It’s been 14 years since I moved as far from home as possible without having to exchange currency or mess around with power adapters.
So I often take for granted how different life is up here than in the rest of the country, like going to a wedding dressed in full Hellys or lending your car to a complete stranger — say, the friend of a cousin of a friend — while you’re on vacation, via text (no problem, you always leave the keys in the ignition).
But I’m reminded of these differences whenever I travel abroad, by which I mean to the Lower 48, land of Diary Queens, zoning laws, ridesharing, “manscaping,” central air conditioning, 12-lane highways, tomatoes that are actually ripe, businesses other than liquor stores open on a Sunday and people who’ve never scraped marmot scat from their sneaker treads.
For one, Alaska is unlike any other state in the union. Simultaneously the easternmost and westernmost U.S. state, Alaska is considered part of the continental United States, but not the contiguous United States (either way, IKEA won’t ship here).
In Alaska, every item on the “Dollar Menu” costs at least $1.99. We have no professional sports teams, but many amateur stripping nights; no arena concert tours but more string bands performing “Wagon Wheel” than you can rock me, mama at. And Alaska leads the country in per capita ice cream consumption, and we claimed that title long before retail cannabis, so good luck catching us now.
But wait, there’s more. In the Lower 48, no matter where you go, someone else is already there, often many; in Alaska, you can find absolute solitude in minutes—unless you’re at a Costco samples table when they’ve just toasted up a fresh batch of taquitos.
In the Lower 48, people seem particularly hung up about punctuality, cleanliness and order; in Alaska, it’s perfectly acceptable to show up at a dinner party several hours late, caked in blood, with fresh kill to butcher in the kitchen … as long as you take off your shoes.
Something else I’ve noticed: In the Lower 48, many parents harness their children and tether them to their wrists; in Alaska, people don’t even leash their dogs.
In the Lower 48, rush hour begins at 3 p.m. and doesn’t end until after 7; in Alaska, people cross-country ski to work — or, in the case of downtown Juneau in winter, ice-climb.
In the Lower 48, public restrooms are outfitted with auto-flush toilets, motion sensor sinks and cutting edge hand-drying technology. In Alaska, at some point you will relieve yourself in a bucket.
The Lower 48 has outdoor swimming pools; Alaska has hypothermia.
The Lower 48 has Build-A-Bear; Alaska has grizzly maulings.
The Lower 48 has wild snakes; Alaska does not have wild snakes.
In Alaska, people use GPS to traverse vast stretches of wilderness or pinpoint an exact fishing hole in the middle of the ocean; in the Lower 48, people use GPS to find the nearest Cheesecake Factory.
In the Lower 48, motorists get into “fender benders;” in Alaska, we “roll in the ditch.”
In the Lower 48, people carry umbrellas; in Alaska, nobody does — even in high school productions of Mary Poppins, they costume her in neoprene.
In the Lower 48, people wear scarves any temperature below 70; in Alaska, as soon as the thermometer hits 33, time to break out the flip-flops.
The Lower 48 experiences four seasons: winter, spring, summer and fall. Alaska, also features four seasons: winter, still winter, construction and oh-cr*p!-better finish-this-construction-before-it’s-winter-again.
On summer evenings in the Lower 48, children go out and chase fireflies; in Alaska, they go out and chase porcupines.
In the Lower 48, homeowners call the exterminator to take care of a couple of mice; in Alaska, you might find yourself guarding your trashcan from bears until the garbage truck comes, possibly with a .44 tucked into the waistband of your jammies.
Speaking of which, in the Lower 48, people don’t usually shop for groceries carrying handguns; in Alaska, I’ve seen this several times. Free advice: If someone’s got a semi-automatic strapped to his leg, go ahead and let him cut the hot case line — you don’t need popcorn chicken that badly.
True, the Lower 48 does have its good points. For instance, trampoline parks. And yes, in the Lower 48, it’s far easier to find things like waterslides and fresh lemongrass. But if you’re a state resident, Alaska Airlines lets you check two bags for free, and you know you won’t just blow that $70 on waterslides and fresh lemongrass. Plus, I haven’t had to wear a tie or shave in fourteen years.
Last but not least, in the Lower 48, everyone you meet tells you they’ve always dreamed of visiting Alaska. By contrast, traveling to the Lower 48 is most Alaskans’ worst nightmare — no matter how many waterslides and fresh lemongrass the journey may entail.
• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears every second and fourth Sunday in Neighbors.