Monday, October 15, 2007

Anchorage Underworld

Well, this post is coming to you from Alaska's seedy center, Anchorage USA. Since I seem to only have time for reading on airplanes, let me tell you about this gem I found at the airport. Kim Rich wrote this memoir about her rearing by a gangster and a stripper in high-flying 1960s Anchorage. Pretty sordid stories, but it's a really captivating book that breaks out of the Alaska literary mold. That's Jello not fungi.

These days the underworld pretty much mingles with the overworld. One need only to stand at the central bus station for a few minutes to witness this. Last year Bob and I watched a station attendant roll a sleeping man over long enough to wipe up the small pool of blood under him, then he just rolled the guy back. Downtown is a regular lineup of cheap ivory shops, drunks, and hookers. And a stolid 6-foot tall blond woman selling reindeer sausage out of her minivan.

I had breakfast at the adorable Snow City Cafe. A real bright spot on the downtown landscape. As some of you know, most of downtown Anchorage was destroyed in the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, the largest recorded in North American History at 9.2 on the Moment scale. My impression from Rich's book of Anchorage before the earthquake is a mix of northern slum and glitzy nightlife. Well it was rebuilt so that every building looks like the Mutual of Omaha headquarters, which is to say not pretty. Tragic considering the gorgeous ocean inlet and neighboring snow-covered mountains. Now a canyon of brown tinted glass and stained stucco.

Of course, Anchorage people don't see it that way and they have plenty of criticism for Fairbanks. Though I'm spending most of the week with oil barons, I did get to meet up with R., with whom I went to college. She hosts one of my favorite Alaska-based radio shows. And she lived in Iowa City and is hitched to a Nebraskan. So we've lived in many of the same places, just in a different order. R. brought along a friend, H. who is a pilot for a well-known aerial photography company and has seen many corners of the state. We all had a fun time comparing our AK experiences. After a beer under a deafening broadcast of Law and Order, we paused in the hotel lobby to soak up an 50 person strong ukulele jam-and-sing. There is a convention for Hawaiian diaspora here this week and the consensus is that folks in the 49th state could learn a lot from those in the 50th. These people were having a blast.


abmatic said...

Ive always been a bit inrigued by cities that were buit all at once. Downtown Santa Cruz was damaged in the Loma Preita earthquake in 1989 and the re-build of the shopping area is a 1990's style mall that seems strangely out of place. Crescent City CA was also destroyed by the Good Friday Earthquake (well, a tsunami from it) but I have only driven through town and seen the pieces of breakwall several miles inshore.

ricardorama said...

Hey JC. Some of the folks from Fbanks that I met at my meeting seemed ambivalent towards Anchorage, I was wondering if the rest of Alaska felt that way.

One of them started out by saying that Anchorage is near Alaska, and that you can actually see Alaska from some parts of it...