Do you remember Tom Bodett? The guy who used to pitch Motel 6? Yeah, "We'll leave the light on for ya" and all. That guy. Mr. Bodett was my first taste of Alaska. Way back before he was a famous pitchman, he had an NPR show called "The End of the Road." It was about the local color around his town of Homer. My family and I used to sit at the kitchen table from 6-7 on Sunday evenings listening rapturously to the stories about people even stranger than we were. I think I was about 9 years old.
We eventually bought some of his tapes to listen to on our long car trips. Other tapes that fueled our 6 hour trips to our "cabin" were the audio from our favorite movies. Like Christmas Story, we used to listen to it in the car.
Ahem. When I first moved to Alaska, I began obsessively collecting Alaskana--or Alaskan kitsch. I still haven't really outgrown that (ask me about my collection of Alaska-themed romance novels sometime). In my collection are two of Tom's books. I read them when I first bought them about 7 years ago and they've sat on my Alaska Bookshelf since. I finally re-read one of them, prompted by my Brother reading it first.
Once you get past the somewhat dated essays on computers and technology (hello 1986!) you see what a cozy, isolated life we really lead up here. Weather up here is our Alpha and Omega. Fish, especially salmon, are found at every potluck. Our cars are held together, like ours, with plumber's clamps and bailing wire. People are kind, if a bit fiercely independent.
The essay that really struck home probably shouldn't have. He was writing about visiting a big city during a book tour and learning how to be callous toward homeless people. It was painful because I tend to feel pretty uncomfortable around homeless people because I don't know what to do. There are lots of societal rules about How One Should Be toward poor people that conflicts with my jelly doughnut interior. (I am a total softie.) In this essay, Tom had an opportunity to buy a particularly rough looking guy some food, but didn't. With me, I had granola bars in my backpack during our recent wander around Seattle that I didn't give anybody. It's a big thing and a nothing all at once. I guess that's why it bothers me so much.
In Alaska, it's easy to pretend these problems don't exist. Homelessness isn't really a huge problem where I live--poverty and not enough to eat certainly are. I don't know why I'm thinking about this today. Sometimes we are a bit molly coddled up here and it hurts to realize it.