Peter sat on his barstool, gazing toward the back wall of the Salty Dog. There was a thought on the tip of his tongue, but he needed one more sip of beer to push the words out. The pause gave me a chance to look around. The Salty Dog, or “The Dog” as everyone called it, is one of those bars that people travel hours to visit. It’s a local institution and one of the few establishments out on The Homer Spit that stays open all year. It’s the perfect dive bar. Quiet, dark, and boasting an incredible jukebox selection. They may not have the drink you want at The Dog, but they’ll have the one you need.
The inside of The Dog is covered floor to ceiling with signed dollar bills — tourists who road tripped up from Arkansas, St. Louis Rams lineman, visiting nurses and flight attendants, and locals. They’ve all left their mark; almost everyone does. Everyone except Peter, who’d finished sipping his beer and broke his stare to concentrate on setting his bottle down on the thick epoxy-resin bar top. He looked up at me and began in a thick Louisiana drawl:
“Well, I feel like Alaska is my home. I’m connected to this place.”
This sort of, but not really, answered my question of “How do you feel when you go back home?” Peter, like so many people in rural Alaska, splits time between this salty little fishing town and somewhere else. In his case, that somewhere is New Orleans. To get the answer we both knew I was looking for, I played along and reworded the question, “All right, but how do you feel when you get back to Louisiana?”
This time no sip of beer was needed.”I get culture shock going back south.” Peter seemed to surprised himself with that answer. “There’s a lot of stop lights and people…unnecessary shit. Hell, every corner has a car wash…you don’t need 12 car washes.”
Truer words have seldom been spoken.
Walking back to our campsite in as straight of a line as my dive-bar-fuzzed brain would allow, it was hard not to agree with that wise old man sitting at The Dog. He wasn’t just right about his car wash theory, he was right about Alaska.
“I’m not always ready to come up to this place,” he said. “But driving into town I’m always infinitely grateful that I do.”
My girlfriend Jenelle and I had only been in town a few weeks but we also felt “connected to this place.” Though the trip didn’t start that way.