Friday, September 21, 2018

Adrift in Anchorage

On Saturday, September 8, I arrived in Anchorage - finding myself solo for the first time in over a week. A confused taxi ride (the guy didn't know how to use the map app on his phone and I had no signal!) to my AirBnB and I did my best to settle in. This included a mile walk to the nearest restaurant (Tasty Freez?) for a burger and some ice cream, then picking up a 40 of PBR, then walking back to the AirBnB. I then proceeded to sleep for a long time.

The next day was, well, more of the same. I walked around a nearby lake, but failed miserably to make it a relaxing walk. The places I wanted to eat were closed and a guy tried to tell me how much me walking past him was the best thing that happened to him all day. Head-faking him (where are you headed? Oh, surprise, I'm headed in the opposite direction.), I went and had lunch at the same place I had dinner the night before. Then I walked another mile or so up to a bar (Piper's) where I had a few beers and eventually made friends with a bartender who was ending his last shift at the place. After a couple beers, a couple swapped stories, and a couple shared poems, he offered to drive me back to where I was staying - a welcome development given I wasn't looking forward to the long walk.

Monday slothfully rolled around and I decided to rent my host's car for an excursion southward. One of my original plans (shoutout to Jen) was to drive down to Homer, spend the night, then drive back the next day. Unfortunately, that proved cost-prohibitive, so I went with the next best thing. I drove halfway down that same scenic highway and took a left at Albuquerque... erm, Portage. This took me to the little town of Whittier, where I went through a hilarious little tunnel and had an expensive meal.

I'm being a bit flippant in this post, but I should underscore that all of this has been scenic and a delight to behold. Alaska's terrain is astounding and I wish there was a better way to share in the experience of being surrounded by it, but there's really not - what pictures I could take (unlike traveling by train, you can't take pictures while driving a car) don't touch one tenth the experience. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, but I'd probably take the train.

Whittier was amusing and killed a few hours, but I had to head back. It's now time to quote a Facebook status I made:

My AirBnB host had a car I could rent - I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Turns out it was a Mercedes Benz - indeed, one of the sportier ones! So, it was a bit of a self-perception clash as I would drive up to a scenic spot, hop out in ripped jorts, tee, & Castro hat, and take a photo of something. 
At the end of the day, under the influence of television advertisements, I went to Taco Bell. No one cared, obviously, but it just added to this dismorphia I felt. Then it came time to refuel the car. 
With a day of "this car and I don't fit in the same picture frame" in my brain, I filled the tank under the watchful eye of a stereotype of an aging car mechanic. I then went to the next-door liquor store and bought myself two forties of PBR. As I walked back to my car, a forty in each hand, the mechanic gave voice to what had been in my head the whole day: "what the fuck are you doing driving *that* car and buying PBR?" 
I shrugged my shoulders and said "cheap rental." 
The next morning, it was time to leave the AirBnB. I humped* about a mile or so to a bus stop. When I arrived, the bench was wet with dew, so I decided to just stand there - interspersing some pacing as appropriate - while I waited the twenty or so minutes for the bus. So it's me, a big fat guy, with my Castro hat and gigantic bag looming over a bench and a trash can. 
As traffic went by, this little weathered woman in a stain-covered pink sweatshirt and olive capris shuffled down the hill toward me. As this was the only drama to be had, I watched as she ached her way along, stopping to pick a few things up as she went. By the time she reached me, she had an armful of debris - from bottles to strands of twine - which she deposited in the trash can. I said "good morning" and she just nodded and sat on the wet bus-stop bench. 
She clawed around in her pockets for a minute before coming up with a pack of cigarettes. She opened the new pack and, to my absolute surprise, just threw the wrapper on the ground! She'd just went through this process of picking up even the smallest morsels of trash and, somehow, didn't feel like this plastic wrapper counted. 
If the story stopped there, it'd be amusing enough. But no - the woman smoked her cigarette frantically as I waited for the bus (I thought she was worried the bus would arrive before she was done). When she was done, she put it out, picked up two other butts that were on the ground, then put the three butts in the trash, wrapper still on the ground. She looked at me, said what sounded like "izza veezza", then continued her trudge down the hill - she wasn't even waiting for the bus! 
I actually said "what the fuck" about a minute after she left. 
*I remember reading somewhere that this is military jargon for marching with pack (or something like that). Today had a very military feel to it, so I "humped" as opposed to walked, hiked, trudged, or any of my other favorites.
After the bus trip, I went to a cafe that had been recommended to me - the Writer's Block (which, amusingly, I'm writing this entry at the Writer's Blok in Los Angeles). I got some things jotted down (other blog entries, I think), then went to my hostel in downtown Anchorage.

Downtown was much more my speed - I was absolutely stranded at the AirBnB without a car. For the next few days I could walk and do as I pleased. The first night was getting a lay of the land (having a drink at a few different bars and walking to a park to try and see the Aurora Borealis). The next day was sightseeing in general, including a tour, City Hall, and that sort of thing. I played trivia at a local bar, made a new friend, and proceeded to get a little too drunk with the new friend.

The next day I spent entirely in the room in the hostel. It was half sleeping off my hangover and half just taking a day to fast, rest, and reset. I emerged from my cocoon on Friday, rested and ready to, well, continue feeling like I was just treading water.

I ended up walking from the hostel over to Snow City for breakfast, down to Title Wave for coffee, over to the public library to write a poem, and then backtrack a bit to Writer's Block to push the pen around some more. A bus ride later and I was at the airport, waiting to catch a midnight flight to Los Angeles.

Anchorage (and surrounds) were pretty great, but I lacked a few things: two full days of sleeping / being in my pajamas, a car, and a few more dollars. If I were to do a similar vacation again, I'd start in Anchorage, take the train to Whittier, get on a ferry to, say, Skagway, take a floatplane to Juneau, then a ferry again to Seattle (Bellingham). Or something like that. Homer should probably be in the mix, as should, say, a train trip up to, say Denali park. Maybe I'll go back someday.

Alright, up next will be a general Phase I wrap-up as I ponder how Los Angeles fits into my travel scheme.

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