The City of Anchorage has opened up its grizzly arms to us beardos.
And they should. It’s not every day that this town sees a few hundred bearded men - and many accompanying clean-shaven women - parading down their streets and pouring cash into the registers of their trinket shops and beer dispensaries.
But the locals are certainly filled with genuine curiosity and anticipation surrounding Saturday’s big event. Everywhere we go there are people asking questions, taking pictures, recording video, and generally getting a kick out of this multi-day spectacle.
Although many folks had arrived Tuesday night, our cruise ship came in Wednesday, May 20. That evening, two school buses delivered us all to the South Central Alaskan Beard and Moustache Club‘s welcome barbecue. After seven days, we Beard Boaters had just gotten used to seeing 75 or so bristly faces every single day, but now we were surrounded by hundreds: Artfully waxed moustaches, twisting and looping freestyle beard locks, and innumerable thick, bushy, magnificent full beards adorned every single face, brown, black, blond, grey and red alike.
Even most of the women wore fake ones. And they wore them well. It’s not weird.
Humbled and awestruck, I could imagine no better setting in which to gorge myself on grilled wild caribou burgers and reindeer pepperoni washed down with as much local Midnight Sun Old Whiskers Hefeweizen (the “official beer” of the WBMC) as the donated kegs would spit out. Meanwhile, at least three crews of hip, young, ironically-dressed, LA- or NYC-based aspiring documentarians gave each other high fives and sniffed around for characters and potential zaniness.
By the end, new beardships had formed, past championship attendees had reconnected, the beer was spent, and the Austrians were yodeling.
That and the following nights, the pattern spread to the downtown bars and restaurants, which consistently remain full of beards up to last call. That’s partly because, cross-culturally, beardos tend also to be beer-dos. But it’s also due to the confounding reality that, this far north, our last drinks go down before the sun does.
No events were scheduled on Thursday, so Max, the imperial moustachioed Dan Eldridge, monster sideburner Eric Brown, and I took a daylong rental car adventure down to Seward where we feasted on a delicious “Bucket Of Butt” (deep fried halibut cubes), purchased one taco at a drive-thru burrito/espresso shop, walked up to a glacier, and played a mean game of shuffleboard at the Pit Bar, which serves Miller High Life on tap. Then we drove back to Anchorage, joined up with a bunch of other beards for some steak pizza, and accepted a ride in the back of a local dude’s pickup truck to a friendly little family establishment called the Great Alaskan Bush Company, which was the first place a ton of dudes with beards failed to turn heads.
Beards On Parade
Friday, May 22, was our official introduction to Anchorage. Posters in windows and reports in the news advised the public to assemble downtown at 4 p.m., and to bring their cameras.
They listened. Thousands of Alaskans pried themselves away from moose racing and Eskimo pie baking to bring their pets, kids, babies, and American flags to the parade out of respect for Beard and Country. Few things have inspired me more than the infants with magic marker moustaches and crate paper goatees in red, white, and blue suspenders whom I saw that afternoon.
Around 3:50 p.m., bearded dozens began swelling into bearded hundreds, clothed in elaborate outfits, costumes, or uniforms, and clustered in packs around undulating flags representing nations, beard teams and moustache clubs. By 4:08 p.m., the procession was off, snaking around the hordes of spectators, spanning several city blocks at a time, shouting, marching, clogging lots of traffic, and drawing employees out with their customers, their cameras and iPhones held high. Endless rows of people filled the parks and lined the sidewalks to hoot, holler, wave, make generic beard jokes, and yell patriotic things at all us beardsmen.
The media was everywhere. Photographers and camera crews from local news stations, the Associated Press, and even CNN perched around every street corner. It could have felt odd, but since approximately 60 percent of BTUSA’s twenty- and thirty-somethings are photographers of varying degrees of professionalism, I’d grown accustomed to the sound of expensive SLR cameras suddenly going off in my face.
After several long zigzags and pauses at crosswalks, the masses all wound their way back to Town Square Municipal Park to hear some kind words and facial hair puns by a few local officials and charity leaders.
After celebratory nachos and pints and such, the bearded hundreds and their pals reconvened at the Dena’ina Convention Center for the grand WBMC Opening Party. To get us in the mood, the SCABMC held their annual Alaska Grizzly Beard Contest, with nifty wooden Alaskas as prizes. To weed out the old people, an Australian rock band called The Beards brought down the house with their epic, rocking, sing-along “songs about beards for people with beards.”
When the event staff finally kicked everyone out, a handful of us ran into an old Dutch couple who had been on the cruise. Kees Lek and his Mark Twain-ish white moustache are an international mutli-title holding team, his wife a seasoned fan. We walked with them back toward their hotel, intending to part ways at Humpy’s Ale House. But when Kees recognized the spoken word “beer” he steered his wife in our direction.
The fact that he didn’t speak English made our extralingual conversation rather fun. For instance, a poorly scrawled drawing of a walrus with an arrow pointing to its groin was all they needed to learn what the long bony thing mounted on the wall labeled “oosik” was. After quite a few pitchers and much merrymaking, we realized that they were 70 and 69 years old and polite. Thus, we didn’t want them to get tired and feel obligated to stay, what with the big competition events starting up at 10 a.m. and all.
Yet when the waitress came to bring the check, Kees pointed to the empty pitcher, raised his eyebrows and more insisted than asked, “Another?” When it was empty, we were satiated and more than ready to go. But then Kees returned from a supposed restroom visit with a full one.
If he was trying to prove something about himself or the Dutch in general, he succeeded. Because once we slugged through that one, we had to decline his suggestion of yet another. A 70-year-old man had drunk us under the table.
I attribute it to the moustache.
After a wobbly walk back - Max and Mrs. Lek’s joining arms for mutual stability - we hoped we hadn’t helped spoil Kees’ morning of moustache primping and title defending preparations.
As for ourselves, we just hoped we’d be able to get up in the morning and attend.