It’s been 17 years since I moved as far from home as possible without having to learn a new language or exchange currency.
And while I don’t feel much different since relocating to the 49th state—I’m not even vitamin D-deficient, although I do suffer from vitamin D deficiency-deficiency—you can’t fight the inevitable (the best you can do is ignore it). After nearly two decades in such a unique place, Alaska’s definitely rubbed off on me.
These streak marks, so to speak, appear most noticeable whenever I visit the Lower 48, land of Dairy Queens, zoning laws and people who’ve never scraped eagle poop from their windshields. To wit, nothing makes me appreciate living in Alaska more than leaving for a few weeks.
For one, Alaska is unlike any other state in the union. It’s considered part of the continental United States, but not the contiguous United States. Either way, we’re generally ineligible for free shipping.
Alaska is simultaneously the easternmost and westernmost U.S. state. We have no professional sports teams, but many amateur stripper nights and we lead the country in per capita ice cream consumption.
Now, in the Lower 48, no matter where you go, someone else is there; in Alaska, you can find absolute solitude in minutes — unless you’re at Fred Meyer the week before Christmas.
In the Lower 48, people seem particularly hung-up about punctuality, cleanliness and order; in Alaska, it’s socially acceptable to show up to a dinner party hours late, caked in animal blood, with a fresh kill to butcher in the kitchen… as long as you take off your shoes.
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 from December through April, 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 one point or another, you can expect to relieve yourself in a bucket.
The Lower 48 has Jamba Juice; Alaska has Pilot Bread.
The Lower 48 has Trader Joe’s, but also wild snakes; Alaska doesn’t have Trader Joe’s, but no wild snakes, so it balances.
In the Lower 48, motorists get into “fender benders;” in Alaska, we “roll in the ditch.”
In Alaska, people use GPS to traverse vast stretches of wilderness; in the Lower 48, people use GPS to find the nearest Olive Garden.
In the Lower 48, people use umbrellas; in Alaska, nobody does—even in high school productions of Mary Poppins, they costume her in neoprene.
In the Lower 48, people start wearing scarves once the temperature dips 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, crap, better finish this construction before it gets to be 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, exterminators are called to take care of a couple of little field 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. (Note: personally, I don’t own firearms — way too klutzy—so earlier this week, concerned about the end of hibernation, I stood sentry with only a cup of lukewarm coffee and a Wiffle Ball bat.)
Speaking of which, in the Lower 48, people don’t usually shop for groceries carrying handguns; in Alaska, I’ve seen this several times. Bit of advice: if someone’s got a semi-automatic strapped to their leg, go ahead and let them cut the hot case line — you don’t need jojo potatoes that badly.
True, the Lower 48 does have a few good points. For example, Apple stores. Also, even its rainiest regions receive more sunshine than us, but in Alaska, we’re not afraid of a little spray-on tanning product.
And yes, in the Lower 48, it’s far easier to find things like waterparks and tomatoes that actually taste like something. But the state of Alaska cuts you an annual check just for occupying space, and you know you won’t blow it all on waterparks and tomatoes.
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 waterparks and tomatoes the journey may entail.
• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears twice monthly in Neighbors.