4 of a 5 part series. Read part 5 here.
I can say in complete confidence that the people that I met in Alaska, as a whole, were the kindest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. If you need a reference point, I’ve traveled to over 18 countries, 40 cities and at least 20 states. These people are nice.
When my car broke down and a mechanic fixed it for free, I actually asked him why everyone was so friendly. “When it’s winter out here, it could be a life or death situation.” The mechanic answered. “You don’t want any enemies out here. You can’t afford to.”
My first week, I spent a lot time circling the town in the car. I went to every landmark and museum I could find, just absorbing the history. I walked through the parks and through the local shops, trying to get a feel for “being Alaskan”. I struck up conversations with gas station attendants and cashiers at the grocery store about surviving the winter and Native American culture. I also ate a lot of salmon.
I mostly just people watched. Everyone’s cars had plugs hanging out of the front of their cars (so that they could warm up their car in the winter). People dressed simply (“We don’t keep up with fashion here. It’s better to dress more practically”).
When I was in Alaska, I there were a couple of times when I felt like I’d gone back in time à la Marty McFly. I was astounded to find that they had a thriving Blockbuster (I actually saw two!).
In the mall, they were advertising TiVo, which was meant to make the television watching process easier. (Note: For those of you who don’t know, TiVo is a DVR. I remember TiVo being introduced when I was in elementary school. My friend Salena’s family used to have one and I thought it was the coolest thing and always wanted one. I was stunned to see an Alaskan tech store advertising one as if it were a newfangled thing).
In Fairbanks, there are two main nightclubs: Kodiak Jack’s and Bojangles. They couldn’t be any more different from each other. When I walked into Kodiak Jack’s I was taken aback. It was packed by people wearing cowboy hats and cowboy boots. Guys were twirling girls on the dance floor in an elaborate line dance (it basically looked like this scene from Footloose)
On the other hand, Bojangles was your typical hip-hop club. However, it was easily one of the most packed clubs that I’d ever seen. That includes the bars on the corner during Welcome Week. It seemed as if on a Saturday night, everyone who lived in Fairbanks was at one or the other. The best part about going to these clubs was the fact that in the summer, the sun hardly sets. I would leave out at 4 am and it would still be light outside!
Then, at the end of the first week, I found my mecca. While leaving a museum, I ran across a sign that read “Ballroom Dance Club of Fairbanks”. I immediately felt as if I were back in Virginia. At UVA, I’d been a part of the University Salsa Club since my first week of school. It’s hands down one of my favorite parts of college. What was originally a space for me to relax after class eventually turned into a skill that I could use anywhere. Even in, apparently, Fairbanks, Alaska, which had a population of just 32,000.
I grabbed my dancing shoes and waltzed (get it?) into the hall. There wasn’t a single person my age there, but everyone was happy to see me. They jumped into action. What was I doing in Alaska? Was I going to move here permanently? Did I know how to defend myself from a bear? Did I know where to go in case of a forest fire? Where did I learn Salsa? Did I know how to Swing or Waltz? I didn’t know how to do anything other than Latin dances, but I quickly learned.
The Ballroom club quickly sucked me into their circle. I bumped into them at grocery stores (the main one is called Fred Meyer, which is actually a spin-off of Harris Teeter, Kroger and Ralph’s), they invited me to coffee and social dancing. (Note: social dancing is when you go to a club or bar and you practice your dancing skills in a “social” situation.). I quickly entered the Fairbanks social scene.
4 of a 5 part series.
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