Alaska to Venezuela – Running Into Art – 1940

It is the end of July, 1940, and Dan and Ced have been in Alaska for almost 2 months. Fortunately, they found jobs immediately, but have now found jobs that are much closer to what they had wanted. Ced is working at the Woodley airfield and Dan is working at the military air base.

The following letter is from Dan to his older brother Lad, still in Venezuela. It’s longer than my usual posts, but Dan is such a colorful writer that I decided it wouldn’t be fair to make you wait for the “rest of the story”.

Anchorage

July 28

Hermanito Mio,

Here I be where you might have been, well there you are where I might of been, and opposite sides of the continent, at that! I suppose you never appreciate the present…. Even the future or the past seems more important. At least, that is how it seems to me. Here I am in Alaska, sort of wishing I were home or in South America. When I was home I was wishing to be either in Alaska or South America. When I was in Venezuela I was wishing I were home or in Alaska! And apparently I am not getting over it! I often think of Venezuela with nostalgic yearning. The few times we spent together crop up in my memory now and then…. The first time in Carora, when Carl Nelson was on his way out…. That time you came out to Totuche with news of Ted’s accident…. And later, when you picked me up on the way to Carora, with a bar of chocolate and ”Bush”, and the meal of cheese and crackers in a café…. and the pounding on the door of the hotel Commercio to wake up the mozo who slept just inside the door…. Alas! You appreciate such things only in perspective.

The present soon becomes the past, so it seems most important to make the most of it. The only news you have heard of our present (Ced’s and mine) has come to you, indirectly, through Dad. Naturally the reports have been colored by his point of view.

Here is mine!

We drove, neither loitering nor hurrying, to Seattle in what was not a very interesting trip to make. Uncle Sam’s USA seems rather drab after the exotic atmosphere of Latin America. We saw the plains and the Badlands and the mountains, but for the most part they were very much what I had expected them to be. Further, living in a car is not a very restful experience, so I was glad to get to Seattle and find a few days on my hands in which I could relax. There is a nightclub on Second Avenue called “MUSIC”. It is a beer and dance joint with no cover, no minimum, an orchestra, two floor shows nightly, and the large percentage of sailors on shore leave.

I was sitting at a table, brazenly sipping a glass of beer and watching the dance. One of the sailors who drift past looked just like Art Mantle! I had heard, just before leaving home, that Art was in Honolulu. Further, I knew that most of his time in the states was spent in San Diego. So I figured it must be a coincidence that a sailor looking like Art, was in Seattle. The dance ended, and that sailor walked over to his table, nodding of greeting to one of his buddies sitting near me. I leaned over, saying, “Pardon me, but what is the name of the fellow who just waved to you?” “Claude Mantle”, was the startling reply. “God!” I muttered, “I know him well!” Then, rising, I picked up my glass of beer and walked over to Art’s table. There were two girls there, one of them just staring off into space, the other, the one Art had been dancing with, was listening to something Art was confiding to her.

Art Mantle, Biss and Lad Guion

Art Mantle, Biss and Lad Guion

“I guess you know me, Art!”  I said mysteriously.

“No I don’t”, he replied truculently.

“Yes you do”, I continued, unabashed.

“The hell I do”, he growled, giving me a hostile stare.

I was a trifle discomfited by this time, thinking I must have changed considerably since I had seen him last. “Ced and I are on our way to Alaska”, I said pleasantly. A look of puzzlement and bewilderment turned to consternation. “Jesus Christ!” He stood up. “I ought to be shot!” He grasped my hand. “Jesus, Dan, I didn’t know you. I ought to be taken out and shot!” He stared at me, worried lest I resent his earlier attitude. He turned to the girl at the table. “Can you imagine that?” He asked her “This is an old pal of mine. He is a good egg. He’s not like you.” She ignored him. He turned to me again. “Christ, Dan, I was just going to take a sock at you!” He laughed a little.

Art was quite put out about the whole thing, admitting that he had been drinking too much beer, and taking time out, now and then, to insult the girl at the table, he asked about everybody, particularly Biss and Zeke, expressing surprise and annoyance to think that they, of all people, had been married. He gave me some lurid stories of the lives the sailors lead, and later we went to the YMCA hotel where Ced and I were staying, to waken Ced out of a sound sleep. We talked until nearly 12:30, then went back to the ”MUSIC”, had another beer and parted.

***********

The boat trip was perfect. There were several young people on the boat who we happened to click with, and we organized what we called “the family”. We visited ports on shore together, Ketchikan, Juneau, Cordova – – and at Valdez the family disintegrated, most of them leaving for other destinations.

Ced and I arrived in Seward on July 2, and came by train to Anchorage. We had a hell of a time finding lodgings, since many of the Alaskans to come into town to celebrate the fourth, and many newly arrived “Cheechakos” had come up from the States (“outside”) to get jobs at the new Army air base under construction. I left Ced guarding the baggage on Main Street while I went from hotel to rooming house, searching in vain for rooms.

At length I approached Dennis rooms, as announced by a sign over the door. I knocked. The door, after a bit, swung open, and a frowzy girl, clad flimsily in a pair of girls overalls, smiled up at me. “Have you any rooms?” I asked. “Rooms? We have no rooms!” She paused, then added, “only girls!” “I beg your pardon”, I apologized. “I’m looking for rooms.”

*************

We searched for Mr. Stohl, and found him soon. Ced asked if he had heard from Rusty that we were coming. “Did Heurlin tell you to come up here?” He questioned rather brusquely. “Yes”, we told him. “Well, I am full at the mine. But you boys won’t have any trouble finding work”. We thanked him, and left.

After trying several places, we learned that the railroad was shorthanded because all its employees had found more lucrative employment at the airbase. The airbase office told us that they were employing only Alaskans. So we decided to wait until after the fourth, then if we still could find no work, we would work for the railroad.

On July 5 both Ced and I found temporary jobs, Ced at a gas station, I at a grocery store. After a week Ced landed a job at the airport as Assistant Mechanic, where he hopes to learn aviation from the ground up, literally! In the meantime, by persistently haunting the office of the Army air base, I was permitted to fill out an application, and, after further high pressuring, I was hired as level man on a survey crew.

I’ll probably stick to this job until the work is done for the summer, because I am being paid well, $1.15 per hour, 52 hour week. It amounts to about $59 weekly, which is more money than I have ever earned. Ced and I are living cheaper than seems possible in a booming town where prices are high. I figured that I shall spend about $15 per week for expenses. Whether I shall go to school this fall at Fairbanks, or work all winter, or return “outside”, I do not know. It depends, of course, on circumstances.

*************

Rusty has not told us when he will come to Alaska. I have written to Jim Shields, asking him to come up and join the boom. He has always wanted to go to Alaska. He and I used to discuss the possibilities by the hour in Totuche and Bobare.

*************

I have been disappointed in many ways in Alaska, mostly because it is not sufficiently different from “outside” to be interesting. I make an exception of the scenery. I suppose that by comparison with South America it seems to commonplace. I wish, and even hope, that I might get down to see you before you leave Venezuela permanently (if you ever do).

Whether you “have time” or not, I insist that you escribame pronto y mucho. Se puede enviar cartas por avion o por correo ordinario. No importa. Y ahora, yo espero,

Dan

Tell me, was it worth the extra 500 words?

Tomorrow, we’ll have another Guest Post from gpcox. I think you’ll gain a new perspective with this one. Send the link to your friends so they can enjoy it too.

Judy Guion