lots of them Maybe a dozen. Perhaps 15. The air's acridity dissipates under the lure of those pies: blueberry, apple, apples with cranberry. Oh, yum.
Then, standing in front of me, smiling, is a young 20-something guy, wearing an apron and carrying a mighty big shovel of a spoon.
I'm about to ask about those pies when SHE glides in behind him. It's her. The Susan Wiren from the pie picture. She then proceeds to chew the apronned guy out -- I'm standing right there -- about something he's left on the floor. She whines about how she might fall, and hurt herself because of his carelessness and she's getting old, so she doesn't heal like she used to.
I barely note this insensitivity because I'm starstruck: She makes these pies.
She walks out, fast, leaving this beaten-down guy to wait on me. "How much are the pies?" I ask. $4 a piece, he says. "How much for the whole pie?"
The question whirls Susan back into the room.
"I can't discount the pies," she says.
"Oh, I'm not asking for a discount," I reply. "What's the price of a whole pie?"
This tips her off. She chews ME out for wanting to buy a whole pie. (But in that picture, she wants to GIVE me that pie.)
So how come I can't buy a pie? Because, she insists, she CAN'T discount the pie. My head swirls.
"Lady," I say slowly, and grab hold of her eyes with mine. "Listen to me. I don't want a discount."
"Well, most people do," is her retort.
"I just want a pie. I'll pay by the piece... Now, I can do the math, or you can." I note the pies are cut into six pieces ... "So it'd be $24," adding quickly, "And no discount."
Nope. She won't sell me a pie. Because, she says, she's cooking for a busload of 90 people (a Grayline tour) who will be here at 4 (it's now 9 a.m.) and every one of them needs a piece of pie.
I guess I understand.
So I buy a slice, not a whole piece. And get a story to tell.