The Kenai Peninsula comes alive during summer. Tourists, fishermen, seasonal workers and year-round residents share highways and harbors from Homer to Seward. ADN's Tegan Hanlon and Marc Lester recently spent a week meeting some of the people who make the Peninsula unique. Over the next few days, we'll be publishing more than 20 of their stories.
HOMER — When Hawaii-based tattoo artist Rachel Gonzalez decided to open the only tattoo parlor on the Homer Spit about five years ago, she wondered if she would get the same requests over and over.
"I thought I was going to do nothing but bear claws and salmon when I first opened up," she said on a weekday evening, sitting inside the wooden building that houses Exotic Eye Tattoo. A black purse on Gonzalez's lap held her Chihuahua named Conquistadora, who she also calls Muffins and who some people on the Spit also call Eagle Bait.
"She's a riot," Gonzalez said of the tiny, sleepy dog. "She comes everywhere."
Over their summers here, Gonzalez said her customers have defied her expectations. In a good way.
Sure, she has her share of walk-in customers who want an anchor or a fish or a mermaid. But she also has people who have traveled to Homer with heavy stories. They're scattering ashes, she said, or on a trip that their loved ones never got to do and they want to commemorate it with a tattoo. She sees locals and seasonal workers, too, who book appointments through the summer to complete big pieces. Then there are the ideal customers who give her freedom to create a unique art piece on a large section of their skin.
"People in this town are quite eclectic and very artistic and well-traveled, too," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez has worked as a tattoo artist in Hawaii for about 15 years. She still has a tattoo parlor in Maui. She uproots from the island to run the Homer shop from April to October.
During the long Alaska summer days, she usually tattoos from 10 a.m. until midnight. The night before, she didn't finish until 1 a.m.
So far this year, she said, business is "bonkers." The two most popular tattoo requests? An outline of a mountain range or coordinates of an Alaska town, often Anchorage, Homer or Kodiak.