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.
“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.