Friday, March 5, 2010
Anchorage, Pt. 1
One of the sad, comforting things about traveling to major U.S. cities is that they feel a whole lot like one another. Sure, New York has the New York thing and D.C. is D.C. and Chicago, Chicago. But on every corner are the same big-box stores and the same locals rushing to work and the same tourists. Same same same. This makes it possible for me to board planes with nothing more than my boarding pass and a hotel address and know that when I touch down I'll have no problem getting where I'm going and everything will be quite predictable.
Not so true for Alaska.
The plane ride was different, for one thing. It was a rowdy, individualistic group, with men fighting the flight attendants over what could and could not go underneath the seats in front of them, and lots and lots of fancy camo-designed clothing and outdoor gear. Everyone looked slightly defensive, as if preparing for an onslaught. There were medical emergencies on both flights. And for both legs of the flight, I sat next to a very, very nice, loquacious older man who knew Sarah Palin's family very well and thought she was a "good girl" but felt mad as hell that she had abandoned Alaska the way she had. He later gave me a ride to my hotel room, which looks to be in the tallest building in the city.
You can see a humongous J.C. Penney from my hotel room, but you can also see (not visible in the picture above becaue of the morning fog) amazing views of magnificent mountains and ranges (including Denali and Chugatch), rising up like an admonition in the distance. The stores below are in high gear, selling Alaskan souvenirs and a lot of fur, for the ongoing Fur Rondy.
There's one thing most Alaskans I've talked to so far (and I've talked to a bunch, because they are in fact very friendly, and I've set my intention to get to know lots of new people here) agree on, and that's global warming. This is the last weekend of the Fur Rondy, a huge dogsled race and community fair of sorts that kicks off the Iditarod, which begins tomorrow. Usually there is a "start" for the race in downtown Anchorage, right below my hotel window, and then a "restart" outside of town in Wasilla or Willow, where the snow is more even and plentiful.
This year, as they have in recent years past, they are trucking in huge amounts of snow to the city for the start. Though it is cloudy and cold outside, and little flurries descend here and there, there is almost no accumulation here in Anchorage. At the beginning of March. I don't know Alaska, and I know not to conflate weather with climate. But the locals are pretty bothered by this particular fact, and they believe they see big changes, so I try also to listen to them and respect their memories.
The locals shake their heads at the bare ground, without shame or confusion or malice, and comment that this is the fact of global warming in Alaska. And then they continue to vote Republican, for all matter of other reasons, I guess, probably mostly having to do with energy politics and guns. It's pretty heartbreaking.
It's 8am now, and my coffee is almost gone, so I suppose I'll shower and head out in search of some food.