Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My First Year in Alaska

The day after I arrived in Anchorage I started hunting for a room and a job, mainly a room. June is one of the few months when sunny days should not be surprising, but it was raining the day I arrived, and I don’t remember being exposed to sunlight for some while after. There was one cloudy day after another in June of 1967. I did not feel like camping any longer, didn’t like the idea of crawling out of a soggy tent each morning, and I wanted to be able to clean up and hunt for a job.

I settled in the Mid-town area though the reason escapes me; perhaps it was because the Moose Lodge happened to be located there on Arctic Blvd. I was a member of the Kokomo lodge, knew fellow Moose would have ideas as to employment and housing, so I frequented the lodge several times over the succeeding months.

The local newspaper provided a couple leads on housing. The first was at the Fireweed Hotel off Arctic. It lay between Fireweed Street and Northernlights Boulevard and seemed more of a rooming house than hotel. The tenants were really young. I was only twenty-seven, but felt like the old man of the place. The room must have been a closet in its former life. The door jammed against the bed upon opening; there were no windows, and one’s legs brushed the bed and wall while edging around its perimeters. The place was a prescription for claustrophobia.

My First home in Alaska
1037 W 26th Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska
The second offering, only a couple blocks away, on 26th Avenue, was near perfect in comparison. My new abode was in the basement of a three story stucco house. The main floor housed the owner/landlady and her teenage daughter. The top floor and basement had been converted to room rentals. I had a spacious room adjoining a small living room that lead into the kitchen. The house sat a block east of Spenard road, close to a grocery, several restaurants, and a couple bars - everything a single guy needed. I was in the “Heart of Spenard”.
Bill Peasal and Bill Smith
Two fellows occupied a room off the kitchen. They were both named Bill and both came from South Dakota, though the similarity ended there. Bill Smith was tall and slim like a bean pole. He stood six foot six, and weighed no more than a hundred-fifty pounds, wore plad cowboy shirts, slim fitting jeans and cowboy boots. Smith was confident, sure of himself, and spoke of things in a knowing manner. Bill Peasal reached a medium height and weight, but was a quiet, mild-mannered fellow, almost bashful. Both were married with wives back in South Dakota. Smith worked at an auto parts store; Peasal labored for a construction company. Both had been in the state for less than a year.
Bill Smith
Anchorage numbered about fifty thousand, and the military bases counted for that many again. Much about the town was frontier, many side streets were gravel, sidewalks were rare, and more than one parking lot lacked pavement. There wasn’t much happening in town that year, the economy was kind of slow, and not many good jobs were available. I took one as a custodian with the school district within the week, figuring something better might come along, but continued to work through the winter. Crews were involved in giving each school a thorough cleaning. During the summer I moved from one location to another as the season progressed and was assigned a position at the new Dimond High School that fall.
Landlady Louise Machievski
I was a bit short of money through the summer. Mom and Dad sent me a check for a couple hundred. I had to open a checking account and wait several weeks before the money was available so I didn't adventure out of town other than a one day trip to Portage Glacier in July. Mainly I stayed in town working and passing time reading books, many about Alaska and the North.
Bill Peasal
Several things happened in August. Bill Peasal and another fellow were taking building materials to Valdez, Alaska when the truck’s breaks went out going down Thompson Pass into Valdez. The driver could not navigate the final curve at the bottom and they crashed. Both survived, but only by luck. It so happened the only doctor in town was being visited by his three sons, who also happened to be doctors. The four worked on the two injured men for several hours. That coincident saved their life, but Bill was in the hospital for a month. The other thing that happened in August was I met Wes Warner.
GO TO: Meeting Wes Warner

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