“We’d love to have you,” said the email. “Come in through the side entrance of the school at 7pm, we’ll be there. And yes, we have loaner ukuleles.” I bundled up, as one does. I put on my big boots and my giant parka and I stuffed my little camera into an interior pocket. I pulled my hat on and flipped up my hood and trudged up a few blocks from my hotel, away from the short stretch of Dawson City where there was any activity. It was snowing and silent and everything was yellow under the street lights.
On the school steps, I kicked the snow off my boots, and went inside. I found Mr. Taylor (on p19 of this PDF) — Tim — the school’s French and Music teacher at the computer. “Hi! You must be Pam! I’m so glad you could join us.”
What are the odds that I should find a meeting of the Dawson City Adult Ukulele Club on one of the two nights I’d be in this tiny city of the far north? Tim teaches 35 kids to play the uke in this town of approximately 1300. Percentage wise, that’s a lot of ukulele. His adult group is smaller, the night I was there it was six people total — the mother of one of his students, a recent transplant, his guest from Vancouver, Joey O’Neil, who runs the adult group, Tim, and… me. “Help yourself,” said Tim, and I plucked an orangey red ukulele out of a cubby on the wall. “Here’s my tuner… it’s going to need it.”
We played Octopus’s Garden and Brown Eyed Girl and Joey taught us her strums and projected the chords on the overhead. And I was happy and I said so, out loud, to this room full of ukulele playing strangers. “Oh! I’m so happy to hear this sweet sound! I miss my four stringed friend so much!
You and me, we’ve seen everything to see, from Bangkok to Calgary…
Then the guys asked Joey to play something, and she did a beautiful version of The Smith’s This Charming Man. They asked me to play something, and I played the song that always sticks in my head, Death Cab’s I’ll Follow You Into the Dark. The guys wouldn’t play, but I walked with them away from Dawson City’s tiny ukulele gathering back into town and we talked about writing, and the magic of Dawson in winter. We parted ways but we had traded email addresses and I have since checked in with the writer from Vancouver, who wrote back and promised to look me up when he gets to Seattle next.
There were two guys outside the bar, one with an enormous white beard, the other in a padded mechanic’s jumpsuit. “Would you like some marijuana?” said the one in the jumpsuit, and he held out a stub of a joint. “It’s VERY good!”
I am a very sober traveler, I like to keep my wits about me, but I’m not going to lie, I was tempted. I thought it over, then passed. “I’m good, thanks, I’m going to have a drink instead. But really, thanks for the offer.” “No problem! And welcome to The Pit!”
The bar was dark and covered in twinkly lights. The bartender was a round faced woman with a short Mohawk, an absolute fireplug of a human but with a kind face and that friendly bartender manner. There was another guy behind the bar, too, with a bouncer’s stance, but calm, his brown Yukon beard down almost to where his arms crossed over his plaid wrapped chest. She pulled drinks and greeted the guests, he kept an eye on the crowd. There was music on the PA, just loud enough so you had to lean into talk to the person next to you, but not so loud you couldn’t hear. I held up my camera and took pictures of the room and the kid tucked in the corner behind the pool table came over to ask if he could see what I’d got.
He was attending the School of Visual Arts in Dawson. “Really…?” I asked. “I’m an art school survivor!” He laughed. “What kind of work do you do?” I asked him and he took out his phone and flipped through the pictures he’d taken of his drawings and his photo collages. He seemed too young to to be in the bar, but he was kind and had perfect manners and I enjoyed his company. “Tomorrow night at the school…” he started, and I was genuinely sad to have to interrupt. “We’re leaving tomorrow,” I said, and I was disappointed.
“Will you send me copies of those pictures?” he asked. “They won’t be much good,” I promised, “hand held, low light, but sure… ” He’s since contacted me — I sent him the photos and asked him, if he felt like it, to send me a picture of his work sometime. “I did drawing too, and I loved art school. I hope it’s good to you.”
I am not the kind of person suited for outpost living. I get homesick for Thai food and unfamiliar faces and the sort of excitement that living in a place that changes, often, brings. But I love to visit far away places because there’s a sense of welcoming about them. If your heart is open, you can get the idea in a very short time that you are not a stranger.
That night, two different groups of people asked me for directions. I laughed. “I’m not from here,” I said.