Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Alaska Shorts: Los Anchorage, by Harold Brink

Harold Brink

I was a paid and published Alaskan writer-- the start of a new career, or so I tried to tell myself. In Anchorage I dropped in at the editorial office of an outdoor sports magazine and learned they had accepted a story about the wilderness fishing my friend Richard and I did last year at Twin Lakes in Lake Clark National Park. The pay was miniscule, but as the editor pointed out, I was a rookie writer and should take it and be happy; he would accept other submissions. The magazine sale was low-end success but gave me enough of a confidence boost to call Richard in San Francisco and ask him to air ship the remainder of my goods to Anchorage.  Talking to Richard on the phone made me lonely; he and everyone else I knew was far away.

My goods arrived via air freight in ten boxes and I stored them inside my rental locker. As my locker neighbor rummaged through his stuff we talked. He’d seen my Colorado license plate and asked how I was getting along as a “newby.” He’d moved to Alaska in 1966 and lived in Anchorage for 17 years. Most Alaskans, he said, including those who’d arrived a few months before me and already got their license plates, were not happy to see more newcomers; the state was filling up fast and there might not be enough money to go around. Not a problem for him, though; he was resigned to his fate as a “sourdough."

“You know what a sourdough is, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said, “an old-timer, a real Alaskan.”

“Wrong,” he replied. “A sourdough is too sour to stay but doesn’t have the dough to leave.”

I called the friends of friends I’d met in Eagle River. Fats said to come up and I could go out set-net fishing with his crew for a day. I would check out another way to make money in Alaska. The fish camp visit proved to be long hours sitting in an open boat. Even though I did almost none of the work of setting the nets and picking out the gill-caught salmon, I felt beat at the end of the day; I was also convinced I wanted nothing more to do with commercial fishing. It discouraged me, a sport fisherman, to see so many fish easily caught and thrown into the bottom of the boat to die slowly. The fish were given no respect in this catching; the work was all mechanical and mind-numbing and I needed to get away from it.

Back late at night into Anchorage I stopped into the downtown Club Paris for a beer. The Club Paris was unique in Anchorage as a crossroads, a place where you met people coming and going from the Bush, oilfields, Native villages, tour buses, and downtown banks. The club was a swankly-appointed dark tunnel that seemed to reach back into the earth, a place where deals involving big money were made in the shadows. I took a stool at the bar next to a fellow sporting a suede jacket and white Stetson nursing a bourbon and water. He said he had flown up from Seattle to sell television advertising for a resort and condo development called Settler’s Bay. Selling lots there would be an easy way to make money, he assured me. I should get my real estate sales license and join their team:

“Hell, you can’t miss. A blind monkey could get rich selling lots out there. Everything’s in place. Paved streets, water and sewer, four-star restaurant, golf course. Alaskans got money falling out their pockets and Settler’s Bay will sell fast.”

Settler’s Bay was over on the west side of Knik Arm, a two-hour drive from Anchorage. This presented a decided drawback to its success as a commuter suburb. But the problem wouldn’t last long. “Legislature’s about to vote the money to build a bridge across Knik Arm. When that happens it’ll be too late to buy a lot, they’ll all be sold. Come out and take a look—we’re crying for salesmen.”

The ad man swept his white hat off the bar and I watched him out the door, headed back to his suite at the Sheraton. I would be sleeping in the back of my truck. I turned to my beer and an old, grizzled Native man took the ad man’s seat. He looked like he’d been in a few bars before this one. He stared at me with bloodshot eyes like he could see something I couldn’t. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “You think you make a lot a’ money? You’re crazy.”

I didn’t want to hear any more truth from this old shaman. I drained my beer and fled out the door.

Author bio: This excerpt from the author’s memoir-in-progress describes the immigrant’s attempt to survive the rigors of “Los Anchorage.”


2 comments:

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Great post! Good luck with the book, Harold.

Sandra Kleven said...

Reading and commenting from Puerto Vallarta. Liked the story. Want to read more.