Juneau, Alaska: bars, bears & bastards

July 22, 2014 in North America, United States

Red Dog Saloon

If traveling with small children earns a mother a gold star for bravery, then traveling with teens should earn a girl an extra life, like finding the mushroom and chasing it down in Mario Brothers or something; because, seriously, sometimes they almost kill you. Sometimes with laughter, sometimes with mortification, sometimes with, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME???” And sometimes with, “You know what, I really don’t want to know…”

And then there are the days where you win the three out of four trifecta jackpot and they ring all of your bells like a one armed bandit in the casino on the Promenade deck, and like a fool, I keep popping quarters in the machine.

Truth be told, we found Juneau somewhat underwhelming.

I know, I know, a town of 30,000 people, with no roads in or out, what did I expect, right? A capitol building worthy of the 40th state would have been nice. The state museum being open during the height of tourist season, perhaps. Would that have been too much to ask? Apparently. Every shop selling every manner of junk I’m not buying was wide open. The library had free wifi, Hannah appreciated that for a six minute chat with her manlet in Germany; who is surely jonesing for lack of communication about now. There was a coffee shop with a decent cup of spiced chai. Sunshine, terra firma and a battery for the camera were all wins.

For the sake of a round number we’re going to credit our newly minted 12 year old with “teen” status for the duration of this blog post. And with that, can I just say, that striking out in a cruise port town with six teenagers with money in their pockets, without back up, is not for the faint of heart.

My “educational” visit to the state house and the state museum being a complete bust, I felt it my maternal duty to buy them all a soda at a local icon and have that special “family moment” that we all dream of when we travel with our kids. The one I’m becoming increasingly nostalgic and misty eyed about as my oldest is now days from her eighteenth birthday.

This was not that moment.

The Red Dog Saloon is an institution in Juneau. It’s also, by my estimation, a sell out to the cruise circuit, and that’s okay. I get it, this little town has all of an eight week season in which to suck as much cash out of the giant whales disgorging flush vacationers like loose slot machines. It’s the summers that get many of the little businesses through the winters. Fair enough. I still couldn’t quite get beyond the kitsch.

I should also add, for truth in advertising, that I was struggling to choose cheerful. Some in our party might have gone so far as to say I was grumpy. Hannah may, or may not, have mentioned to me quietly that my, “mental tension was leaking.”

Swinging red doors, a deep sawdust floor, free flowing beer, bar maids dressed like gold rush era hookers, and Wyatt Erp’s pistol over the bar. Every surface was covered with predictable, what’s the word… “decor,” isn’t quite it: old license plates, the heads of every possible huntable Alaskan animal, looking plaintively out through black glass eyes, antlers; everywhere. The boys didn’t know where to look first, at the life sized painting of a reclining nude over our booth, or at the stuffed bear climbing the tree trunk pillar in the center of the room after the bloodied, stuffed pants of a supposed victim disappearing into the second story.

“Mom, can I go see Wyatt Erp’s pistol?” Ezra asked, eyes shining. He’s got kind of a thing for Wyatt Erp, having visited Tombstone and seen the bullet holes in the ceiling of the Crystal Palace.

“Sure, it’s over the bar,” I pointed 20 feet away and he hopped up to check it out.

“Oh, I’m sorry, but he can’t go over there alone,” our barmaid apologized, “You know, because, it’s a bar…”

Right. Thanks. Hadn’t noticed.

Ez looked at me with his signature, “What am I missing?” face. I stood to accompany the minor to the vicinity of the hallowed pistol, stifling all of the things I’d like to have said.

“Oh, yeah, I’m sorry,” she said again, “You can’t go over there with him and leave them here, unaccompanied, because, you know, it’s a bar…”

There were no drinks on the table. What, exactly, the great state of Alaska sees as the enormous risk to 14, 16 and 18 year olds left alone at an empty table at 3 o’clock on a Monday afternoon within a twenty foot radius of their mother that’s worth legislating against is a mystery to me.

Six sets of eyes were rolled. One expletive was stifled, mine, not theirs. Whispered under the breath of certain children who shall not be named:

“Welcome to ‘Merica.”
“I thought Alaska was a Republican state.”

I smiled tightly. Ez sat down and peered around the edge of the booth, longingly, at the bar. I mean, the pistol over the bar.

The entertainer was the only genuine article in the Red Dog Saloon. He played the piano in just the right obnoxious way and his songs were just irreverent enough to mask the thinly veiled ridiculousness of certain other aspects of the establishment. He played his crowd well and my overstuffed booth of underage hooligans didn’t escape his attention.

“I guarantee Justin Bieber can’t play any of this $h!t!” he announced, with a sideways glance at his intended audience. The crowd of cruisers cheered. “And if you see him, do me a favor and hang the bastard!” He smugly requested, as he dove into a ballad whose lyrics, truly, are not printable here.

Mama, what’s a bastard? Ezra (predictably) asked.

I rolled my eyes. Two of the older teens sucked hard on their root beer straws, praying, to no avail, that I hadn’t heard the question, or that, perhaps, they might be abducted by aliens before I answered it.

I sighed. “Well, traditionally “bastard” referred to a child who was born to an unwed mother…” I began, “But it’s not a nice word and it’s become a swear word and most people don’t use it in an accurate manner now. It is unnecessary to use it, there are always better words to add to your vocabulary.”

I was half way through the second half of the explanation when giggling and sniggering erupted across the table and I looked up to see the middle age group of teens practically weeping into their root beers (they failed at ordering O’Douls, but that’s another story.)

It was at that moment that I realized that my day just wasn’t salvageable.

Rachel and Sam, my darling god children who were adopted by dear friends when they were tiny elves piped up in a manner fitting to the establishment and loudly announced, “WE’RE BASTARDS!!” Needless to say, my attempt at a vocabulary lesson took an unexpected left turn. Hilarity ensued. The only saving grace of the moment was the absence of their mother.

Laughter and mortification… near death experiences always come in threes.

In this case, it was a near miss for a certain middle son who tested his mother’s tenuous attitude by announcing, with great flare, signature drama and a borderline tantrum that he’d lost his ID card for the ship. The one that is his ticket back on board. Yeah. I’ll spare you the details except to say that we did not, in fact, leave him in Juneau for the winter to teach him a lesson.