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— 19 December 2003 —

Life Outside

This morning I told someone I work with (and have for over three years now) that I grew up in Alaska. This sparked me talking about what Alaska is like, and what Anchorage is like. I make a distinction because there is a saying in up there that Anchorage is just 20 minutes away from Alaska.

Anchorage is a big city. There may only be about 300,000 people and Floyd, but (iirc) you can drive about 25 miles through town from one end to the other. Which make sense because people moved up there to, among other things like money in the 70s, not have to live near other people. So Anchorage spread out rapidly during the building of the Pipeline, and continues today to build without a plan.

I also told my coworker about some of the eccentric things in Alaska. Like being able to call in late to work because there is a moose laying down between your house and your car, and having your boss completely understand. Or calling in late because, “I’m stuck on top of a mountain right now and it will take about two hours for me to get back to town.” Good thing the mountain was along the highway going south and the cell phone still worked. Or kayaking on glass-like water so cold it would kill you in 20 minutes, but being warmed to sweating in your boat because of the cloudless sky.

Alas, alack I now live in Illinois. No mountains or water of which to speak. So it’s easy to think about all the good things in Alaska, and even many of the bad things, with a bit of nostalgia. And boy do I have a lot of nostalgia. I could never live in Alaska again without having a job that paid at least 80k. I need to be able to leave Alaska, especially in the dead of winter (January—March). Travel is so expensive, as with everything else, that you need to make that much to feel like you can survive. Important distinction there. You can survive in Anchorage on a 10$ per hour job. You may have to live with other people, but you can do it. But you won’t feel like you are surviving.

The last of what physically ties me to Alaska is going away soon. I still have Alaska plates on my car. It has been immeasurably cheaper to renew in Alaska than get Illinois plates, but I think the time has come since I now have an Illinois driver license. I plan to get personalized plates: ALASKA 1. Which will be much cheaper than vanity plates which would allow me to not have the number, but also be 80$ more expensive per year. At least this way I will still have “Alaska” plates. But it will be strange to walk out to the parking lot and not be able to see dark blue lettering on a vibrant yellow background.

Losing the plates may increase my nostalgia, but as Ian Shoales once wrote:

…nostalgia is to memory what aspirin is to penicillin, a sugar-coated pill that’s easy to swallow, but doesn’t alleviate any of the symptoms — regret without remorse, self-pity without irony.

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