1) Steve McQueen is a legend.
As the story goes, Steve McQueen came to Anchorage back in '72, when the town had a few more rough edges than it does now. Back then, 4th Avenue was the main strip through town and was made up of bars, saloons, hookers and other sorts of mayhem. According to stories, McQueen got drunker than a skunk, got behind the wheel of his rented Oldsmobile and started racing up and down 4th Ave and doing donuts (or "brodies" as they're called here) on the ice, over and over and over, having a grand old time. The cops finally got him to pull over; when they tried to give him a sobriety test, he simply started doing somersaults down the white line. He was arrested, had a mug shot taken, and spent the night in the local slammer. The next morning, he made bail and immediately took the next flight back to California. A warrant remained out for Steve McQueen's arrest in the state of Alaska until the day he died. (Here's a photo of his mugshot, complete with inebriated peace-sign goodness: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/mugshots/mcqueenmug1.html)
2a) Your kid can put herself through pre-school by cocktailing.
A Saturday Afternoon, sitting in a noisy, boozy sports bar in Alaska filled with fans doing shots, drinking giant pitchers of beer, screaming loudly at the 23 televisions all tuned to football, hockey and (upon request) Washington Basketball.
CNH & MTF: Fun! We love this bar! We love watching the Wizards! We love watching Texas Tech beat UT! Let's drink a beer!
(Tug on CNH's pant leg. It's a blonde-haired, angelic 4-year-old girl in pigtails.)
CNH: Oh! Wow, it's a kid. Um, hi, child. Can I help you?
LITTLE KID: Hi. My Mommy says she needs to see your ID.
CNH (visibly startled): Wait, what?
LITTLE KID, hands on hips: My MOMMY says she NEEDS TO SEE YOUR ID!
(CNH fumbles in wallet, hands ID over to tiny child who toddles it over to the cocktail waitress by the bar.)
MTF: Oh my god. You just got carded by a pre-schooler.
2b) Babies in Alaska love bars.
Looking around the sports bar, we realized that babies love to hang out and watch the game, too. There's one in a car seat under the table while her mommy shoots Jaegermeister and cheers for Texas Tech! Here's one in a carryseat on the bar by the Miller Lite tap while her daddy pays for his next pitcher! Watch out! That little boy in the Spiderman® costume is about to spill your Car Bomb!
3) People wish for warm, cozy snow.
When it's 8 degrees outside, people actually say, "Man, I wish it would snow already and warm things up around here."
4a) When guns are legal, you don't have to bother with pesky metal detectors.
In line to see Legends Of Hip Hop 2 (starring Big Daddy Kane, Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, of course), we automatically started opening our coats, unzipping my purse, getting ready to get "wanded" and patted by security. Instead, the "security" simply took our tickets and told us where to find our seats and we realized there's no point to checking people for guns when it's legal to conceal and carry and, in fact, most people were probably packing.
4b) The "no metal detectors because everyone is armed already" thing isn't as cool when a fight breaks out.
A few nights later, we were at the same venue for Election Results. The supporters for Ethan Berkowitz, the Democrat running for the House, arrived first. Parade-style and candidate in tow, they marched through the headquarters with big campaign signs, cheering and chanting "E-THAN! E-THAN! E-THAN!" A few short minutes after they arrived, the rivals showed up, also with signs and candidate, parading around and shouting, "DON YOUNG! DON YOUNG! DON YOUNG!" The two groups ended up meeting, rumble-style, in the middle of the room, shaking their signs at each other, trying to shout louder, shoving, getting increasingly hostile. It was fantastic fun to watch ("when you're a Jet!") until we remembered, wow, these people have guns, at which point it became fantastic fun but vaguely terrifying.
5) Eavesdropping is a lot more fun than you might initially think.
I spend most of my working life now sitting in any of the various coffee shops around town that offer free Wi-Fi. If you're working on a computer, people assume you've also become deaf or are concentrating too hard to pay attention to them, when in fact, you've tuned into them like they're your own personal soap opera. Some of the "shows" I've followed this week:
-- The knock-down drag-out fight among the members of the team putting together an upcoming charity concert at a local high school, over whether or not they could serve booze at intermission. "I can't imagine a world in which music couldn't be properly enjoyed with a glass of wine." "It's at a HIGH SCHOOL, LARRY!"
-- The sad, hard-working father who brought his 26-year-old son out for coffee to tell him that it was time for him to finally move out of the family house since he refused to get a job. "You're breaking your mother's heart. You're breaking my heart. We'll always love you son, but you leave us no choice." (Hard not to cry at that one, but that would have blown my cover entirely.)
-- The teen girl who'd lied about her age to her new boyfriend. She'd agreed to get the tickets to the R-Rated movie that night but a) didn't have a credit card and couldn't get them on Fandango, b) the movie theater that didn't card was sold-out and c) the other movie theater wouldn't sell tickets to a minor. The girl and her friend were making a panicked list of all of the 18 year olds they could text to buy tickets for her. Oddly, confessing to her boyfriend that she was only 15 never really came up as an option.
6) Video stores still reign supreme.
Video stores have all but gone the way of the dinosaur in the Lower 48. People here, however, have yet to catch on to the magic of Netflix, Hulu and On-Demand. (And since it gets dark at 4:30PM and feels warm when the temps get up to 18 degrees, people spend a lot of time inside watching movies.) There are video stores on every corner, you can rent movies at the gym and at the grocery store. It's a little like what we were all used to in, say, 1988.
7) In fact, everything is a little like 1988 here.
Things that are popular in Alaska today that we remember fondly from 1988.
-- Video stores (see #5 above)
-- Stone-washed jeans (HUGE in Alaskan fashion)
-- Spiral perms
-- Hanging out at the mall
-- Twist-A-Bead necklaces
-- The songs "Let's Hear It For The Boy" from the Footloose soundtrack, "Boys of Summer" by Don Henley, anything by Phil Collins, Mister Mister.
8) You really can feel the difference between 10 degrees and 20 degrees much more acutely than you can the difference between 20 degrees and 40 degrees.
Here's the trick: 20 degrees and above, your nose is cold. Below 20 degrees, your teeth feel frozen. Below 10 degrees, it feels like someone is blow-torching your legs through your jeans.