We arrived in Anchorage, Alaska after a two-week trek from Detroit. It was September, 1971. I had finished college that June with a B.A. in Sociology and returned home to Detroit to find a “real job.” The first thing I did was get my old summer job back as an outdoor swim club manager. I applied for lots of social worker type things; but, truth be told, I had no real idea what I wanted to do for work.
One hot August afternoon my best buddy looked at me and said “Let’s go to Alaska. We can find work there.” I had about $700.00 and he had $500.00 and I had a paid for VW bus. A few days later we crossed the border into Canada and there was no turning back. We started picking up Alaska radio stations as we neared the border north of Whitehorse, YT. I was struck by the number of gun ads on the radio. For hunting. We sure weren’t used to that.
We made our way down to Anchorage and found a campground on the edge of town that became home. First order of business was to find a job and then an apartment or house or something. Life in the VDub had become routine and whenever we stayed anywhere more than one night the tent went up so we were pretty comfortable (at least by 21 year-old standards.) Anchorage seemed like Houston without the tall buildings. Texas trucks and cowboy hats everywhere. Country western bars jammed at night that closed at 5:00 am and re-opened at 7:00 am (there were thirteen by my count). Girls. THE pipeline was under construction and there was wealth to be made. Or so everybody said.
But we needed jobs here and now. Heard they were hiring four guys for the overnight shift at a local grocery store. We used to be stock clerks back home. This was our job for sure. We arrived at the appointed time for interviews and got in line with 200+ other guys. Two hundred. The manager actually spoke to everyone personally in that line. Took a couple of hours. He heard our story and how money was running out and he told us he’d hire us in a minute but there were guys in the line who had families to feed, and he felt he had to hire them first. Made sense then and makes sense now. Maybe finding a job in Anchorage was going to be tougher than we thought.One afternoon President Nixon came to town to meet Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. No job hunting that day as downtown was all cordoned off for a motorcade. I disliked (well, hated) Nixon a lot. Late that day his motorcade came along the highway near the campground and we went out to watch. When Nixon looked our way through his bubble-top limo I gave him the single finger salute. He didn’t wave back.
For the next several days we just walked into every business in downtown Anchorage and asked at the desk if they had any jobs. The campground was losing its charm. We walked into the lobby of the Anchorage Daily Times and were directed upstairs to the mailroom to see George. He was pleasant and quickly told us “no work.” As we turned to leave he said “where did you boys say you were from again? Detroit? Sit down a minute. I left there thirteen years ago.”We reported for work at 5:00 am the next morning. He gave us both 20-hours per week jobs pulling papers off the line (pressroom) and stuffing mailbags. Whoever knew that Detroit would get me started? We were in a drafty duplex within the week. A job, a place to live, and hope. So easy then. So hard for so many now.