Category Archives: alaska

Cheechako in Alaska

When you travel, when you live in many places, you remain forever a newcomer. In Hawaii I was a Haole, in Fiji, a Kavalagi, in New Zealand I was Paheka.

Now I’m Cheechako in Alaska.

I talk to people who’ve been here in Anchorage for 25, 30 and even 50 years. I see advertisements for businesses that were started by gold prospectors 100-years-ago.

I hear talk of the Sourdoughs, those who’ve been around for a while.

Seems you have to put in a hard winter or 10 before you become a Sourdough. The winters today don’t count for much.

Meanwhile, I’m a Cheechako.

And like nowhere else I’ve ever been, I feel like one.

This morning I followed two cars down a side road leading away from my son’s school. I thought maybe I’d find a shortcut to C Street, a major thoroughfare that takes me to my job in Midtown.

It worked. I learned something. Institutional knowledge gained by exploration.

Yesterday Cheryl found a free clinic so Carson could get two shots required to enter the Anchorage school system. She noticed it when she turned down a one-way street near Benihanas in downtown.

On Sunday we found a local, favorite sledding hill that we plan to get back to now that the snow is falling hard.

In a week, I’ve been part of the coverage of one of Alaska’s biggest election cycles in many years. At stake: a Senate seat and all the unanswered questions of the Tea Party Movement, traditional state politics, pork barrel spending, taxation, native affairs and numerous other complex issues important to Alaskans.

I’m reading as fast as I can, and yet I feel like it will take me years to understand this. There is no “Alaska for Dummies.”

So I hang out with our news director Steve Mac Donald whenever I can. Institutional knowledge gained through questioning the locals, especially newsies who’ve been at it for a while.

After his first day at school on Tuesday, my son Cole told me Alaskans are too nice.

“How so?”

“When I tried to sit out of the indoor hockey game because I don’t know how to play, they kept giving me the stick and telling me to take their place.”

Yesterday a local realtor took my wife and daughter on a tour of the city’s neighborhoods and explained a little about each place. The demographics, the schools, the age and general condition of the housing.

Institutional knowledge gained by experiences.

I am a Cheechako here in a dark, cold place, but if you put a heat map over the city of Anchorage, you’d find a red-hot glow in southwest Alaska, and I’m guessing you’d find a lot of red-hot dots all over this land.


Losing my religion and other compromises

We’ve converted. I’m not sure what we’ve converted to. All I know is my wife signed a religious waiver regarding child immunizations in order to get our son Cole into school. I should probably do some research into whatever it is we now believe about health care and our children. Don’t want to be a hypocrite after all.

As adventures go, the horizon is never visible for long. Unknown mountain ranges or fog banks inhibit your view, and you may find yourself in a box canyon or an impassable drainage.

But you reroute, you explore, you climb the high ridges and get your bearings again.

Modern-age adventure isn’t much different. In trying to lead my family through the hoops of relocating to a new city in what might as well be a new country, I’ve discovered that there are an inordinate amount of box canyons and impassable drainages.

We’re living in an executive apartment in downtown Anchorage, which has its perks, including proximity to some of the great Anchorage night life. And I’m not talking about wolves and bear.

There are couches and chairs and a little plastic table in the kitchen. We have knives and forks and glasses, and our refrigerator is starting to look like we’re more than just on vacation here. There is a television, and I signed up for high-speed Internet for a month so we could stay connected.

We keep the heat at 55 degrees, but our neighbors seem to like the nuclear setting and keep theirs set to hotter than hell. We walk around in shorts and t-shirts while inside and sleep with only a sheet over us.

Cooking meals for five in small pans is incredibly frustrating and funny at the same time. Trying to make a salad is a four-part process, which requires cleaning the kitchen and washing dishes in between each stage. We eat in stages.

There is no dish washer, per say, so the boys are getting a little lesson in the old art of hand washing.

The biggest challenge is keeping Carson, who really likes to bounce a lot, from tumbling around the apartment sounding like his nickname, Hurricane Carson. He seems to forget that we live above someone. In exchange, I let him bounce on the beds to get some of that energy out.

We got 7 inches of snow yesterday, which is almost enough to lose Carson in, so he’s been home bound and unable to attend school because of our lack of a permanent address.

Many schools in Anchorage, especially the good ones, are on a lottery system, and many are closed for the year. But they are taking applications for next year.

We are not the homeschool types either. In fact, we hate homework almost as much as the kids do. So far we’ve been lucky to have good friends and neighbors to handle math and other subjects that I’m not very good at.

Sunday afternoon offered more fat snow flakes and slick roads as we drove around Anchorage looking for a place to live. In one neighborhood we happened upon the largest moose we’ve ever seen. It was munching leftover pumpkins in yards as a calf explored front porches in the Turnagain neighborhood.

And last night we ran out of clean clothes and visited a laundromat for only the second time in our 17 years together. We deposited what seemed like the remainder of our bank account in the form of quarters into 4 commercial washing machines and people watched for the next couple of hours.

The laundromat was full of Samoans and Tongans with little kids running around and lots of food and conversation in the background. It’s a sight I haven’t seen in a long time, and it made me feel good to be in a different cultural setting.

We finished drying and folding our laundry at 11 p.m., just as the owner was sweeping out the shop and getting ready to lock the doors.

Today we pushed the issue of getting the kids into school, and Cheryl signed a religious waiver to get our son Cole enrolled at Central Science. She’ll spend the rest of the day trying to get Carson enrolled at Inlet View. I’m left wondering why there is no consistency between states and school systems. One state wants birth certificates, another state wants proof of immunization. I want an easier way to navigate the bureaucracy behind my headache.

As sometimes happens in an adventure, my wife is left with the brunt of a lot of the navigation, while I’m learning my new city through the eyes of the local broadcast station. I’m already well into the challenges of work and enjoying my job very much, while trying to support Cheryl by phone, E-mail and text message.

Yesterday she found the perfect house. Too perfect. It’s a nice suburban single-family home in south Anchorage with new cherry wood floors, granite counter tops and a yard the size of a small eastern state.

The rental price was ridiculously low, which caused me to think twice. Still, I E-mailed the contact on Craigslist with the hopes that there was some explanation of why the price was so low.

Indeed there was. Turns out Mr. Harold B Richardson has moved to Spain with his lovely wife. They must rent their home here in a hurry and though they know the price is low, they would love to have a good family in there.

All we have to do is send them our bank info and they’ll send us the keys.

The telltale sign in all of this was the return phone number with an area code from Lagos, Nigeria, which my friend Michelle graciously pointed out.

The disappointment Cheryl felt clouded much of Sunday for us.

But today is a new day with a few more listings on Craigslist. I’ll be wearing a KTUU Channel 2 NBC vest in hopes that someone out there wants to rent to a news guy with a nice little family.

This post may sound depressing, but it’s really not. We’re adjusting to all the new challenges, and the kids are starting to get their bearings. Cheryl and I will start to find ours soon enough. Then it’s onward and upward.


Talking Story

This whole journalism thing started out with a desire to be a storyteller. My dad is one of the best auditory storytellers anywhere, and I wanted to be just like him.

I remember writing poetry and short stories many years ago. I have numerous journals filled with my notes and stories from childhood. I never made a big deal about it, because it was a compulsion I didn’t really understand at the time.

But I remember my brother wrote a story about fighter planes and dog fights that really captured the interest of my parents. They lavished praise on him, and rightly so. He wrote an exciting story that had a beginning, middle and end with an exciting climax and lots of action.

I remember feeling really jealous of the attention he got for that story. I felt that I was the writer in the family and that he was good at so many other things.

Eventually I realized that he wrote that story from an interest in planes and dog fights rather than any interest in being a writer. My brother has a very scientific mind that relates to complex ideas in a way that breaks them down into usable chunks.

His story fascinated me because of the way he used his own words to relate what he understood about airplanes.

I wanted to tell stories like that.

Print journalism seemed a natural fit for me with its adherence to form and style. But early on I realized that print could only tell part of the story based on the audience.

I knew that many people glance at the newspaper and maybe read the headlines or view the photos. A smaller percentage actually read the front page of the newspaper from top to bottom, and an even smaller minority read beyond the front page.

And yet news still is disseminated. Some of it is word of mouth or water-cooler conversation. Sometimes articles are clipped out or forwarded via E-mail. Little bits of information get out into the wider population in spite of newspaper reading habits.

One of the reasons I gravitated toward online journalism is because of a desire to tell stories and reach people where they are at. I always felt a little useless writing stories about the county that were read by county workers and subscribers over 65 who still had the habit of reading every story in the paper.

Videos and podcasts and multimedia Web stories fascinated me in their ability to reach a wider audience, and I quickly realized that online storytelling could erase the boundaries and stretch the canvas of storytelling to infinity.

People often ask me about why I chose online journalism instead of sticking to writing stories.

Stories are pieces of life that when put together artistically form our collective history. More than that, good stories become part of the fabric of society upon which we build our empires.

Stories are pieces too, and most storytelling today puts the pieces together quickly and tries to distribute that story to as wide and audience as possible. But so many pieces are missing still.

A good story teller uses many tools. If an elder telling stories wants to capture his audience, he uses the inflection of his voice and hand movements. He makes himself small at times to emphasize the vastness of his tale. The visuals of his storytelling are as important as the words he uses to tell the story.

That has remained the same since the beginning of time. The printing press changed that somewhat as text dominated illustration.

Today a good storyteller has options well beyond a text-based story. In fact good storytelling includes many elements beyond text.

I think of how many stories were written during the recent election about the impossibility of winning a write-in campaign. Text-based stories sought to explain that certain sections of Alaska’s interior were united in their support for one candidate, while other enclaves in larger cities supported another candidate.

It was all very confusing to try and read between the lines to see where the state of Alaska actually cast its vote.

Good storytelling finds the best tools to tell each story.

So in yesterday’s news meeting, someone suggested making a visualization of how each part of the state of Alaska voted for the contentious U.S. Senate seat held by Lisa Murkowski.

I came back to the Web team and asked the designer, Jeff Rivet, if he could cannibalize another flash map he’d made of the state and show us how each section of the state voted in what could be a historical win for a write-in candidate.

It’s not the whole story, but it’s a piece that contains elements of the whole story, and it’s both visual and text based with moving parts.

I love thoughtful storytelling. I love when a visual can replace a bunch of text in explaining a complex idea.

Journalism is far from dead. And as storytelling has evolved from the beginning of time with small changes and history changing movements, we are in a transitional phase where the art and craft of story are moving beyond older technology on the shoulders of new technology.


It’s too hot in Alaska

I have now spent a total of nine days in Alaska, if you count the interview trip a month or so ago, and I have yet to see any wildlife. If you don’t count the election of course.

But that’s neither here nor there. I’m sure a few months from now seeing a moose on the coastal trail will be old hat.

Observing the kids has been interesting. My 12 going on 45-year-old son Cole is already adept at Alaska things. Like navigating us around town using his mom’s new iPhone. He’s also schooling her in the art of setting up E-mail, downloading apps and otherwise giving her dozens of other reasons to pay less attention to me. Of course, if you ask her, I deserve it for having my eyes glued to a computer 18 out of the 24 hours in any given day.

The darkness is interesting thus far. For example, it’s 8:33 a.m., and I’m sitting in my office waiting for some IT help. It’s pitch black outside, and yet I can hear the crunching sound of car tires on ice. It will remain this way for another hour or so. But in the evening, the darkness falls around 5:30 p.m., which is not all that different from Oregon at the solstice.

Carson asks about our container of household goods every day. “Dad, is our stuff here yet?” “No, Carson, why do you ask?” “Because I want some toys to play with.”

I thought it might be a brilliant idea to buy the boys each an iPod Touch to ease the pain of transition and as a way for them to communicate with their friends back in Montana. For Cole it has been such. For Carson, not so much.

Carson is, after all, a boy in all senses of the word. He lives in his imagination like 90 percent of the time, dreaming up all kinds of scenarios mixing “Star Wars” and “Lord of The Rings” at his will. But he is also in need of props to live out his dreams. The best being a set of Legos whereby he can invent worlds, break them up and reinvent new worlds on a whim.

Gabrielle, somewhat surprisingly, has cried for home more than the others. When I ask her about why she is sad, she says she misses family in Oregon. Her grandma and grandpa and nanny and papa. She was so small when we moved to Montana, I would have thought her affinity for Oregon would be less than the boys.

But it’s her affinity for our families that causes her to be sad when she spends too much time thinking about it.

I’m happy to report that Morris the gecko has not only survived a harrowing trip across four states in a U-Haul truck and then an embarrassing inspection by airport security and a bumpy flight to a climate that is nothing like that of his desert home, but he he thriving on mealworms and crickets once again.

We all noticed he got a bit skinny during this whole adventure, but his fat tail is slowly getting fatter once again, and he’s happy sitting on calcium sand warmed by his heat pad and his heat lamp in a comfortable 88-degree glass aquarium.

My only complaint so far has been the fact that at night when I return from work, I must dress down to shorts and a t-shirt to survive the balmy temperatures in our apartment. We keep our heat at 55 degrees, because we are warmed, I assume, by the ridiculously high temperatures coming from the apartments below and to the sides of us. It averages about 75 degrees in the apartment, and last night I had to open the windows to allow some of that frigid air inside to scour things out a bit.

Things are about as far from the familiar as it can get right now, but the newness of everything makes it all interesting and fun.


Be careful not to break your legs when you hit the ground running

There is a real sense of being in a foreign country once you touch down here in Anchorage. Sure you have the familiar fast-food chains and huge oil company buildings. The roads are familiar and everyone drives on the right side of the road. But the feel of the place is different than the interconnected towns and cities in the Lower 48.

I woke up this morning at 5:30 a.m. to the sounds of apartment dwellers bustling about in the dark getting ready for work. I fell asleep again and woke up to just a faint hint of dawn. I yawned and stretched and rolled over to find my phone charging on the ground next to the bed. 
9:01 a.m. What? 
I scrambled for the shower and dressed in a few minutes and dragged my wife our of bed to drive me to work. 
The dark mornings are a blessing and a curse. I like the quiet pre dawn darkness. It’s one of the best times of day to really focus. But curled up in bed with sweet darkness all around, it’s tempting to just close your eyes and drift off again, especially after getting home at 2:00 a.m.
Election day is a sacred day for journalists. The excitement is palpable in the frenzied way newsrooms get started as counting begins in earnest. Broadcast stations are dead in comparison. Mostly because our entire operation moved off site and into the Egan Convention Center, otherwise known as Election Central. 
Anchors worked a live set while producers and reporters wrangled candidates for first interviews after initial results. The Wall Street Journal, L.A. Times and other national media outfits made an L-shaped army with computer shields around the back wall of the center.
I haven’t really worked an election since Obama was elected president, and the sights and sounds got my journalistic juices flowing. I followed Kortnie, one of our web team members, around to some of the different candidate parties, and all I wanted to do was pull out a notepad and start collecting quotes and color for the big election story. 
My small contribution to the overall newscast on election night was staying in touch with our web team members manning the station at KTUU and checking to see when our updates were coming through on our mobile sites. And I just can’t wait until the next election. I want to be right back in that journalistic mess that is election night. Because on the other side is a beautiful thing.
As usually happens, the day after election day is a big come down. The journalistic adrenaline that surged the night before starts to leave your system, and you feel the tiredness of having stayed up until 2 a.m.
The gloom of the north doesn’t help either. The sun just doesn’t have the strength it has at lower latitudes. 
When the sun does shine, it reflects off the Chugach range like a giant mirror. The saw-toothed tops remind you of what beckons beyond. Alaska. 
I am happy these first few days in Alaska. Now it’s time to get the family settled, back in school and on with life. 

A day in a zoo of dead animals

I finally caught my breath next to a large brown bear chasing a rather panicky deer. The Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage is like a great zoo for dead things.

There are polar bears, mountains goats, Dall sheep, numerous brown bears, ptarmigan, caribou, moose and many other northern creatures mounted in life-like poses in large glass enclosures.

The Chugach Mountains glisten under bright sunshine to the east and out the large glass windows of the airport.

If you have to be stuck in an airport, this is the one to be stuck in.

The wake-up call came early this morning. It seemed like I just put my head to the pillow when my daughter jumped into bed with us at 3:45 a.m., just a few seconds before the alarm went off. Turns out all of our packing the evening before and a plan to leave for the airport an hour before our goal of being there an hour before departure was a great failure.

Mondays are terrible days to travel. Period. Dozens and dozens of suits lined up against the wall waiting for an automated check-in machine. Traveling with Morris the gecko meant we had to check in at the agent desk. The line moved like people waiting for an Eastern European toilet.

The ticket agent was a peach. She told me no less than four times there was no way we’d make our flight as she happily charged my Visa $100 for a pet that cost $39. Not to take away from the intrinsic value of an animal aside from its pet-store price.

She refused to check us all the way through, because she was convinced we wouldn’t make our Anchorage connection in Seattle.

We ran carrying heavy bags on our shoulders and wheeling the rest of our belongings behind us. Morris stood on all four legs with his belly high off the ground as if trying to find balance or meaning in the terrible commotion.

The TSA agent at security was the nicest I’ve ever met. She inspected Morris and instructed Carson to take care of this good-looking little guy. We put our shoes and coats on, repacked and ran down the people movers looking for gate A.

The ticket agent at the gate was a real peach. Oh, wait, I said that. Turns out there is a pattern with Horizon ticket agents when you’re late. They have no patience at all. After a good tongue lashing about causing other passengers to be late, we climbed aboard a very crowded Bombardier bound for Seattle.

I smiled at Cheryl as the sweat dripped off my head like it did the last time I had a good sauna.

We made it.

Upon landing in Seattle, we found out our connecting flight to Anchorage was about as far away as you could possibly be in the airport. So we ran to catch a train to catch an escalator to find a friendly Alaska Airlines ticket agent waiting for us with five tickets in hand.

“You must be the five people from Portland without boarding passes?”

“Yes, we are. I’m so sorry.”

“Nothing to worry about sir, we’ll get you on board soon.”

I collapsed in my seat dripping sweat once again and slept on an off between having to tell Gabrielle to stop kicking the seat in front of her. I set up some videos for the kids to watch, played Angry Birds for an hour and dozed until the bumpy landing in Anchorage.

If you know anything about me by now, you know I’m not a detail person, preferring instead the bigger picture. If I had lived 100-years-ago, I’d be traveling always with an assistant.

I neglected to tell our housing organizer that we were arriving Monday, substituting Tuesday instead. So here we sit in the Anchorage airport from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. waiting for a shuttle that will take us to our hotel where a 3 p.m. check-in time awaits us along with a good swim, a shower and an early bed time.

There were plenty of negatives this morning. The good thing is we’re together here in Anchorage, our new city. We took a walk to the other side of the terminal to look at downtown and then a peek at midtown. Somewhere out there we’ll find a new home, and these mountains will be our backdrop from now on.

The future is looking good.


Anchorage or bust!

Our plane bound for Seattle then Anchorage departs in a little over six hours. Our bags are packed, Morris the gecko has a travel home fit for a king, and though we sent the kids’ birth certificates on ahead, we found that the airlines will not require them to have identification.

And yet I’m awake and stressed to the point of breaking. Could be the the fact that our house in Missoula still is not rented out or the other fact that I accidentally told our facilitator in Anchorage we’d be arriving on Tuesday instead of Monday, and now we don’t have a place to stay tomorrow night.

Little details.

I’m sitting here reflecting on all that’s familiar about being home. We ate a huge breakfast of varenyki this morning. They are Ukrainian dumplings boiled then fried with caramelized onions and smothered in sour cream. For a Slavic boy, they are as comfortable as comfort food gets.

This evening, we crowded around the television set to watch our San Francisco Giants win their third game in this year’s World Series. I spoke briefly with my 88-year-old grandmother, who lives in the Bay Area, and sure enough, she was watching it too.

As I’ve said before, the Golden Gate is our Ellis Island. The San Francisco 49ers and Giants are our teams. They have always been.

The familiar helps me deal with the unfamiliar. A few of my favorite things make the looming storm of moving to a new city a little easier to face.

These last few hours in the home I grew up in have been healthy for me. In these walls I feel safe and welcome.

Here, surrounded by family, I feel as good as I think I’m capable of feeling right now.

I’m excited about the job and starting something completely new. I’m excited about moving to a new city and meeting new people. I’m thrilled to be exploring such an amazing place like Alaska.

But the trepidation is there under the surface. I feel it for the three little ones in my care. How to make them secure and warm and comfortable amidst a lot of change and chaos. Already they’re starting to feel the bigness of this move. Little questions like: “Daddy, are airplanes scary?” and “Where are we going to live when we get there?”

They are their father’s children. Adventure beckons, and they rush toward it. But the emotional heavy hitters like leaving behind best friends and moving far enough away from family that you can’t drive it in one day are sinking in.

Well, tomorrow is upon us. It’s time to rest for a few minutes and begin this journey in earnest.


A sense of place

There will be a lot of lasts this week. This is in fact our last Monday in Missoula. Last kickball game tonight, last flag football game for Carson, final cross country practice for Cole. Next week at this time we’ll be in Salem, Oregon meeting up with our trailer that will ship our belongings to Alaska.

Today we are going to take a few hours and go to one of our favorite hot springs. We have a long week of packing our life up into boxes, so I want to spend one last day enjoying the good life of Western Montana.

There are few places like this, and after three years I understand why people carve out a life here despite a poor economic base. The amenities in this region of the Northern Rockies are like nowhere else. Mountains, lakes, rivers, hot springs, national parks and wildlife better than the best zoo are just a few of the reasons people move here.

The adventures we’ve had here as a family can only probably be rivaled by some time spent in the last frontier, but we won’t know that until we have lived it for awhile. Place is the great forgotten character in the story of life. Missoula is a place where people are in touch with that primordial notion of the home pond more than anywhere I’ve ever visited before.

A sense of place defines Missoula so much that people are willing to make less money in return for living in proximity to places like the Rattlesnake wilderness or the Bitterroot Mountains. People carve a life out of some very meager economic sediment. Many of our friends have multiple jobs or cram their families into tiny apartments in order to live somewhere many call the last best place.

I struggled to see this when I first moved here. In fact, for nearly three years I was frustrated at the idea that anyone should earn less because of some nature tax. I still think the idea is absurd, but I’m less inclined to blame those who choose to reside here in spite of the nature tax.

But I will gladly blame city officials and those leaders of the largest industries, including the university, for continuing to make Missoula Poverty With A View. A nature tax does nothing to improve this city, nor does it keep people away as you might hope. Californians continue to move to Montana every year.

Place is integral to our story. When my grandparents told their story, place was a character that shifted with them. It was a trail through mountain passes, a city in northern China, a refugee camp in the Philippines, a boat sailing across the Pacific Ocean. It was an apartment on Geary Street in San Francisco, and I caught up with their story when place was a lovely little house in Pacifica, California.

For others, place is a still point, like every 4th generation Montanan I’ve ever met. They are in tune with the fenced parcel of land back to their great grandfathers who homesteaded these parts. For Native Americans, place is a 10,000-year-old continent finally free of ice where they could roam and have their being.

I don’t have a strong connection to place. If I did, it would be a cedar-lined ocean shore with thundering surf and a salty nose. That’s as close as I can come to identifying with place. I love my parents’ wooded home in the Willamette Valley, but it’s a stop for me. My birthplace of Santa Rosa, California is one of my favorite places. My grandfathers plowed those grape-seeded hillsides and valleys. Richenau an der Rax is where I think I fell in love with mountains, hiking, skiing and life in a quiet woodland. Pasadena, California is where I learned to love big, ugly, sprawling cities teeming with humanity. Salem, Oregon is where I found my best friend. It is also that which is most familiar to me and therefore that from which I most readily flee. Honolulu, Hawaii is where I fell in love with the crossroads, those cities that blend life from many different pathways.

In Missoula, I fell in love with community. No other city exhibits community the way Missoula does. From weekly gatherings for lunch or dinner in Caras Park to First Friday art walks and community runs along the river, I’ve never seen a town so aware of its identity. That I could readily talk to the mayor, leading citizens, long timers and newcomers at any point of any day speaks volumes about how tight this city is.

I don’t have a sense for what Anchorage will be like. Four days there was not enough to get even a small feeling about it. But I can’t wait to find out what I think about it a year from now.

Maybe place moves with me, as it did for my family as they emigrated across the vast Eurasian Steppe. Maybe the cities I’ve lived in collectively add up to place for me. I don’t know. All I really know is that I’ve yet to find that stretch of cedar-lined coast with roaring waves and salty air.


Leaving the continental United States

The logistics of moving to Alaska are very much like moving to a foreign country. Some people actually refer to Alaska as a foreign country.

My conversation with several shippers yesterday went like this:

“I need to ship the contents of a small three-bedroom house to Alaska. Can you accommodate that?”

“Are you sure you need to move to Alaska?”

“… Yes, it’s where my job is at.”

“Well, we only ship within the continental United States now sir. We no longer have shipping to Alaska.”

“Alaska is part of the North American continent. It’s attached to Canada, which was still part of the North American Continent the last time I checked. You can drive there from here.”

“That’s contiguous United States sir.”

“I know, I can access Wikipedia too.”

“Well, if you want to move somewhere else, let me know, I think I can help you get a a discount.”

And so on and so forth. I actually had several conversations like this. Turns out there are only a handful of people who ship to Alaska any more.

Another conversation:

“Can you describe the contents of your house.”

“I’ve got a dark brown L-shaped couch, a lightly stained bookshelf…”

“No, sir, I meant an inventory of items you’d like to ship to Alaska.”

“Oh, well, yes, we have a couch, a book shelf, five mattresses, a futon, two televisions, a lamp and maybe 20 boxes of belongings we’d like to bring.”

“Wow, you guys travel light.”

“That’s the dream. The reality is we’ll have twice that.”

“Oh, ok, let me give you a dream price and a real price then.”

Alaska is so near and yet so far away. It’s a short three-hour hop from Seattle by air, a three-day journey by inland passageway via a ferry boat or a five-day drive from Seattle.

There is no cheap way of getting in or out.

I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am for our friends both in Alaska and in Missoula (former Alaskans) who have offered to help us navigate this move. You are all amazing people.

It’s 2010. Why don’t we have a teleportation device that could work for this kind of move yet? The concept existed when I was a little kid watching Star Trek.

As I type, my wife is packing the house and secretly jabbing daggers in my spine. I hate packing up a house. I like the heavy lifting and putting boxes in the back of a truck. Putting stuff in boxes is so not my forte. I think when I was young I never got one of those balls with squares, triangles and circles cut out and into which you’d try to fit the cut out pieces. I just don’t have a good sense of fit.


Thirty seven days in the unemployment line

It looks as though I’m going to have to change the name of this blog. I was originally inspired by the government extension of unemployment aid allowing laid off Americans to collect for up to 99 weeks.

My position at the Missoulian newspaper was cut on Monday, September 30. I applied for unemployment immediately, and to date I’ve received nothing but slips of paper saying my unemployment aid status is pending.

Last night I accepted a job at the new director of digital content at KTUU, the NBC affiliate in Anchorage, Alaska. Somehow Ninetynineweeks just doesn’t seem that appropriate any more. However, I don’t want to leave any interested readers hanging, so I’ll continue to chronicle the adventure as it progresses.

My wife and I spent a lot of time in Hawaii in the early part of our marriage. Having to move away after we had our first child, we vowed to find a way back some day. Since then, we returned to Oregon, spent time traveling and working in Eastern Europe and ended up in Missoula, Montana, which is not exactly a population center. And now Alaska, with an even lower population than Montana, is our our next destination. Things don’t always make sense, but I find that big picture stuff is often a little fuzzy and distal. Probably for a good reason.

I have always loved the ocean, but I have come to love the mountains. Anchorage seems to have both in abundance, which is something very satisfying to me.

Several months ago I was chatting with a friend in Alaska about our various moves since we met several years ago when I was researching a story for a University of Oregon publication. We would eventually end up working together at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, and we founded the craft beer blog – “Will blog for beer.”

On this evening, I was asking about life in Alaska, a place she moved after her husband graduated from law school in Oregon. To my surprise, one of the best print writers I’d ever worked with was now working at a broadcast station.

She took a few minutes to explain that the company was expanding beyond the traditional 5 and 6 p.m. broadcast news to a more web-centric model to provide news digitally in the way Alaskans are increasingly digesting their news.

She told me they were going to begin a search for a digital content director and asked if I was interested in having her forward my resume on to the station president.

I floated the idea past my wife the next day, and I got the reaction I thought I would get. She sort of frowned and cocked her head sideways with that look that says, “You’re crazy, and I hope I didn’t hear you right.”

I let it go and didn’t think much more about it until that fateful Monday.

After sort of processing the idea of being laid off and immediately formatting several plans, including grad school, self employment, international job possibilities and cobbling a bunch of local job offers together, I came back to the Alaska job and decided to E-mail my friend to find out if that search was on.

It was, and while figuring out how to navigate the unemployment aid system, I was corresponding with my future boss in Anchorage.

Finally we were invited to travel to Anchorage to meet with the team there and to check things out around town. I’ve usually done this part of the job interview process myself, but this time Cheryl came with me, as I knew she’d be the hardest sell.

Sunset from downtown Anchorage

Turns out we both loved Anchorage. The sun was just setting as we flew into the city over the tortured ice-bound world of southwest Alaska. I could see a monolithic shadow to the north, something so immense I had to scrunch down in my seat to see the entire mass. This was Denali. The snowless Chugach range framed in the twinkling lights of Anchorage as we landed.

Ocean and mountains. It’s like a complete world for me, though neither of us have any illusions about how difficult winters can be up there. We’re pretty big fans of the light.

A move to Anchorage is not taken lightly. Not by the prospective employer and not by those seeking a job in that state. So the drawn-out process has been a bit torturous as our funds have shrunk to uncomfortable levels.

To accept the offer last night was rewarding for many reasons, not just the physical need to know that our future is set. It’s rewarding to know I’ll be able to continue in the job that my journalism career has morphed into. Going from a traditional print reporter to mobile journalist and videographer to online reporter and finally a digital manager is something I didn’t expect when I walked across the graduation platform at the University of Oregon, but it’s twice the career I planned for and therefore twice as rewarding.

It’s nice to know I won’t have to wait around for unemployment checks that never come. And searching for jobs is a torturous activity in this day in age. I will not miss it.

Now begins the daunting task of getting ourselves to Alaska. You can drive, but it takes up to five or six days. Shipping items is expensive, as is flying. This blog will likely continue to explore the whimsical nature of family antics, the challenges of moving to America’s last frontier and the interesting details of settling in a place that might as well be a million miles away from family for the ease of getting their and back.