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September 6, 2012: Fairbanks, Two Street

My returning to Fairbanks is always like taking a step back into my past. I can’t ever seem to move forward when I’m there. I visited there with two friends two winters ago and with Rae this past week. Both times, I remained quiet, and didn’t say much about my past association with this town. Like my dental history, my past is not of much interest to anyone. Plus, I fear that I might end up permanently on Memory Lane. However, what I now have to say has some merit.

I worked for the Fairbanks News Miner in the mid-1980s. I was a copy editor. I’d hoped to be hired on as a feature writer, but this didn’t come to be. I finally decided to go back to school and get my MFA in creative nonfiction writing. This was a decision that I never, ever regretted. It opened intellectual doors that lead to the opening of other doors.

While working as a copy editor, I fell in love with one of the staff photographers, and we ended up moving in together, into a small cabin off Gold Hill Road. This didn’t pan out. But during the time we were together, we began envisioning a project, that is one in which he’d photograph, and I’d write about Fairbanks’s Second Avenue.

I did some interviews, and found out about the history of this, what I see as the heart of the downtown area. Two Street was, during the pipeline era, a bar row. Right and left, deals went up, and deals went down. If you were into drinking or gambling, Two Street was the place to go. After the pipeline era, the street became a trendy reminder of what it once was.

I returned, and with Rae, checked it out. We entered several shops, including one in which there were the remains of many fur bearing animals. Where there were bars, there are now gift shops and art galleries. I took several photos, one of a diner, and another of the Mecca Bar. I also took one of a mannequin who was missing her nose. She seemed to me to be a reminder of what Two Street once was, and what it’s become.

Taking these photos was revelatory. I didn’t think much of it at the time; I figured I was just doing the regular tourist thing. Pete, however, noticed them and said that we should somehow post them at dispatches. Looking at them, I realized that for me, photography and writing are now inextricably linked.

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