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A Beer Run With The Natives

(As told to me by a gentleman in Hood River, Oregon on June 19, 2024. I didn’t ask for a date, but these events would have been late 60’s early 70’s.)

We had just gotten out of college, University. Just kids. My buddy calls me up from Hydaburg, Alaska. “Hey Julio! We need a city resource planner, get on up here!” What did we know? We were just kids straight out of college, but OK, now I’m in this tiny town in Alaska, 400 people. Four white people and the rest natives. (laughs) They used to flip me the bird as I walked through town, heh. So I get there and the place is clearly growing and what do we need to do?

I go to the elders to see what they want done. A 102 yr old man, what do we need to protect? He looks over the map, where they fish, collect shellfish. Lots of people roaming the woods looking to extract resources, gotta get on top of things before they get carted away and the landscape ruined. This is a place where as long as your eyes work and you can stand there’s never a reason to go hungry. Anything you can imagine lying out to be collected off the beach. Salmon jumping in the river that rolls through town. What a beautiful place. You walk out on to your veranda in the morning and walk to work with the whales spouting. So we work over the map and lay out the spaces we’re going to protect.

At work one day J. comes in asks, “Hey, want to go on a beer run to … the next small town up the coast. Will we be back by Midnight? Oh, sure. ( foreshadowing ) So we get in the boat and off we go. These aren’t big boats, just a skiff with an outboard motor. On the way up, when the tide is low the channel is narrow and you have to go around this big rock. You’ll know why in a bit. We get to the town and J. rounds up his buddies and they’re getting drunk. I’m staying sober so I can watch out for his ass and MY ass. It’s getting late. They’re drunk and getting in fights with each other.

It’s late, I go to check and sure enough we don’t have any gas in the boat. So I take the gas can and it’s near midnight and I’m pounding on the door of the guy who runs the little gas station. He comes out and gives me some gas. So we pile into the boats. J. goes in the boat with his stepfather. The guy he beat up because his mom told him to. Yeah, I dunno. Off we go. There’s no moon out, you can see the stars reflected in the glassy water but it’s so dark all we can do is follow J. by his wake because we can’t see anything else in the dark.

We’re under way and they’re all drunk and happy. They start doing figure-eights in the dark and firing off the guys and shouting woooo! So, you know what happens next, right? Sure enough we collide in the dark and nearly dump the boats and his poor old ma is in the back of mine dead drunk. She wakes up enough to want a smoke, but now the gas is spilled all over the boat. She pulls out that lighter and I have to quick lunge, grab it out of her hand and throw it in the ocean before we become a fireball. Catastrophes averted. One dunk in water this cold, at night and drunk and you’re dead. His ma wouldn’t have surived.

After that the boys sober up a bit and we get going again. Closer to Hydaburg there’s a shot and a shout from a houseboat squatting on the channel. “Hey J, is that you?” So we tie up to the houseboat, reunion time. They’re drinking some more beer, I’m still sober. Incredible northern lights that night, opening up like giant sunflowers in the sky. About 2am we get going again.

Now I told you about the rock north of town, right? We know it’s coming up and it’s pitch black so I’m in the very front of the boat watching out for this thing when we hit it, blam! We got lucky, we hit the rock where it sloped, not where it was perpendicular, like a wall. We’re going so fast we catch air – POW! I’m out of my seat, boat flying, propeller whirling in the air and down we come BANG! on the rock. So now we’ve got this boat that was brand new that J. borrowed from his stepfather, the one he’d beat up. Except now its got a hole in it. All that fancy chrome trim dangling in the wind, right?

We get it back in the water and off we go, only this time I’m stuck having to bail constantly because of the hole in the bottom, but we can see the city lights in the distance. If I was Catholic, I’d been doing that cross thing. We get into town, I hop out of that boat and just kiss the ground.

“And he lived to tell the tale.”

“Yeah, and that’s just one of them.”

Julio first tells me that I need to write a book about my experiences. I tell him I’m working on it. He then tells me he’s working on his too and recounts the above. A little backstory, his father is from Argentina, met his mother in NYC on the street. She couldn’t get into her apartment, so he kicked the door in for her. The rest is history. He tells me he can track his father’s side of the family back to the 12th century. Including a great-great-great who rode with Bolivar on the liberation of Bolivia. Then further back to when the family moved south over the Pyrennes and changed their name to be Spanish.

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