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

2 thoughts on “Alaska Shorts: Los Anchorage, by Harold Brink”

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

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