As fate would have it, the last time I saw Penny was also the last time I saw Larry: At West Coast Fish Expo 1989, the biannual workboat blowout at Seattle Center hosted by the great National Fisherman magazine – the event poster was my image of factory trawlers in action. Penny and I nodded across a crowded space as our eyes happened to cross. Later that afternoon, in a crowded lounge area where I stood jawing with somebody, crouched beside a nearby coffee table I noticed Larry, feverishly looking up at two men and talking like a coked-up car stereo salesman on the Monster Blowout Weekend!!! Rolled out before him were technical drawings for what I could see was a really big boat – the mother of all net-draggers, I learned, able to tow four trawls at a time.
So, vile Larry, trawling Fish Expo for investors: At last he would ascend, be an owner, fishing for himself and bringing home the really big bucks. And you can believe that Larry, being a kick-ass fisherman of some repute, did find financing, got his boat built, and went to work feeding that new, voracious, Japanese-owned surimi plant in Unalaska – in the process, by a weird Alaska! spin of the ol’ karmic wheel, exemplifying the best-case Bering Sea scenario for Greenpeace. Technically speaking.
Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the busiest and, in terms of product value, biggest fishing port in America.
Offloading at the Arctic Alaska facilities offers factory workers the chance to earn a bonus on the paycheck, by shoving around pallets of product and emptying bins of fishmeal powder, the stuff of fertilizer and catfood. Disgusting work, each boat has its way of dealing with it. An opportunity for a little fresh air and exercise, maybe, and to phone home. But no quick trips into the idyllic little island town of Unalaska, to commune with friendly natives over a beer at the Elbow Room. Not only against company rules, but ships usually "turnaround" - offload their cargo, restock supplies and refuel, and head back out - in less than a day.
Season's over, headin' home - but first, what's a trip to Dutch Harbor without a call at the Elbow Room. Infamous doesn't begin to describe this little seaside shack, an Unalaska landmark, with the unique distinction of being declared "World's Worst Bar" by both Penthouse magazine and the Guinness Book of World Records, in the same year!
One of the many, many rustic attractions of the Elbow Room is the traditional, albeit spontaneous belly flop, preceded by 50 cans of beer poured onto the linoleum floor. The winner is he (always a he, eh?) who slides farthest into the women's toilet, at the end of the course.