What bugs me about the Lower 48 is ...

A View Askew

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2007

With summer half over, we're nearing the point where Alaska's state motto can go back to being "The Great Land," or "The Last Frontier" (or is it "North to the Future?" I can never remember), rather than "It's nice to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there."

The latter is what the state becomes to the hordes of tourists who flock here to photograph — and eat, if they get the chance — our critters and gawk at our scenery, usually while blocking our roads.

That's fine. I generally don't mind tourists. They're a sign of how amazing Alaska is in the summer, kind of like a hangover can be a sign that a great time was had the night before.

But I do mind when they question the sanity of those who live here beyond salmon season while taking advantage of the resources Alaska has to offer.

"Dang, Tim, these mosquitoes are terrible! And I can't believe how cold it was when we got on the river this morning. You'd be crazy not to come back to Arizona with us next week."

"Well, Dan. It's really not that bad. You've just got to be prepared for ... ."

"Stow it, I just hooked a king."

I've got some friends Outside who can't get through a conversation without working in a few digs on my home state. They live in California, if that tells you anything.

One lived here for a year, and spent the time marveling at the natural beauty and opportunity for adventure that surrounded him. Yet he moved because he was convinced there weren't any jobs good enough for him here.

When he calls he only lets up on his attempts to convince me to move "down to civilization" long enough to complain about the soul-crushing, going-nowhere job he has now.

The other usually calls during her hour-long commute home after work each day.

"Commute" is a term most Alaskans aren't familiar with. Even with all the extra space we have up here, it still takes me 15 minutes or less to get home after work.

Her favorite thing to do is ask me about the weather so she can tell me how much more fabulous it is in California. No matter what I answer, her reply is warmer, sunnier and more suitable for shorts and sandals.

My response is, what's so great about shorts and sandals? You're asking for a sunburn, you have to worry about leg hair and dirty feet, and stubbing a toe can result in maiming, rather than just minor pain and mild swearing.

She also likes to slam Alaska's meager opportunities for nightlife, listing all the concerts, theater, art shows, independent films and high-brow documentaries she has to choose from.

"Yeah," I'll agree. "That movie sounds really good. Are you going to go?"

"No. It's showing across town. It'd take me all night to get there with weekend traffic."

I would point out that I could rent the movie and watch it at home as easily as she could, but I've learned there's no winning that argument when your opponent's general philosophy is no one in their right mind could possibly want to live in such a remote, backward, frozen, culture-deprived wasteland as Alaska.

My philosophy is, why would you want to live anywhere else?

I don't see what's so great about the Lower 48. Sure, there's better shopping, more conveniences, a variety of entertainment opportunities, less chance of being mauled by something hairy in your backyard (unless you live in certain neighborhoods in LA) and a smaller likelihood of frostbite while carrying your groceries to the car.

But the Lower 48 is no picnic. Or if it is, it's a picnic overrun by stinging fire ants. There's heat waves and hurricanes, snakes, alligators, crocodiles, sharks (that eat people, not the ones up here that'll just steal a salmon from your line), horrendous traffic, smog and overcrowding.

Not to mention bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. We have mosquitoes, but ours don't carry West Nile Virus. Then there's killer bees, poisonous spiders, really big spiders, cockroaches and those deer tick things that actually burrow into your skin.

Eeeewww! How can someone willingly live where that is even remotely possible?

It's like biblical plagues have been unleashed down there, but people are so focused on the perks of the Lower 48 that they don't realize it.

"Hey Bob, come check out my new car!"

"OK. Uh, where is it?"

"Right there, behind that swarm of locusts."

"Oh yeah. I think I can make out part of the front fender. Looks like a sweet ride!"

Another benefit of Alaska is our annoyances are seasonal so we don't have to put up with them year-round. Smog is forever, but minus 20 degree weather is fleeting.

Thankfully, so are elitist tourists.

Jenny Neyman is the city editor at the Peninsula Clarion.

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