Life at The Asylum in Southeast Alaska

The Asylum is a bar in Ketchikan, Alaska, full of just as many crazy people as you might expect. The Asylum is where I worked over the summer while getting to know Southeast Alaska. My clientele consisted of locals, fishermen, other seasonal workers, and tourists from the cruise ships. Every day, cruise ships line up alongside the main strip of Ketchikan, sometimes carrying as many as 11,000 people.

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The ladies of The Asylum all dressed up as cannery girls for our Summer kick-off party.

Watching the various engagements between people from different walks of life was one of my favorite parts of my days tending the bar. Most bartenders in town were locals, I was an exception, alongside one of my co-workers who runs The Seasonals, a Magazine based on the lifestyle’s of seasonal workers. As he’d even been working at The Asylum for two summers prior to this summer, I was definitely the newbie.

Sometimes people would come to me in that fashion and whatever they’d be inquiring about, I’d be just as clueless. Luckily, I always had my resident experts close-by with a beer in hand and time to chat. Certain fishermen were always down to talk story about the fishing industry, their lifestyle and what’s the best kind of salmon. I always had one or two tour guides around that could talk about the tour they had to offer. Loggers and ex-loggers were around from time to time to talk about the logging industry in the past and what it has evolved into. Anyone who’d lived on the island their whole life or even just a long time could profess a love and at least a few entertaining anecdotes of obscurities or specific wild characters that make that island what it is.

Monday night BBQs at The Asylum. Always getting fresh.

Some of my favorite guys cooking dungeness crab for a Monday night BBQ at The Asylum. Yum!

By the time conversations got back to me, the topics went to my transient lifestyle, travel in general, and how in the world I ended up working at The Asylum in Ketchikan, Alaska, especially from Oklahoma? I still get a kick out of that question every time.

“Where are you from?”
“Well, I was born and raised in Oklahoma.”

It’s such a distinct pronunciation of my home state that I will forever be amused by. Full of disbelief at the thought of a little blonde girl from Oklahoma making it all the way to big bad Alaska, or Hawaii, or South America, or wherever. It’s also exaggerated because people usually ask where you’re from to maybe find common ground, but in my case, after the other person scrambles in their brain for something to say about Oklahoma, the next line is usually, ‘I drove through there once,’ or perhaps, ‘You a Sooner or a Cowboy?’ or, as of late, ‘Go Thunder!’

Either way, I usually get this sense of awe and hope from people when we enter this segment of the conversation. It’s part, ‘you must be something special to leave Oklahoma and travel the world,’ and part, ‘well if you can do it, anyone probably can.’ And no, I’m not offended by the latter.

I don’t say any of this because I hate my home state either, it’s where I’ve lived for 80% of my time on this planet so far. So, it’s got to do with a big part of who I am. It is what it is. And when is anyone going to complain with the sight of a sunset with absolutely nothing obstructing the view? That is some magic no matter where you are.

Back to The Asylum, though. The regulars and my co-workers that I had the fortune to see every single day make up a group of people that I consider to be a weird kind of absolutely amazing family. From the very beginning, I always had people watching my back and giving me sincere advice. Rarely did I carry a keg without someone offering to carry it for me and if I got slammed while I was alone, one of my regulars would hop up to collect empty glasses and do dishes for me, no questions asked.

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These are some of the characters that make up my little Southeast Alaska fam.

Without question, I’m going back to The Asylum next summer. I’ve found another home away from home. All too wonderful is it that it is my travel partner, Ciarra’s, actual hometown.

People sometimes think it’s wild to just walk into a new place and a new job without knowing much of anything about either, but there is good in people everywhere. The willingness to trust in that and to be open to taking a chance on people, a chance on the unfamiliar, seems to typically be enough to experience the warmth that a place has to offer in a way that can’t really be forgotten.

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