Anchorage, recap

OK, I’m back. I’d planned on doing updates every day, and that just didn’t happen. The first half of the trip was too busy; the second half, I ran out of things to do and had no motivation to write in here.

I did upload my pictures. They are on Flickr here:

Here’s a high-level bullet list of stuff I did do, mostly so I’ll remember it in ten years:

  • I went to Arctic Comic Con, mostly on a lark. I’m not a comic book fan, and I didn’t really know any of the people appearing, aside from comedian Brian Poeshn. It was their first year, and not very big, but people were happy they did get some people to show up. The convention was about the size of a large high school gym, with a dozen or two booths, mostly selling comics, but also some weird ones, like the Army was there, and someone selling hot tubs. There was also a place doing tattoos and piercings, and it was weird to hear a constant BZZZZZ as people on panels were talking. The crowd was mostly younger, and parents. Every teen with blue hair and an anime fetish within a hundred miles of Anchorage was there. Didn’t stay that long, didn’t buy or eat anything, but it was an interesting time.
  • Climbed Flattop mountain just south of town. If you need to listen to any one song while driving into snow-topped mountains, make it the song “Antarcticans Thawed” from the new Sleep album. It was maybe 30 out, everything covered in snow, and very windy, like 25mph. The trail was buried, so lots of ice, and I fell in up to my thighs a few times. Forgot gloves, broke my water bottle in the car so no drink. Absolutely beautiful on top, could see the water, the city in the distance, and all the other peaks in the area.
  • Moose Tooth pizza was a good experience. Also, very cheap.
  • Went to The Mall at Sears, which no longer has a Sears. Was shooting the outside of the mall and a security SUV rolled up on me, lights flashing. The dude came up and said “hey are you the guy from the sign company?” then started babbling on about all the old Sears signage on site. Then started to talk about the break-ins, then about how everyone’s stealing Tahoe trucks because they don’t have a chip in it. I’m in a hooded sweatshirt and freezing to death and he goes on for fifteen minutes before saying “who were you with again?” I told him I was a photographer from California and he said “sure, OK. Did you hear they’re putting a Safeway in here?”  That mall was sheer desolation. Maybe a dozen stores, the only national chains being a GNC and a Payless, both of who are on the death list. A local cell phone store. A shuttered grocery store anchor on one side, the dead Sears on the other.
  • Went to a surviving Blockbuster. This was in a John Oliver skit, which I don’t watch, but I guess he sent some Russell Crowe stuff to them, and it was not on display yet. It looked like a 2002-vintage store, trapped in amber. I bought a t-shirt, and took a few pictures.
  • The Anchorage Museum got redone and expanded since I last went, and it looks like a full reset, because I don’t remember anything. I like the new building a lot – it has a very Euro look to it, like a museum you’d see in Berlin. Not a fan of the collection, because I’m not that into Alaskan art. I know that’s horrible, I’ll leave it at that.
  • Rice Bowl is a good old-school Chinese place. When I worked in Factoria in 1995 and would find an old strip mall Chinese place and think “this shit is straight out of the Eighties,” that was Rice Bowl today. Nothing wrong with it – I loved the food, the look, and the folks were nice.
  • Had a lunch at Snow City, which never disappoints. I have this weird conspiracy theory that Snooze in Denver and Snow City in Anchorage are somehow related, and I like them both, and being in one reminds me of the other. Anyway, pancakes.
  • There’s a Japanese place (the sign actually says “oriental food”…) called Da Mi, which is on the back half of an Econo Inn, which sounds horrific, but it was great food and cheap, and had the fountain and the neon sign above the sushi bar and gave you a fried oreo with your check and the whole nine. Ate there twice.
  • I know I ate a lot, but La Cabana, great Mexican place – I didn’t think you could get good Mexican this far north, but this was on par with a few of my LA favorites, which says a lot. (Side note: I hate Bay Area Mexican food. Enough with the cilantro.)
  • Red Chair Cafe, too – good brunch. Went there three or four times.
  • Drove to Girdwood, which is about 45 minutes south. It’s a nice drive on the Seward highway, with the water from the Turnagain on your right side, the mountains in the distance, and the single line of the Alaska railway snaking past. I stopped a few times for pictures, then went to the Aleyaska resort for a hike around woods at the base of the mountains. I really wanted to ride the chair lift to the top like I did last time, but it was closed for maintenance. The hike through the woods was pretty nice, the streams running wild with the meltoff from the glaciers. There was a fair amount of packed snow/ice on the wooden bridges of the path, so it took some work to not fall down, but there was a nice elevation change, and at this point, nobody was out. I also walked through the big ski resort, which was mostly empty and sort of Shining-like in the offseason.
  • Chair 5 was a good lunch stop in Girdwood. Kobe beef sliders and onion rings really hit the spot after the hike.
  • I drove out to Talkeetna, which is about two and a half hours north, on the way to Denali State Park. It’s the town that Northern Exposure was allegedly modeled after, although it was actually shot in central Washington. The drive out actually reminded me of driving around Southwest Washington – no real views of the mountains after I hit Wasilla, just lots of tree farming. The town itself is cute, a little general store, a brewpub where I grabbed a reuben for lunch, and a lot of closed galleries and stores. (Offseason!) I walked around a lot, and looked at their small bush pilot airstrip. Found out the general store sells Mello Yello, which I haven’t seen in forever.
  • Kept seeing F-22s take off from Elmendorf AFB, which was on the horizon across from my hotel. I tried taking some pictures with a 300mm zoom, but didn’t get much. They had two accidents involving the F-22 last month, so I couldn’t believe they were out flying that much.
  • Went to the Alaska Aviation Museum. Their WW2 hanger was closed for renovation, and it was a dreary day to visit the planes outside. The two things different since last time were that they have an F-15A now (not in great shape, though) and they have an Alaska 737-200QC, which is a weird plane. It’s a 737 that has a passenger door on one side, and a cargo door on the other – basically, the whole side of the plane in front of the wing swings up. The seats are all removable, so they can reconfigure it for various ratios of cargo in the front, people in the back. They had it set up so you could go inside and look around, with half the plane configured with seats with the backs against the wall, and the front half ready to be filled up with Amazon prime boxes, fresh vegetables, and livestock. They retired this example in 2007, and their last Combi (a -400) earlier this year. (
  • Stopped in Obsession Records, worth a visit if you’re into vinyl. My hotel was right next to Mammoth Music, which was a great guitar shop, although my luggage and my marriage could not withstand another guitar purchase. Tidal Wave Books was still hanging in, although they’re all used books now, and it seemed a little less lively than 2006. There’s an REI at the same strip mall, which was packed with gear I wanted and did not need. That REI used to be a two-story Montgomery Ward forever ago, and I could still see a few remnants of that design.
  • I expected to see a ton of dispensaries, now that weed is legal, but I didn’t see many. I don’t partake, so I don’t care that much, but I expected it to be fully lit up like Denver, and it wasn’t. The back side of the REI in the strip mall did have a place called “Dankorage” so that’s neat. There’s a street named Fireweed, and I expect that to be the name of a dispensary or a stoner metal band.
  • Flight back was uneventful. A middle seat again for ANC-SEA, but I upgraded to a window seat for SEA-OAK and the person next to me was a no-show, so I got to actually use my laptop for once.

So, that’s it. My general takeaway was that if you want to go do tourist stuff, go after Memorial Day, but then you’re going to pay more. If you want to ski or do snow stuff, you’ll need to go much earlier now. I was surprised skiing and snowmobiling were closed at the end of April, when they were open at the beginning of June in 2006. The strange desolation of the off-season was interesting to me, so I enjoyed it. I don’t think I could hack Alaska 52 weeks a year, but I don’t think I can hack my home location 52 weeks a year either. Anyway, check out the photos, and apologies in advance that I took too many.



Hello from Anchorage, Alaska. I just got here last night, and my first impression is that is is really weird up here. Like Omega Man weird.

So, the trip up was fairly unremarkable. Quick flight up to Seattle, and that was unusual in that I haven’t been back to Jet City since I left in 1999. SeaTac isn’t really Seattle, and I did not recognize the inside of the airport at all. It looks like it has 100% changed, probably because Amazon is hurtling so many people through there  per day. I also never flew Alaska before, so maybe it’s a different area than I remember. I also didn’t get to leave the airport. There was just a hint of nostalgia that made me want to see more of Seattle, but I was in a rush to get from plane to plane, and I didn’t have a window seat, so I didn’t get to study the landscape on approach. Maybe I need to get up there on another trip.

The three-hour flight to Anchorage was a beast. I was in a middle seat, and the guys on either side of me were Wilford Brimley looking dudes who honestly should have been required to buy two seats. I was squished between them, and practically had to sit sideways. No computer, no iPad — I read for a bit (The Crying of Lot 49, not sure why I always re-read this on vacations. It’s a small book, I guess. Easy to carry) and played solitaire on my phone. For three hours.

When we landed, it took forever to get off the plane — lots of wheelchairs. But within the Ted Stevens International Airport, it was empty. It felt like an airport built to handle 100,000 passengers a day, and there were only twelve. And it was a long, long walk to baggage. I got my bags quick, then went down another long corridor — by myself, nobody there — and got to a Hertz counter, also with no line whatsoever. Got my keys, and there was no gate, no exit inspection, nothing. It was like the exterior of a small municipal airport, traffic-wise. Drive around the South Bend airport on a Tuesday afternoon, and that was Saturday night at ANC.

The drive in is surreal. Mountains in the distance, a slight chill from the 40-degree weather, and way too much open space. It’s a bizarre Twin Peaks trip. And then when you get into the outskirts of town, it feels a lot like Reno, the strange desperation of old motels turned into apartments, tattoo parlors closed for the winter (in April), and liquor stores. Then, downtown. And my stay at the Sheraton.

I dumped the car and luggage, then set out on foot to find something to eat. Anchorage has a downtown — there are normally about 300,000 people here. Most of downtown is small one and two story sprawl — you have to keep in mind the entire city was pretty much leveled in 1964. There are a dozen or so buildings taller than ten stories, almost all hotels, with I think a bank or an oil company of mirrored glass, the kind of early 80s office space you see appear when the crude starts flowing. But downtown is a lot of buildings that sort of appeared because of tourism or seasonal work at fisheries and oil fields. And it has the same density and feel as a city like South Bend, but maybe three times bigger.

I walked around, trying to find some place to eat, and it was absolutely vacant. Like, post-apocalyptic. I saw nobody on the street. Nothing was open. The tourism business doesn’t really start for another month, so a lot of small galleries and shops are still closed for the winter. And there isn’t really that much density, like not a lot of little restaurants and things.

Also, the light. It is currently daylight until about ten at night. But it’s a really bizarre daylight. I don’t know if it was the clouds or the longitude, but the daylight has a strange glow or cast to it, like you’re shooting photos with the white balance set on the wrong setting. It reminds me of what the sky looked like during the wildfires last year. It only reinforced the strangeness of the situation.

I ended up going to the Fifth Street Mall, because of course I’m going to fly thousands of miles to a mall. It’s a strange setup, a Simon mall with a JC Penney’s and a Nordstrom, but not that long of a concourse, and multiple levels (I think four). There was nobody there, except super aggressive panhandlers, and lots of security trying to get rid of them. The top floor is a large food court with windows around the perimeter, looking out to the mountains in the distance. But all the food is weird local chains, wok shops filled with MSG, and off-brand taco places that guarantee botulism. I walked back to the hotel, got room service, and went to bed at like ten, when it was still mostly daylight outside.

The plan for today is to go to the Arctic Comic Con. I’m not really a fan of comic books, and I really can’t deal with people jerking off all over themselves about the latest Marvel movie that I refuse to see. But I figure if it’s here, I should go. Cultural experience. Why not. I think the weather is supposed to be okay tomorrow, like 37 and clouds. (It’s a touch colder today.) So maybe I’ll drag the camera to the top of Flattop and get some pictures.

I should figure out where this convention is, and what I can bring. I don’t want to drag a bunch of camera gear and then find out you can’t bring it in. Also need to find out if they have corn dogs.


49th, take two

After that last post on the Concord Mall, there was an influx of attention on it — at least three video tours, lots of threads on dead mall groups, articles in the paper about the bankruptcy, etc etc. The net result is that I spent way too much time wallowing in this nostalgia, and I’m now completely burned out on it. The obsession with trying to find old photos or watch shaky videos of dead malls is too much. I thought about going back to Indiana this summer, getting a last look at the mall before it completely died, but I remember how depressing it was to see it in 2015, and I can’t spend a week in that mindset. So, I need to let that shit go for now.

I have been scheming when to take some time off, because thanks to Agile, I’m always in the middle or the end of a release cycle, and can’t plan anything more than a week out. Thanks to a weird scheduling hiccup, I found out I’d have almost six weeks between releases, so I put in for a week off, in May. Then I had to figure out where to go.

Vegas was out — last time was too depressing for me. It’s not a great place for a solo tourist. I thought about Seattle, Denver, LA, but I’ve lived in all those places, and too many ghosts. Berlin or maybe Oslo popped in my head — Norwegian has started very cheap direct flights to Europe. But either you red-eye out or waste most of two days in multiple flights, and then you’re nine hours out-of-cycle, and by the time you get used to it, you have to turn around and leave, spend a day or two in the air, and end up lagged by half a day for your return to work. Maybe next time.

Then I started fixating on Alaska. I was there in 2006 (there’s a trip report and some pictures somewhere on here) and I liked it back then, but due to some political events a few years after that, I sort of lost interest in any future travel there. But, I’m curious again. I looked into the trips up, maybe flying into somewhere else like Juneau, but did end up finding a deal on a fare to Anchorage, along with room and car. Solo trip, no plans yet, which I need to get busy on. All I know is I’ll be hauling the camera gear up there, seeing what I can capture, and hopefully doing as much hiking as possible.

The early May weather is a bit of a curveball. I might catch a day or two of snow/rain, maybe high temps of about 50, lows below freezing. So it could potentially be the miserable high 40s and rain that I’ve been fighting over the last few months here. But it will be daylight most of the day. Daylight from 5am to 10pm; twilight the rest of the time, and no full darkness. I hope the place has blackout drapes like last time.

Life has otherwise been a blur of work, which I don’t want to talk about. Writing on a new project, which I also can’t talk about. Maybe I’ll get some good time on it over the break. New Apple Watch recently, went from the 1 to a 3, but no big change to talk about there, just a battery that lasts all day now.

OK, I’m now reading like nine different photography books at once, trying to get back into the swing of it before I leave. Fun.


Plane wreckage in the 49th state

There are currently two things that every single show on cable must be based on at this moment: either making cupcakes, or Alaska.  I went to AK in 2006, and found it interesting, although now it’s a much harder sell to get people up there, given that a certain someone has branded the state as a vast wasteland of idiots.  It’s much more than that, but of course I’m going to start writing about it with a much more stupid filter, which is a visit to Denny’s.

This was probably the beginning of the end of Denny’s for me, I mean aside from the whole diet change. I used to love Denny’s, and I guess that started in Bloomington. There weren’t that many 24-hour places to eat, and you’d end up at Denny’s more than actually wanted to go there. At least it was that way at first, especially when I didn’t have a car and someone else had to drag me around. But then it transformed at some point, and I used to go there to write, or try to write, hours with the spiral notebooks and bottomless glasses of Coke.

This Alaskan Denny’s, it was on some half-deserted strip of highway in Anchorage, and it had this big construction fence down one side of the parking lot. The owner was trying to subdivide the land I guess, sell this narrow strip of leftover parking lot to some other business. Who would buy it? Maybe one of those espresso coffee shacks? Or maybe it was some kind of zoning bullshit tactic, like “give me this much extra money to keep this twelve feet of your parking lot. / No? Well fuck you, I’m going to sell it to your competitor and really screw things up for you.”

I remember service being poor, and some horrible Palin-esque family of fourteen at the next table, the dad in full camo with this redneck grizzly man beard, and a wife that looked like it was the only time that year she wasn’t being actively beaten. Alaska in June – I think we just landed on the cusp of the tourist season, like a week later and we would be inundated with bluehairs and grandchildren. The week we were there, we almost had the place to ourselves, except for the skeleton staff of locals, keeping the basics going.

I always used to get the All-American slam, which isn’t the healthiest thing in the planet: scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and toast. I just looked it up: 970 calories, but a whopping 76 grams of fat. The food was off for some reason though. I mean, it wasn’t spoiled or anything, but the bacon tasted thin and reconstituted, like it was the strip of meat in a frozen TV dinner. I found some other minor oddities like this in food in Alaska; it seemed like they shipped up things that couldn’t grow up north, so they sometimes subbed things out with poor imitation rehydrated food.

But bacon – I mean, we went to this place, I keep thinking it’s City Lights but it’s not that (Northern Lights? Snow City?) and they had real bacon, the thick strips of solid, crunchy bacon, the kind you could pick up between your thumb and finger at one end  and it would stand straight out and not sag at all. And it had no visible fat. I’m sure it still contained like 40% fat, but it didn’t have the greasy, hard-to-chew strips of white at the edges.

But I had to go to Denny’s. We had a car, a little white Matrix, like the zipcars we rented for some insane rate back in the city. I never got to drive anymore, maybe once or twice a year, and Sarah would drive us out to some mall in New Jersey every once in a while, not that malls really did it for me anymore. I did like the occasional trip to a real Target, the pacifying effect of pushing a big red cart down wide aisles full of jumbo-sized boxes of everything, ten versions of every product, as opposed to the typical New York style of only one choice and that was practically a travel-sized portion, at twice the price of the giant 144-pack you’d get out in the country.

Sarah went to some thing – a facial, or a pedicure, and to kill time, I got the car for a couple of hours. I went to this aviation museum out by the airport. That airport is just this weird mystical strip of nothing in the middle of nowhere. You’re driving through moose country, and you suddenly stumble upon miles-long strips of asphalt, with huge stretch jumbo jets from across oceans floating down to land. Every flight to Anchorage is some huge cross-country thing, a 767 filled with tourists from LA or Tokyo or some other city that involves following the curve of the earth for two thousand miles.

And that museum – it was basically a dumping ground for any ruins of planes they found across the state. There’s a lot of civil aviation and small military aviation up north, and because of weather and maintenance nightmares, a lot of those little flights fall from the sky and are never seen again. And then decades later, some bear hunter finds the carcass of an old P-38 from World War II that went off the radar and got buried in a glacier. When they could chip those things out of the ice, they ended up at this museum.

They did have some nicely restored planes inside, old wooden biplanes and maybe a warbird or two. They also had a collection of surplus planes, obsolete military gear donated to the cause, obscure workhorse planes that came too late for the big one and too early to go to Vietnam, these weird fifties-era helicopters you’ve never heard of, because elsewhere they went extinct with the advent of the Huey, but some outback division of the forest service painted over the camo with bright yellow or orange and used it to drag oil well pieces or rescue dog sled operators lost in blizzards.

Beyond the military surplus was this third tier of the absolutely beaten and fucked pieces of crashed planes. I think they had a noble idea, taking in this potentially rare and impossible to find collector planes, things that maybe the Confederate Air Force and some rich Branson-type guy had the only two in existence, and here’s 26 percent of one that flew into a mountain in 1947 and was left to rust, except maybe it was encased in some bizarre combination of blue ice and no acid rain that left some of the galvanized or alloy pieces intact. But this organization had zero money, maybe a couple of senior volunteers that swept the floor and could put a coat of latex house paint on top of the ruined carcasses. They probably had a small population of retired Air Force guys who did know the proper way to fix up one of these planes, and maybe they were lucky enough to get a few hours of patriotic service out of them. But there were also enough working retired aircraft still making hops across the Alaska terrain that needed the TLC from a trained mechanic to keep the tourists in the air or to get raw supplies or medical aid to people up in Fairbanks or Nome or the upper pipeline.

I still had time after the tour, and went to a Burger King across the street from this used book store where we ended up almost every other night of the trip. I needed something to eat between meals – we ended up on such a screwed-up schedule because it never got dark, and we’d sometimes eat dinner at ten or eleven at night, when it was still broad daylight out. I ordered something tiny, like the junior King menu, a smaller burger and a small fries, and sat alone, picking at the food and browsing through the snaps I got on my digital camera. I saw this kid working the counter, a pencil-necked guy with glasses, but not the typical nerd, more like the Boy Scout nerd, the kind that was athletic in the sense that he ran cross-country, but he also tried to go for the eagle scout ranking and knew how to start a fire in the rain and could hike twenty miles in the hills and be okay. But not a ladies’ man, not a football player, not the kind of scraggly Alaska man that lived on Skoal and Jack Daniel’s and listened to Nickelback and Pantera and drove a pickup truck.

He was talking to some girl behind the counter, and told her that he just joined the Marines, that he signed the papers and was going to ship out at the end of the summer. This struck me on many different levels. One, the kid didn’t look like the Marine type. Maybe I could see him in the chair force, playing around with some weather computers or directing air traffic in an office with a coffeemaker running like the Daytona 500 and lots of yellowed post-it notes on every surface. He didn’t seem like the leatherneck type, too much of a loner or something. I knew that in eight weeks at Parris Island, that would all get beaten out of him. Maybe that was his goal, though, so more power to him.

But also, why the hell would you join the Marines in 2006? That’s pretty much a death sentence, or at least a guarantee that you’ll be sent out to fight in some shithole maybe eight weeks and two days after you sign your papers. But it also hit me that this was the only way out for a kid like this, that nobody could afford college anymore, and you didn’t get rich serving crap to old people on a cruise boat layover at a chain hotel. And if I grew up in Alaska, I would have done everything in my power to get the hell out the second I turned eighteen.  I know I felt that way in Indiana, that all-consuming need to put huge amounts of distance between me and everything and everyone.  But I could always load up the car, drive for 20 hours straight, and land in a completely different universe.  In Alaska, you can drive for two days and barely make it into Canada.

So yeah, Alaska – worth the visit.  Don’t go in the winter, though.  23 hours a day of darkness would really put the zap on things.


Back from Alaska

I’m back from Alaska. I actually got back at noon yesterday, but I was up all night on the flight back, and I am taking the day to decompress and relax and stuff. I am loading the pictures to Flickr, but it is taking forever because there are 800 of them.

(Update: Flickr photos are here. Note that Flickr appeared to lose 12 of the photos during the impossible batch upload, and it will take me forever to figure out the 12 missing, and take 754 hours to upload those 12, so try to avoid the Flickr page, and try to avoid them in general, as it appears they have written an entirely impossible to use tool that’s about as reliable as a piece of wet toilet paper as a birth control method.)

The trip report [gone, sorry] is just a bulleted list now, and partially makes no sense, but I will try to expand it at some later time. Sarah actually scheduled and planned the trip at the last minute, and booked reservations and stuff for everything so we didn’t spend the whole vacation at the mall or eating at Arby’s or whatever, which is what would have happened if I went alone. So we got to do a lot of cool stuff. Probably the best thing there, and maybe the best thing I’ve ever done, was a snowmobile tour we took out of Girdwood, south of Anchorage. It was with Glacier City tours, at They first airlifted us out of Girdwood Airport in a Robinson R-44, which is a tiny little four-seater. We went up and over a mountain, and then at about 6,000 feet up, we were dropped off on a glacier. There, we met our guide Chris at a basecamp, which consisted of nothing more than a tent and a bunch of snowmobiles. There was nothing but white all around us, densely packed snow, with the very occasional bamboo trailpost marking where we got to go. We took off on three polaris snowmobiles, which were an absolute blast to drive. You sit low to the ground, and even though we were surrounded by ice, it wasn’t that cold outside, and I wore a light jacket and gloves. It was a completely surreal experience, being in such cold-looking surroundings, but wearing what you’d normally wear on a May day, plus helmet and gloves. And I have prescription sunglasses, but after a half-hour of wearing them, everything looked normal because it was so bright from the reflection. The trails started simple, and then we gained speed, to where we could drive along at 40 or so miles an hour, which seems catastrophically fast when you’re right off the ground, with an open-visor helmet and no windshield, and you’re trying to hang on to your snowmobile. We stopped in a lot of places, usually where the snow ended and the mountain began, and got to crawl up for many million-dollar views. It was seriously like mountain-climbing in Tibet, but without the pesky climbing. And once we got done snapping a few pictures and admiring the view, we got back on and rode down a ski hill at insane speeds. There was even part that was like a giant natural half-pipe, covered in snow, where we could carve the side of the hill and then turn, reverse, and do the same on the other side. It was absolutely fun, and if you ever go to Alaska, it is a must-do.

There was a lot of white and glaciers and ice for the trip – we also took a cruise down the fjords south of Seward and saw a big glacier there. The big chunks of ice were blue instead of white or clear, which is weird. If I could find a way to make that ice in a bar with a machine, I would be an instant billionaire. We got to sit and watch this huge glacier calf and drop off big pieces of ice, which was pretty awesome. We also chartered a sailplane on our last day and saw two glaciers, one more like a field of ice, and the other more of a cliff. Lots of pics to be seen on my pages, so look for that stuff, even though a snapshot does not do it justice. On the cruise we also saw a lot of wildlife, like bald eagles, orca and humpback whales, sea lions, sea otters, a brown bear, and a million birds I cannot identify. And when we were driving in Girdwood, we saw a female moose standing at the side of the road. I jumped out and got a couple of photos, but was scared (mostly of some weird flea-borne disease) to get too close. She didn’t really care either way, she was just busy eating some bushes.

Speaking of which, lots of lesbians in Alaska. Lots of tough guy types too. Lots of jailbait. Lots of Jesus. It’s a very southern type of atmosphere at first, especially with the biggest economic booms being construction, petroleum, and the military. It isn’t really southern in the typical redneck Alabama way, though, and it’s hard to put your finger on it. There’s the whole outsider, outlaw thing, but there are so many differences. Yes, everyone drives pickups, but everyone needs pickups, because you never know when you’re going to have to drive 100 miles in the dirt and mud. Everyone loves guns, but everyone needs a gun. One of the big stories the day we left was that a dude woke up to breaking glass in his house, got the gun, went downstairs, and was face-to-face with a 400-pound black bear. He unloaded the glock into him at point-blank range, and the bear turned around and said “you got anything else to eat?” (Of course, it says something that this story was front-page news there.)

I always expected Alaska to be the land of frozen everything, but the whole time we were there, I didn’t need a jacket. It was nicer there than it is currently in New York. What was weird was that we could go up into the mountains and see the snow and ice, but then go back down and be in 76 degree weather. One day, we went to the Alyeska ski resort and took their tram up to the top. I figured ski season was long since over, but when we got up there, the mountain was open, and a whole bunch of kids were on snowboards, carving it out on the mountain. It was so abnormal to be up there in jeans and a t-shirt, watching people in their “winter” gear on the slopes. In fact, some people weren’t in winter gear – we saw a lot of dudes with no shirts and sunglasses, riding their boards.

Overall, I liked Alaska a lot. It was very quiet and quaint when I was there, and the people overall (with the exception of the rude blue-hairs in their tour groups) were very nice. Everyone was pretty laid back, and politically, everyone was pretty close to my own views. I want to go back again. Actually, if I could find a way to live there, and then spend the winters in Oahu, I’d be pretty much set.

Still waiting on Flickr. God damn, their upload tool is slow. Anyway, back to work tomorrow (if I can even find the place.)


Constant daylight

I seriously think there’s more open WiFi in Anchorage than there is in New York City. It’s pretty weird. Anyway, morning of day three here, and I’m debating on whether or not to just keep updating as we go, as opposed to writing a giant travelogue when I get back (that noboy will read.)

The sunlight thing is really fucking weird. On our first night, we went to bed at like 10:30, which was like 2:30 our time, and it was broad daylight out. It was seriously like noon. I woke up to take a leak at like 2 AM and it was just barely dusk. The sun was setting and it was turning red on the horizon, but it was still light enough to read a newspaper outside. Last night, I woke up at about 4:30 AM, and the sun was already coming back up.

The night we got here, there was smoke in the air and it made your eyes tear a bit. It reminded me of when I visited my land in Colorado in the summer of 2002, when half the state was a wildfire. I thought maybe it was a preventative burn, but we saw the Sunday morning paper and it was a forest fire that took out 150 acres. You could still smell the burning wood, although it’s about gone now.

We got an early start yesterday, and drove around a lot. We have a Toyota Matrix, which is pretty much the same as the Zipcars we always get in NY. We went to a Denny’s for breakfast, then went to a Fred Meyer. I’ve forgotten how extensive Fred Meyer is – it’s like the nerve center of all grocery stores. We found more forgotten, new, and jumbo-sized products than I’d ever seen. In New York, you can’t even find corn dogs – they had a whole freezer case of them. They had two-liter bottles of gatorade, which I’d never seen. Lots of other weird stuff. They also have Kroger brand stuff, which was a blast. I found a generic package of Kroger sex lube, which was really hilarious for some reason. I didn’t get that, but we did get a cartful of water, drinks, and other crap, which is much better than paying $3 a bottle downstairs for water, and we have a fridge in the room, too.

We walked to a cafe for lunch – I really wish I remembered names or took notes, and I’m too lazy to search. But after that, we checked out a huge museum of Alaskan history. They had a weird bird exhibit, lots of stuffed falcons eating stuffed and viscerated wombats and whatnot. Lots of Alaskan art, ranging from landscape photos to native stuff made from bones and ivory. The ivory carvings were incredible. The general history part wasn’t bad, with a lot about the Aleutians and Russian Orthodox, and some cool stuff about the pipeline. There was also a smaller Russian Orthodox museum across the street, but it was closing right as we got there.

We caught a big mall on the way back, and bummed around more before going on another big drive, checking out more stuff. We found a bunch of houses built in this strange style, with almost flat roofs, a sort of shed-style 80s thing. We also found a lake by the airport that was entirely made of slips for small, one-engine floatplanes. They were all arranged like houseboats on a lake, but the middle part was their virtual runway. The airport itself is a trip too, nothing but huge widebodied jets from the lower 48, or tiny single-props flying to the bush, and nothing in between. We also drove through a huge park that was road going nowhere, maybe a former military base turned public, with a lot of construction but nothing other than this single road. There was a bridge crossing the road at one point, all brand new engineered lumber, but nothing on either side. The road finally emptied out to a big rec area on the shore, with lots of people mountain biking.

Eventually, we ended up eating at a place called Gwennie’s Old Time Alaskan Inn, which was sort of a dive, across the street from a Harley dealer, but it had a lot of charm. They had tons of pretty cool photos on the wall of when Anchorage was nothing more than two general stores and a whorehouse. Their sourdough bread was still being made from a starter they used before the war. And I think my plate of BBQ ribs was pretty much the whole animal with some sauce on it for $12.

I think that was all of yesterday. Today’s Memorial Day, and we’ll see what’s open. It’s my turn in the shower, so that’s all for now.

P.S. I was thinking about this the other day, and realized that Anchorage’s weather is actually better than Elkhart’s in all seasons. Elkhart gets much colder in the winter, and much hotter in the summer. Plus in Elkhart, you pay a lot of tax that goes toward nothing, while here you pay no tax, and the government gives you like a grand a year in oil revenue.


Hello from Alaska

Hello from Alaska! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am SSHed to my Mac back in New York, and I’m on the 8th floor of the Captain Cook hotel in downtown Anchorage. It’s 9:12 PM and it is broad fucking daylight outside. I think we have another four hours of daylight tonight, and my body thinks it’s 1:12 AM. This could be a major problem.

Today’s 10-odd hours of flying was made much better by flying in first class. We had seats 1A and 1B the whole way; on the first leg of the flight, we were the first on, the first off, and the first served with every round of food and drink. While the poor schmucks in coach got a micro-bag of pretzels and nothing else, we ate a nice lunch off of china with real silverware and drinks in actuall glass glasses. Quite a nice change. This was slightly distracted by a late departure due to fog, and a required spring across O’Hare from gate C567 to gate B1, but once we got there, we got the royal treatment. Plus I had the laptop with two batteries, and watched about three movies, plus played a monster SimCity marathon.

Alaska’s pretty damn nice. It’s nothing like anything I’ve seen before, although there are hints of previous pasts in there that remind me of things. There’s that touch of Seattle, since they are distant cousins on some weird way. They share some similar regional businesses, and the nature is of the same genre, albeit much more pronounced here. There are some excellent mountains on every horizon, which remind me of my land in Colorado, but things are much bigger here. It reminds me a bit of my time own in Southwestern Washington, the smallness and the industry. But it’s more than any of those, and I’ve barely seen the place.

We checked into the Captain Cook, which seems like an okay place. Some of it reminds me a bit of what would have happened if Long John Silver’s every launched a line of upscale restaurants. Lots of dark wood. The rooms themselves are pretty neutral. We’re right on the corner, so we have huge windows facing both north and east, and have a good view of the city. There isn’t a lot of a city here, but we did go for a walk, looking for some food. We’re just over from the city square, which isn’t much. Things are pretty spread out here. It’s nice though, a nice breeze going through the windows and a very laid back feel.

Should I stay up a few more hours and push the internal clock? Or do I crash now and wake up at 4 in the morning? And can I even sleep now? It’s seriously as bright outside as it is at noon back home. I guess I should see what’s on the tube.

P.S. Buy the new book!!