Alaska, dirty nails and missing teeth

Alaska is stunningly beautiful

Alaskans are not

Alaska is all about mountains with pristine snow covered tops

Alaskans are mountainous with dirty unruly tops.

They hunt, they shoot and they fish. They eat the bodies of what they kill and mount the heads on their cabin walls.

Alaskans make hillbillies seem sophisticated.

There are only 700,000 people living in Alaska which is a little more than one person for every square mile. That is more than enough.

Alaska is also full of tourists

It is easy to tell them apart. The tourists are clean and colorfully dressed. The Alaskans are not.

It is 52 degrees in the sun. There is no sun. But there is a bitingly cold wind coming off the ocean. The tourists have come prepared for Alaska and are bundled up in puffer jackets, scarves, gloves and hats, their feet encased in two pairs of socks and sturdy boots. The Alaskans are in shorts, T shirts and flip flops. This is their summer. They have shorts and T shirts in their closets and they are going to wear them.

If you still have trouble telling them apart, just look at their nails. Alaskans have calloused hands with filthy nails. If anyone made the mistake of opening a nail salon, Alaskans would assume it was a hardware store where they would have to bring a hammer.

Another way of recognising an Alaskan is by looking at their teeth – if they have any. It seems that 90% of all adults are missing at least one tooth and the one that is missing always seems to be in the front.

Barbers, hairdressers and beauty salons are virtually non existent, apart from the occasional remote home with a sign posted outside saying “Mary’s Beauty Salon”. Mary does very little business. Most Alaskans cut their own hair once a year, on their birthday, unless it is a leap year. That year they trim their beard. And none of them, men or women, wears makeup.

To be fair on Alaskans (and fairness is a trait I would like to be known for), living in this beautiful state is not easy. Most live in remote but stunningly scenic townships on the waters edge where the only livelihood is from fishing and tourists, both of which have to be attracted by colourful bait and reeled into shore. The only store in town sells T shirts with bears, salmon or bald eagles emblazoned on the front with the word Alaska prominently featured. Other items include tacky knick knacks supposedly made by the indigenous Eskimos but with “Made in China” printed underneath.

The only store for the locals is a warehouse by the boat dock selling guns, fishing tackle, waders and boots. There are no supermarkets, clothing stores or barber shops.

The only town of any size is Anchorage, and almost half the population of Alaska lives here, although there is no sign of them today

The city planners laid out downtown with huge four lane streets. They envisioned a thriving metropolis. That is not what they got.

They then implemented a complicated one way system to make sure the traffic flowed easily through rush hour. The only thing missing is rush hour. In fact there never seems to be a rush of any description. Nor is there any traffic. The only vehicle using the streets is the tourist bus that  circles downtown once an hour. Anywhere else in the world it would be a hop on, hop off bus, but here there is nowhere to hop off, so it just keeps circling

Occasionally a pedestrian walks by with clean nails, colorful clothing and a shopping bag full of T shirts covered with bears, salmon or bald eagles. The odd (and I choose that word carefully) indigenous person, sits cross legged in a doorway and asks for a dollar for a cup of coffee as we walk by.

The 21st century brought a shopping mall and a theatre to downtown Anchorage, but it wishes it hadn’t. Both seem deserted.

The rest of the town is still struggling to come to terms with the 20th century, but with little success.

The town struggles with its own identity, as this building next to our hotel shows,

It proudly advertises that this is Kodiak, and the address is 225 5th Avenue. It got the address right, but the town wrong. Kodiak is a town 400 miles away. It was a costly mistake as whatever business was here shut down years ago

Dear readers, the last thing I want is for you to get the wrong idea about Alaskans. I have in the past been accused of being unnecessarily harsh on Australians (“unnecessarily harsh”  seems like an oxymoron when applied to Australians). I don’t want the same to be said about moi and  Alaskans.

All I have done is make a fleeting reference to the outward appearance of Alaskans. In fact the uncared for exterior conceals a caring interior. They are extremely friendly and welcoming and open their hearts to diversity. Just across the road from our hotel are these two buildings

And while I am talking about the other side of the street, you may remember that our hotel is a little limited when it comes to the comforts of home. One of the things it lacks is a restaurant. However the very helpful receptionist tells us that there is a diner across the street that is so good, they have two places in town. Their specialty, he tells us, is reindeer sausages. Well, you must admit, that sounds interesting

We set out to cross the 4 lane one way street that separates us from the restaurant. It isn’t difficult as there isn’t  a car in sight.

Notice the rather lonely and unused parking meter.

The building that houses the restaurant is, like the rest of town, somewhat dated.

The clientele, like the rest of the residents of the town, is also dated and a little strange.

We are never quite sure whether the green headpiece is actually a hat or the lady’s hair.

The menu comes and every dish seems to feature reindeer sausages. Which is fine, because that is what we have come for.

“We would like two eggs with reindeer sausages” we tell the waiter.

He is a rather odd looking young man in his twenties with strange blemishes on his face which may or may not be freckles. If they aren’t freckles he needs to see a doctor fairly soon. His unruly mop of hair has not had a close encounter with a comb for a decade or so. He smiles easily which is not a good thing as it reveals more than the usual number of missing teeth

“ We are out of reindeer” he says, and gives us another toothless smile.

It takes us a moment to recover, but we take another look at the menu and say

“Well, we will just have eggs and bacon then”

Another toothless smile gives us a hint of what is to come

“We’re out of bacon”

He then slaps his thigh and laughs.

“You’re not having a good day, are you”

They really are a friendly bunch

Across the way from us is a native Alaskan woman who appears not to be entirely sure of her surroundings. She is tiny with short cropped jet black hair, no makeup, and a lot of cheap jewelry. She leans heavily on one elbow which seems to be keeping her upright. She pays little attention to the man across the table, who knows just about everyone in the restaurant. He is in his fifties, short and thin with very little hair. The expression “presentation is everything” means nothing to him. When he isn’t chatting to the staff, he stares at us intently. It isn’t a threatening stare, but it isn’t friendly either. He is just staring.

When he gets up to leave his companion doesn’t move. He reaches the door before he realises she isn’t following. He returns to the table, tells her in a loud voice they are leaving, takes her elbow and carefully leads her to the door.

He then stops, turns and takes another long look at us. He props his companion against the wall and comes over to our table.

We aren’t sure what to expect, but he smiles and says

“ You two are the best looking men I have seen in years”

We definitely aren’t expecting this.

We must look a little taken aback because he continues

“No I mean it. You have no idea what it’s like here”

He pauses again

“No idea at all”

“You guys are really handsome”

We are beginning to feel good, but he goes on

“compared to anyone else around here”

Well, put that way………………….

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5 Responses to Alaska, dirty nails and missing teeth

  1. James says:

    Wow! Sizzlin’! jp

  2. Baz says:

    Do you think he was angling for a threesome? Just saying.

  3. Patricia Campbell says:

    In my former home state of West Virginia, downstate was “coal country”. Those wonderful miners would fit any and all of your descriptions of Alaskans. Good hearts, but men of the earth. Moonshine might have been the choice rather than reindeer sausage.

  4. Conrad Zagory says:

    I like your style, Andrew–a bit of Mencken, a touch of Bierce. Abrazos.

  5. Susan sandulak says:

    Reindeer and caribou are the same secies perhaps if you had asked for caribou you may have had success
    caribou can be quite pleasant if the animal is young

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