It's all a matter of perspective.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Alaska is different from anything that I have ever seen in my life.

It took twelve hours and three planes, but we finally arrived here yesterday afternoon, about 2:00 local time. It was 71 degrees and sunny. A nice coastal breeze was blowing in off of the channel. It was the most beautiful weather I have ever seen anywhere. We are here for Miss Tracy Lingle’s wedding. Her mother met us at the airport and took us back to her house while Tracy finished up at work. After sitting down for our third light lunch of the day, Tracy’s mom needed to run a errand, so she dropped Miss J and I off at Mendenhall Glacier, just northwest of town.

The Mendenhal is a large, retreating glacier that flows from the Juneau ice field into Lake Mendenhall. It was beautiful and the cold breeze blowing off of it was exhilarating. I could have spent hours there hiking the trails and checking out the beautiful view, but Miss J is a woman of leisure, not a woman of sport. Hiking is not the sort of thing that she does. Also we only had thirty minutes before Mom returned from her chore. If you view the pictures here, you can see a disinterested native and an awestruck tourist in front of God’s perfect canvas.

So we went back to the airport to pick up the bags that did not make it on to our plane, and then downtown to Tracy’s house. She lives about three blocks uphill from downtown Juneau. There is an old Russian era Orthodox church across the street. The front door looks out at Mount Juneau, which rises nearly straight up 5000 feet. You can stand in front of her apartment and stare at the perfect beauty for hours and hours. This is where I would later gill the huge steaks. I like it outside. Inside are two cats. It looked like they had complete control over the futon that had been designated the Greer bed.

I met her brother, Bucky, and her fiancé, Adam. They are all cool Northwestern hippies. The kind of people that free-climb boulders and form grunge bands. These people are gracious hosts and determined to show us a good time. Bucky lit the grill and marinated the steaks. I put a Fatnathan scald on everything. We ate Dinner at about 9:00 local time.

I went to bed at 10:30. It was still perfect daylight at 10:30 and I would have stayed outside on the stoop drinking bottles of Alaskan Amber, if I had not been up for 24 hours at that point. When I got up this morning at 7:30, it looked exactly the same outside as it had when I fell asleep. At some point during the night, there had been about three hours of mostly darkness. I hope to be able to stay awake long enough tonight to see what midnight in the summertime looks like. I still have a week here, no need to do everything the first day.

So this morning we got up and walked three or four blocks to the nearest coffee shop. Yesterday afternoon there were four cruise ships docked in the channel at Juneau. This morning there were only two. Downtown was packed with the touristas. I was one of them, of course. A Cruise Activity Official off of one of the mammoth arks walked up to me on a downtown sidewalk and said, “Be sure and go out on the whale sighting tour this afternoon, there should be some good whale action.”

But for some reason we are a little more tolerable class of tourist to the locals because we are not off of a boat. We are staying longer than one afternoon. We are eating in local restaurants, rather than hogging down the inclusive buffet on the ship. We sat in the window of the coffee shop and tried to figure out where the tourists were from, California, Florida, Minnesota, the east coast, Euro-trash, Filipinos, and lots of Russians.

After coffee and a few shops, we came back to say good morning to our hosts and bathe. With the two furry balls of highly allergenic dander living with us in the apartment, bathing makes me feel like I am washing poison out of my hair.

Back downtown for lunch. We decided to just walk around and see what looked good. We found a tiny shop where a native woman (read: Eskimo) made fresh halibut fish and chips. It was the best fried fish I have ever put in my mouth.

Then the museum. It had a lot of stuff about natives (read: Eskimos) and Eagles and Bears and stuff. Alaska is a unique place and everything you see is all about Alaska. We walked into a bookstore this afternoon and Miss J immediately wrinkled her nose and said, “Oh Boy, Alaska stuff.”
I am somewhere in the air above the Pacific Ocean between Seattle and Juneau. A lot has happened in the last two days. A lot has happened in the last week. A lot is going to happen in the near future.

About six months ago Miss J. and I decided to take advantage of the friendly interest rates and try to find a bigger house. As someone who is paid to have good taste for a living, my sweet wife has a well-defined idea of what she wants in a home. I support her whole-heartedly in this, because she knows what she is doing, and I want her to be happy so she will be nice to me. There is only one drawback; she had to go through hundreds of places before finding something that was suitable. But find it she did, and boy was it nice. Located in the Park Hill neighborhood of North Little Rock, only five minutes from my job, this 1700 square foot dream house was built in 1945 and has everything you need to raise a family. We decided to sell our place before we made an offer, so that we would have a little more bargaining power. So we stuck a sign in our front yard and the dern thing sold in two weeks. Over these two weeks, the advertised price of our North Little Rock dream house came down fifteen thousand dollars. We were convinced that it was going to sell before we had a chance to make our move. Then, a few days before we got the offer on our house, we drove by the Park Hill place and the for sale sign was gone.

Of course, this raised a panic. After a few phone calls, we were able to discover that a couple of offers had been made on the house, but the offers had been contingent on the seller making a lot of repairs. That is why the price kept coming down. The seller wanted to unload it as-is and was not willing to fix anything. Well, this was no problem to us. I am a handy guy. I don’t mind a fixer-upper at all.

This story is growing quite tiresome. I have more to get to.

In short, we made a generous offer on the Park Hill house. The seller rejected it totally and did not counter-offer. We came back and offered what his asking price had been before he took it off of the market. I was willing to take the house as is, I just wanted a termite contract and to have it appraised. This asshole told me that the only offer he would be willing to accept was: asking price, absolutely no conditions, and $750 in non-refundable earnest money. Well, obviously, anyone who has ever been involved in any sort of real estate transaction would recognize that there are at least one of two things going on here: either there is something really bad wrong with the house that he is not willing to disclose, or he just plain-old does not want to sell it. Either way, screw him. I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.

But I am on my way to Alaska for a week. I made the offer on the house last night and did not find out that the deal was not going to happen until about noon today when I called our real estate agent from the Seattle airport. When I get back from my trip I will have two weeks to get out of my current house and nowhere to go.

No sense in fretting about it right now. We will just box everything up, put it into a storage unit, and bum around with relatives until we can find a suitable place. Judging from or previous record of finding houses, this should take about six months. Anybody out there live in the Little Rock area and willing to take on houseguests?

Really, I am not going to obsess about all of this right now. In my nearly twenty-seven years of existence I have flown on exactly one other occasion, and that was when Miss J. and I went to New Orleans on our honeymoon. That is about a two-hour flight from Little Rock on a puddle-jumping Southwest tin can. All of my various other travels have only once taken me to a state that does not touch Arkansas – last year on vacation we drove down to Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Today I have been on various airplanes and in various airports all over the country. I Have seen my first snow capped mountains. I have my sweet wife with me and I will see the home of her youth. I flew into Seattle and had a coffee. The weather there was exactly like it was supposed to be, cloudy. I have seen sights from my window seat (I will have the window seat. If you travel with me, you can get over it) that I have only read about or seen pictures of. Right now there is a real live Connecticut Jew sitting next to Miss J. He is wearing a yarmulke and reading The Atlantic magazine. When the Flight Attendant came around with lunch, he requested a kosher meal and then did not eat a single bite of it.

Did you know that if you keep flying west and keep changing planes, you get to eat lunch over and over? How cool is that?

The most encouraging thing about the trip: so far I have seen no suspicious Arabs.

Miss J says that Juneau is a nice little hippie town, and the people we are staying with live right downtown. I look forward to a week of wandering around an exotic new place, enjoying the sites, reading books that I bought last spring and did not have time to delve into, and writing pithy blog posts for you all from overstuffed chairs in cozy internet cafes.

But the thing I most look forward to doing this week is acting like a backwards redneck and exaggerating my accent for the northwester hippies. By the time I leave I want the good people of Juneau to think that everyone in Arkansas rides their hog to work every morning at the chicken-plucking plant.