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Dive Bar

Nothing says "Olympics" like a bar in Alaska.

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Watching the recent winter Olympics has reminded me of one of the weirdest days of my life.

I used to work on fishing boats up in Alaska, and one of our annual highlights was stopping off in Ketchikan on our way back to Seattle. Not that there's much to do in Ketchikan, but after four months on a boat with three other guys with your only connection to civilization being a tin-and-plywood cannery, you get excited about any place with paved streets -- and bars.

On this particular August day we rolled in for our annual homebound bender under the usual foggy, rainy skies. We started in the Sourdough, a legendary stop on the Alaska drinking circuit. The first time I went in there, half the place was drunk at 10 a.m.

I sat down at the bar and told an old-timer sitting next to me, "Well, I better get started. I only get drunk a couple times a year!"

"Me too," he said, "but each time lasts about six months." With a wave of laughter around the bar, we were off.

I struck up a conversation with another guy, just in from packing yellowfin sole off Russia. As I was talking, I noticed he was keeping an eye on the TV screen. And on that screen was Olympic platform diving. At one point, we stopped talking and watched a dive, and as soon as the diver hit the water, this fellow harrumphed, "Well, that won't do him no good. That wasn't but an 86, maybe an 87." I contemplated the odd things Alaskan drunks will think they know something about ... then the diver's score flashed up: 86.79. My companion mumbled, "See ya in four years, pal." Then he took another swig of his beer.

Next up was a Chinese diver, and while he was standing on the edge of the platform, my compatriot informed me that "this guy, last time, totally nailed a triple-lutz tuck" or somesuch, and after the Chinese diver had thrown himself through 11 different positions in a tumble to the pool, my guy said, "Well, that was good, but not like last time. Probably an 89." The score flashed: 88.64.

Now this guy had my attention. I asked him what was what, and he casually said, "Oh, I used to do some diving back in school. You learn to see what the judges are looking for." He pointed down the bar and said, "Him too." Another large, unshaven man in Carharts waved a Budweiser at me, then all eyes went back to the TV for another dive.

When this one was over, there was a collective grunt from the Alaskan judges, and beers were lifted to lips without comment. I asked how that dive went -- all I can ever judge is the splash -- and my new friend said, "Well, he didn't do a thing right. He tucked too soon, his rotations were all off, and he went way over on the bottom. That was an 82 at the most."

I checked for the score, and it came up 91.65. Several calls of "WHAT?" went around the bar. "A NINETY-TWO?" my new friend screamed. He looked all over the bar, searching for understanding. Patrons were shaking their heads and ordering more beers, presumably to wash away the disbelief. When word spread that the diver was "a Russkie," there was more grumbling.

The madness peaked a few minutes later when an American diver, needing to nail something for a medal, stepped to the edge of the platform, and all around the Sourdough there were shouts of "Okay, now!" and "All right, Bobby, nail this one!" And then silence -- followed by disaster.

No, he didn't hit his head on the platform. I don't remember what he did, actually, but it was so bad the announcer let out an "Oh, dear," and the Sourdough started emptying slowly, like a football stadium when the home team has clearly lost.

My crew was leaving too, heading for the Pioneer Bar, where I hoped they'd have something else on TV.

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