Columns 2006

Fly By Night…goodnight

And so another piece of Alaskana bites the dust.  No longer will Alaskans be able to head to Spenard for some fried Spam and sleazy humor interspersed with juvenile political jokes that often were the only comic relief available during our seemingly interminable political seasons. We are left we nothing but the Daily Show and they don’t do song and dance half as well as Mr. Whitekeys and company. Besides, they never mention Alaska unless it involves Ted Stevens and, no offense to Uncle Ted, but he is hardly our funniest or most outrageous politician.  In Alaska, you have to fight yearly in a very crowded field to earn that title.

I will admit to being a bit of a FBN groupie.  Going to the show each time it changed pretty much constituted my social life.  Unless, of course, you count the fact that I religiously watch Anchorage Edition every Friday night on KAKM because it makes me feel like my weekend has a purpose.  Ok, Ok, I’ll admit it. I watch it because it is almost as funny as Mr. Whitekeys. I just don’t think it means to be.

Whitekeys started this questionably tasteful enterprise in 1980. Ever since, he has been our chronicler of the bad taste that follows sudden wealth when coupled with an Alaskan attitude.  It is not for nothing that Alaska views duct tape as a universal antidote despite its somewhat high price tag.  We may have money, but we refuse to have taste. And so for 26 years Whitekeys and company have set to music that spirit of Alaska that refuses to grow up, get classy and dispose of the multiple motorized vehicles that sit in our yards in varying degrees of degradation covered by a torn blue tarp.

On its website, the Fly By Night makes this opening statement: “Mr. Whitekeys’ Fly By Night Club is World Famous—we are known as well in Cairo as we are in Havana!! The club is the home of The Whale Fat Follies – The Alaskan Show that the Department Of Tourism Does NOT want you to see.”

In actual fact, it was the one show anyone with summer visitors made sure to attend with their visitors.  Because it was the only place where, when asked who was there with their summer visitors from hell, you could safely raise you hand amidst the laughter without totally insulting Aunt Mary and Uncle Pete.  Or your husband’s college roommate who you’d neither seen nor heard from in forty years until he showed up with his RV and family of five in your driveway in July.  Perhaps best of all, with very little explanation, visitors from all over the country got to laugh at some of the best satire to be found anywhere. Maybe Uncle Ted and Lisa are our particular senators, but the humor they engender is understood by anyone who actually has a senator.

Whitekeys over the years also introduced us to a supporting cast that will live on in Alaska history for so long as there is even one of us who thinks Alice Welling’s impression of Bill Clinton is without rival or that the late, great Sourdough Mike made the Alaska State Song something so beautiful it brought tears to the most cynical of eyes.

When I first moved here from Barrow, my friend Kate and I made a standing date to go to the show each time it changed.  Yes, some of the songs got repeated so often that we could mouth along with the cast. But who cared? The new material was almost always a dead hit on some ludicrous moment playing out statewide, the food and drinks were surprisingly good for a sleazy Spenard bar, they actually served a sugar free dessert, and you felt like you were part of the in-crowd as you laughed at references all but real Alaskans might find obscure.

Kate’s oldest son celebrated his rite of passage to the ripe old age of 16 by going to the Fly By Night with us. I’m not sure what we thought he’d learn there but whatever it was, we felt he was better off learning it with his mother around.  His brother turned 16 this year but we called too late to get one of the last reservations so he will have to learn from the streets whatever it is he was supposed to learn at the Fly By Night.

Goodbye, Mr. Whitekeys. We’ll probably not see your kind again in Alaska. You belong to an age we are regretfully outgrowing. Sleaze on!