We were told to expect very little from Fairbanks. A friend of mine hated it so much he demanded he be transfered to Anchorage after less than a year. We only spent a month there, so I don't want to speak too soon, but I'll also not speak ill of Alaska's second city. Much of what we did has been documented earlier on the blog: watched girls play football, traveled to the northern-most place in America, contemplated pre-American, Russian-Alaskan trade. Here are some other things we loved:
The Big I: This is a dive bar near the Chena River where most of the padded bar stools have their stuffing hanging out of the pleather. If you can manage to balance yourself on one of the seats, more likely than not you will find yourself in good conversation with good people.
Carr's Men's Clothing Store: It's been open since the 1920s, but won't be much longer. The owner, Dan Blood, will talk your ear off if you have the time, and I was happy I didn't have anywhere to go the two times I visited his store. He admits he's a bit of an artifact, a merchant who tries to convince men to spend a lot of money on one suit or one pair of Filson pants that they can wear for the rest of their lives. Men don't want that kind of clothing. What's more, clothing companies don't want to make that kind of product, finding the profit margins are better with cheaper products sold for cheaper prices. You could forgive a guy whose business depends on selling a product no longer being made to people who no longer want it for being a little grouchy. But Dan took it with a weary smile, and sold me some great pants.
Aurora Borealis Lodge: By our last week in Fairbanks, we'd only seen the northern lights once, and that was a thin curtain of green in the late evening sky. Tara had some nights off, so we made reservations to drive up to the Aurora Borealis Lodge 30 miles outside of town. It's open from 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., during which time people sit in a candle-lit room and watch the sky through large picture windows. The owners, Mok and Akiko, create a complete sense of relaxation in the lodge, playing Louis Armstrong jazz softly and brewing up fresh coffee and hot chocolate for guests. Your mind can wonder pretty far staring out onto a dark Alaska night as a Mr. Coffee snores out a fresh pot of Folgers. Then, before you know it, what was just a moment ago black is faintly white. In your half-sleep you might think it's a cloud lit by the last vestiges of the sun. But then you recall the time, and then you notice the sky turning from white to green. There was a meteor shower on when we were up there, so several times a white celestial ember fell into to the celestial smoke.
Not bad for a bad city.