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.”


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.