The Anchor is three stories tall. There is an indoor staircase and a metal-grate staircase outside. I always used the one outdoors, except when I was caught in some particularly nasty rain. It’s illuminated LED marquee displayed the time, date and temperature. Either in green or red, these days I can’t remember. In any case, I think they switched. But it stands tall and established, like it should have “saloon” on the sign. In a town of incessantly changing weather, the warm bar remains the same.
Some co-workers from the Inn and I thought Doug was somehow involved with the police because he drove a black Dodge Charger with one of those grill guards that screams local law enforcement or at the very least, an alignment with the authorities.
We noticed that it seemed to haunt The Anchor more regularly after the one time when a large group of full-grown sentient human adults got drunk and drew their names or pictures on the wet concrete outside. The police made rounds the next day, and since Whittier has a ballpark standing populous of 300-400 people living there during the summer, the authorities didn’t have trouble finding some folks who copped to their then still-drying Hancocks, flowers, cats, what-have-U.
I can’t really blame them. Had I not had to work so early in the morning that fateful evening, I would have left my gall-dern(bach) SSN on the sidewalk.
I think I must have been off work early, waiting for a friend. I’d seen Doug around before, at the Inn, in the towers. When first tried to say hello, he was congenial but more interested in just finishing his drink to the dull roar of the jukebox and three or four other people sitting at the green-countered bar.
Maybe I was in a particularly positive mood or was just uncomfortable sitting down the bar from the guy and not saying anything. Anyway, Beverly was talking to the guys on the other side of the bar or something, so I asked him where he was from.
He told me he was from Seward—a town a hundred miles or so from Whittier. The Seward Highway is what runs from Anchorage down the Turnagain Arm, named by William Bligh, a sailor under Captain Cook, when he thought it was a road and not a cul-de-sac. He had to “turn again.” (Cute.)
I’d visited Seward once before. Mr friend, Philip, and I had wanted to go on a mild-moderated hitchhiking trip, and we had another friend from AZ working in Seward.
It seemed like a reasonably simple operation. The hardest part was getting across the tunnel, which we did by boarding a commercial bus. They took us to the intersection with the Seward Highway and then the rest was relatively smooth. Seward itself was a blur. We did Karaoke (Bohemian Rhapsody never fails, but Paranoid Android is sure to, but we Radioheads have to stick together and so I lent my support to the floundering performance of a few strangers who were still young enough to think that people cared about what they liked within the context of late-night-bar-sing-song), the bar closed and we ran through the streets falling down, laughing. It’s those nights of small town debauchery and freedom that I might miss the most about Alaska. We hitched back the next day.
Back to Doug.
We got to talking. Seward is a pretty small town now, but I was interested in what it was like in the 70’s. I could be wrong now, but I believe he was the third generation to live there.
Young (maybe sometime between seventeen or eighteen), Doug joined the Navy, which took him to San Diego. He explained to me that in Seward, the music he was exposed to was always several years behind the times. After joining, he heard Van Halen for the first time. I don’t know if it was a particularly life-changing experience, but I’m sure his face-melted at least a little.
He told me about the books that he liked to read as a kid. I think he mentioned “Kidnapped.” I can’t be sure. I know for certain that he described a book that was about a brother and sister lost some post-apocalyptic desolate siberian plain where they had burrowed into the ground and occasionally came across chocolate, about which they were very excited. How these children survived, I have no idea. I don’t know what book this was. Neither did Doug, but I did tell Doug that I would immediately consult the internet once I got home and have an answer ready the next time I ran into him.
I never did look it up. I probably drank the evening to its natural conclusion and lost the piece of paper I’d had written everything on. And even after that evening I didn’t see much of him, and we never exchanged more than a nod of recognition when we did come across each other.
I wished that I had tried to find the book online. I have since, but without success.
I forget how he found himself in Whittier. He’d made a point to tell me that he was the longest running Fire Chief the town had ever had, a point of pride, and it seemed necessary for him to tell me this. We all need those points of pride to prop us up because for the most part we (I) have such a hard time just letting our(my)sel(f)ves be. So maybe it was the job. But more than likely it was the magnetic pull that that sleepy town has on people. I felt it myself. There is certainly magic to Alaska in general, but that small town has a magic of it’s own. It’s a story in which you are sure to participate. It draws people in, and it seems that if you aren’t a character when you first get there, you certainly become one–your shadows getting darker, your colors expanding and deepening.