Sitting on top of a picnic table in the beer garden of the Music Festival, she was listening to this band she heard people calling some collection of numbers she couldn’t quite recall. 905? 906? Why do they call themselves that? She wondered to herself. She was afraid to ask anyone, however, for fear of feeling foolish in front of these people who she was going to be spending her summer with.
She continued to sit quietly and listen as the lead singer sang, “It’s good to be here.” The air smells like funnel cakes, grilled salmon and farm animals, she thought, skeptically eying the llamas and cows in the pasture next to her. The lead singer looks familiar, she thought, Maybe he’s from Homer? He sure looked like he would be from Homer. Long hair, bright orange patch-work pants and this pebble mine with an X through it sticker on his guitar case. What is pebble mine? She thought. Another question she’d save for later. A lady at the visitor’s center in Anchorage had told her to go to Homer, as it was the most beautiful place she had ever seen. So, she booked a flight on a very small sketchy eight-passenger plane and headed to Homer last weekend before making her way up the peninsula to Kenai.
Barefoot kids were dancing as the lead singer stomped his foot in time with the drummer. They look like they are having so much fun, she thought, secretly wishing for the courage to join them.
In the beer garden she was nursing her coffee, holding it tightly in her hands and clinging to its warmth, she was determined to capture every last ounce of warmth it would offer her. She was wearing the yellow fingerless gloves that Daniel had given her earlier that month in Indiana before she left for Alaska. She started twisting her hair curly brunette hair, a nervous habit she had carried around with her since she was a kid. She tried to push the memories of Daniel to the back of her brain. I should probably ditch these gloves. Maybe I could give them to the singer in the orange pants. Maybe I’d make a friend. Do I really want to make a friend though? Do I have the energy for conversation? I might with more coffee. She thought, looking over to the stage at the attentive listeners in the front row Wait, is that man wearing a blue tarp as a raincoat?
“Did I see you at the The Coffee Shop?” a deep voice interrupted her wandering, inquisitive thoughts, snapping her back to the present moment.
“Yea… I k-k-k-kind of just got a job there,” she stuttered, another nervous habit she carried around with her since childhood. “I’m learning to make c-c-c-offee. GOOD coffee.”
VERY unlike what I’m drinking now, she thought sipping her weak, burnt tasting Americano.
“How long have you been at the festival?” Again, the man’s voice brought her back to the present moment. “You look cold. Like quite possibly this is your first Alaska festival and you didn’t come prepared with the appropriate layers?”
“I’ve been here all day,” she replied, shivering. “It’s also been raining all day and I only brought this hoodie.” And my feet are wet, pulling her legs up to her chest, eying her soaked yellow chucks. She really just wanted him to go away but didn’t want to be rude. She just wanted to listen to the band and not think about this “summer of adventure” that looked so promising a week ago.
“What’s your story?” he inquired excitedly.
Realizing he was not going anywhere, she replied, “M-m-my name is Samantha,” questioning his curiosity. “I’m from Indiana. I decided to spend the summer of my 22nd birthday here in Alaska.”
“That’s what happened to me,” the stranger laughed and smiled. “Twenty six years later, I’m still here. Hey! There’s a musicians tent over there. It has a few heat lamps to warm cold fingers and a refill for your coffee. Want to join me for a bit while I tune? Get something to snack on and warm up a bit?” he enquired with a welcoming smile. Eying his bald head and bare feet, she questioned his sanity. How is he not frozen?
Reluctantly, she said yes and followed the march of the barefoot stranger. The musician’s tent was divine and she welcomed the warmth. She pulled up a camp chair and realized she didn’t even know this guy’s name.
“Hey Eddie! You’re next right?” she heard someone with a clipboard and a volunteer shirt yell.
Well, Eddie must be popular as everyone is gathering to his corner of the tent in order to say hi and hug him. It must be ok to be his friend. A whole town can’t be wrong, right? Or does he have everyone fooled? Oh God! What if he is just waiting to stuff me in his trunk…
“Samantha! Come meet my friends” Eddie yelled from across the tent interrupting her racing mind.
Eddie was standing by four other women, all wearing appropriately layered Alaskan festival attire. Eyeing the coffeepot, she introduced herself to the ladies. They were all tuning guitars and mandolins and one lady had an upright bass twice as big as her.
One by one, they said their names. She repeated their names over and over again in her mind hoping to remember. She was terrible with names. They started to play a song about a bald headed man and eying Eddie’s shiny head, wondered if it was a song about him.
“Do you sing?” Nancy asked her after their sound check song was finished. She was beautiful. Tall and blonde. She carried herself with strength, pride and grace.
I wish I could feel that confident about being tall, She thought to herself, standing up straighter. She had been slouching as usual, trying to make herself look smaller.
“I dabble,” she said, underplaying herself as always.
“Sing something for us!” one of the other ladies commanded with excitement. She had already forgotten her name.
Reluctantly, she took the guitar and timidly started finger picking a C chord. She started singing the first verse to “Hallelujah.” Trying not to appear too terribly excited that they were singing along with the most beautiful harmonies, she smiled at them and put the guitar down after two verses, reluctantly accepting their accolades.
As they left her alone in the tent and took the stage, she took that moment to refill her coffee and meandered to the lawn in front of the stage. She wanted a front row seat for this show. Please no one sit by me! She silently pleaded, noticing the improved taste of her more recent coffee refill.
Three songs in to their set, a man with a brown bag sat next to her on the green rain-soaked grass in front of the stage, clutching an accordion. He didn’t speak a word, as he was very intent on staring at the band, his eyes following every strum of the guitar and pluck of the bass. She couldn’t, however, figure out which one of the ladies he was staring at. “Maybe he was one of their husbands? Or stalkers….”
Their set ended and the rain had stopped, but the humidity had set in and the angry buzzing mosquitoes had arrived like an invisible plague. No one seemed phased by their presence, however, they just went about their business slapping themselves and each other intermittently, not bothered at all by the buzzing and biting and itching. “Invest in some ding dang bug spray!” she added to her mental to-buy list. And with that, everyone was dancing, not just the kids, but the adults too. The sun made it’s way through the clouds. The green grass had turned into one solid mud put, as the bare feet tore up the area in front of the stage.
“Oh hell,” she mumbled, with the horrific realization that they were dancing to get away from the mosquitoes.
Suddenly the man with the accordion grabbed her arm and began to swing her around. “I guess I’m dancing,” she said, fighting whiplash. She caught a glimpse of a familiar face across the dance floor doing some version of the funky chicken. Still caught up in the mob of people, eyeing the easiest escape route, the guy in the orange pants yelled, “Do you know that guy?” over the band, motioning to the crazy dancer.
“I just got a job working with him at the little coffee shop downtown,” she yelled over the band.
“You get to work with Sam? He’s a good one to keep around you, that one,” he said with authority, getting swept up in the dancers.
“Hey! What’s your name?” she yelled after the man in the orange pants! “And what’s your band’s name?”
“My name’s Rick,” he yelled back. “I own the local music shop and my band is 90…” But she couldn’t hear the final number thanks to very loud saxophone solo. I’ll have to ask him next time I see him, making a mental note to visit the music shop tomorrow.
Returning to the picnic table in the beer garden, she looked at her cell phone and realized it was midnight! The time was hard to keep track of these days because it never really got dark. Eddie grinned and waved at her from across the festival grounds. Watching her newfound dancing coworker, she threw the fingerless gloves away. Too warm from dancing, Rick threw his raincoat to the side of the dance floor revealing a t-shirt that said 907 in the shape of a guitar. The band is named after the area code of Alaska, proud of herself for figuring out some of the local culture. This is going to be quite the summer, she thought, catching herself smiling at the thought of the months ahead.