Fairbanks, Barbee, and Bob
Free. If I had to use one word to describe Alaska that’s the one I’d pick. People come here to be free. To do whatever they want be it good or bad. I’m at the coffee shop because I’m utterly exhausted from the drive. When I got to Alaska I had a long text from Eduard, the father of a high school friend from home. The gist was “I have a place for you to stay in Fairbanks.” Wow, that’s awesome. A place to take a shower. It’s been like 8 days. I’m not too embarrassed to admit I smell of eggs and b.o. Eggs because of Liard Hot Springs, and b.o just because. I call Barbee from the coffee shop. Barbee is Eduards girlfriend, and who I’ll be staying with. She’s out having a drink with some friends and asks if I’d like to join.
“Sure, why not.” She hands the phone to a man who will give me directions in a rough local voice. “Where you at? Near sportsman mall. There is a road behind it. It’s the only road. Go left to the light then go right. Once you cross the river. You know what a river is don’t you? Take a left and then another and you’re here.” I ask him for an address and he repeats the instructions. I roll with it and decide I can find it, even though I’m thinking it’s going to be impossible.
The instructions aren’t really that bad. I end up at a 2 story building, with 2 white windowless doors, and an open sign. The building has no other markings to let you know what it is. “Please be right.” I cross my fingers and walk in. It’s a bar with maybe 12 people in it. This is the kind of bar that doesn’t know a stranger, but that’s because strangers don’t come here. Everyone looks at me.
“Do you know Ed?” I ask the first lady I see. “Huh? No” she says. This just got real awkward. Change that, it was awkward when I stepped into the room. Here I am in a bar full of locals looking for someone I don’t know. “Do you know Ed?” I ask another lady. “No.” she says shaking her head. This must be the wrong place. Ugh. Then the bar tender asks me if she can help me. Did I say I feel insanely awkward right now?
“Sorry, I’m from North Carolina, looking for someone who knows Eduard from North Carolina.” How do you respond to that? “Well, I know someone from Florida” she says pointing to the only other lady in the bar. I hadn’t asked her if she knew Ed. Turns out she did. Dang! I’m relieved. She’s with some friends, and she introduces me to them. They are true Alaskans. Pause for a second.
*IMPORTANT!!!! The next paragraphs may be offensive or obscene to some.*
I’m the kind of guy who says “Dang!” more than “Damn”, “Poop” more than “Shit”, and I usually reserve hard words for very special occasions. Though special is not the best word to describe those moments. What I’m saying is that if you put me in a room full of sailors it’s going to be awkward. If you put me in a room full of Alaskans it’s worse. Especially, when the topic turns to matters of sex, whores, fighting, and titties. Did that make your blood chill? If so, join the club.
“Dwayne meet Bob.” Bob looks like a bad ass Santa Clause. He may kill me for that comment. No seriously. He eyes me up and down. I’ve never been sized up before. “He’ll do ok. You shoot a gun?” He asks. I nod with a smile. I’m smiling too much. “Yeah, he’ll do ok. I can use you. We need to shoot someone out of a tree.” I’m smiling too much. Why am I smiling? Is he serious? “Call, bull shit!” says Harry who walks up and puts his arm around Bob. “Bobs full of it.” They laugh, I smile an awkward smile.
“I can see it’s been years since you’ve been laid. How do you feel about naked women?” He says. I stand there not knowing how to respond. I smile again. How do I answer? Why am I smiling! “Well, that depends, I guess?” I say to dodge the question, but trying to let him know where I stand without showing myself as too much of a romantic. The thought of “getting laid” makes me want to throw up a little. Now would be another good time for a subject change.
I like Bob. He’s really quite funny, and has had one crazy life. I don’t mind the insults either. I’m viewing them as a test and every good part of the conversation is bought by at least one. It’s just Bob. I think he enjoys making me feel uncomfortable.
“What do you do?”
“I build websites.”
“Can you build me one for my titty bar?”
“Well…” I think he knows I mean I won’t do that.
“Well, what are you good for?!? It’s a business isn’t it!”
“Call bullshit” like Harry says, but I just smile and hope for yet another subject change which doesn’t take long. By the end of the night I’ve learned a lot about Bob, and got a glimpse into some of his life. How he partied with Stevie Ray Vaughn, suffered through a real suluape tattoo, he’s quite the business man, and when he was younger worked for a circus as well as on ice roads built with the rivers freeze. He’s been here for a long time and has seen the town change and you can tell he’s a good friend to Barbee.
When it’s time to leave. Bob says “Nice to meet you.” No insults, just “Nice to meet you.” I shake his hand and start to leave. “Now, you go lather up those……..” Ahhh, there it is. I smile, I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole night actually. My cheeks were killing me. “Nice to meet you Bob.”
I can’t leave Fairbanks without telling you how wonderful my time here has been. And how thankful I am to have had a place to stay. Thanks so much Barbee for the hospitality, shower, and conversation.