Tom goes on an Alaska adventure to find a Pascua Yaqui b-ball player

Ruben Silvas is alive and well, and pursuing his basketball dream in Fairbanks, Alaska. (And don't ever say that the Tucson Weekly won't go that extra mile to get the story.)

A little background first. My daughter, Darlene, holds the title of Big-Shot Project Engineer, although, on her business card, for brevity, it just uses the final two words. In 2012, she apparently decided that being a full-time civil engineer wasn't enough, so she got an athletic scholarship to play junior college basketball at Tohono O'odham Community College out on The Rez. She kept her job, went to school, played ball, and put 40,000 miles on her car in two years.

Ruben Silvas was one of the stars on the guys' team, a squad that came within one game of reaching the JUCO national championship tournament in only the team's third year of existence. (The team they lost to in the Regional Championship game, Phoenix College, went on to win the national title.)

Anyway, Darlene and Ruben are basketball buds. After last season, he got a scholarship to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. So, naturally, Darlene thought it would be really neat to just pop into one of his games and surprise him. And thus it came to pass that my daughter and I ushered in 2015 seated in a Chili's Restaurant—directly across from a gift boutique called Moosellaneous—in the Anchorage, Alaska Airport. The airport is named for the late U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, the guy who used to believe that the Internet went through a series of tubes and who, tragically, died in a plane crash.

I don't know how I feel about that. I mean, if I find myself in Clear Lake, Iowa, do I really want to take a flight from the Buddy Holly International Airport?

We got into Anchorage around 11:20 p.m. on New Year's Eve and our server at Chili's—a really cool guy named Herman—brought us our food right at the stroke of midnight. I think he liked us because my salad had a couple extra tomatoes on it, even though I don't really like tomatoes. Or salad.

Our flight to Fairbanks wasn't leaving until 6 a.m., so we sort of slept in the airport. It's not nearly as glamorous as it looks on TV. When we got to Fairbanks at 7 a.m., local time, it was still pitch black and a balmy zero degrees, Fahrenheit. All of the car rental places were closed for New Year's Day, so we took a shuttle to the hotel, which was bad-ass. A three-room suite with full kitchen for around 70 bucks a night. I guess location, location, location really is everything.

The hotel had a free booklet entitled (I'm not kidding) "How Not to Freeze to Death." The coolest thing in it was the fact that if New York City had the same population density as Alaska, there would be 16 people living in Manhattan.

We crashed for a couple hours, then got up and worked out while waiting for the sun to rise around 11 in the morning. (On that day, it rose at 11 and set at 3 in the afternoon, plus it doesn't really "rise." It just hangs out by the horizon.) We decided that we'd walk to the grocery store a couple blocks from the hotel. It had snowed the night before and the snow was knee-deep everywhere, except on the street, where it was replaced by a nice thick sheet of ice. I only fell five times (believe me, you keep count). Darlene was polite enough to make sure I was okay before she started laughing.

By the time we got back to the hotel (and for the rest of the time we were in Fairbanks), I was walking like Benny Hill, taking little tiny baby steps.

Ruben is a Pascua Yaqui and, on first impression, he has the personality of an undertaker. But, after you get to know him, you find that he's much more stoic than that. When he first saw Darlene, he managed about one-eighth of a smile, and deadpanned, "Hey, Darlene."

He played like dookie that first night, but a couple days later, he had the best game of his college career, scoring 34 points and grabbing nine rebounds as his Nanooks upset powerhouse Simon Fraser, 121-111. It's really cool; his school refers to itself as The University of Alaska as though the University of Alaska in Anchorage doesn't exist.

On the day in between Ruben's two games (when it was 18 below zero), Darlene and I went to a college hockey game and we took a bus trip to a nearby community called North Pole. On the way back to Fairbanks, we apparently caught the Meth Express bus. There were three twentysomething guys sitting across from us and they all had summer teeth (some'r there, some aren't).

While the air in Fairbanks is almost intoxicatingly clean and crisp, they also have something called "ice fog," which are two words that should never go together. It's formed when the local power plant pours hot water onto a frozen river and the resulting steam freezes in mid-air. It's fun to look at, but no fun to walk through, kinda like a Tea Party convention.

I now know why Sarah Palin is the way she is.

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