Sunday, July 24, 2011

I drove to Homer today

I haven't really had a solo road trip before. Sure, I've driven myself around but I have never really just gotten the car and gone. Today I left Moose Pass and drove all around the Kenai Peninsula to Homer. It was pretty fun.

The highlight, really, was this sign in Sterling.

I love signs like this so much. I want one in my yard, for my house number. I love the kitchy diner look of these signs. Sadly this is all that's left of the Truck Stop. I know it would have been staffed by a fleet of women named Doris and Irma. They would call you "Hon" and keep your coffee mug full. Pies would be spinning in that spinny pie thing that places like this always have.

Let's talk about Homer now.

Homer is more spread out that I'm used to for an Alaskan town. It runs miles in each direction from the spit along Kachemak Bay. The gently rolling hills are dotted with traditional-looking farmhouses and honest-to-goodness bales of hay, rolled up midwest style. The soil (of course I looked, sillies) is a dark loamy sand, probably organic-enriched loess or other eolian deposits. It was beautiful stuff and I'm pretty sure you could grow carrots like, whoa.

I divided, in my head, Homer into two very distinct areas: Tourist and Local. The tourist section is the Homer Spit. Here, charter shacks and touristy junk shops line the narrow sandy spit out into the bay. Yeah, the Harbor is here and the bulk of the fish processing facilities. To me, that was a minor part of the Spit, which is unfortunate because I love commercial fishing. I walked around and looked at the stacks of crab pots and the rows of longline drums. This was all hidden away behind tiny, brightly colored buildings shouting to the cruise ship passengers. "Come catch some Halibut," they all screamed in varying degrees of rugged. I couldn't bring myself to go into the Salty Dawg, arguably one of Alaska's most famous landmarks, because of the glut of people getting their picture in front of it. I wanted a sweatshirt but didn't end up with one. I didn't want to be That Girl.

Away from the Spit, the town mellows into as much of a Midwestern-looking liberal town as can exist in Alaska. I visited both bookstores and felt the pages of almost every book on fishing and seaweed. I had breakfast at the Two Sisters Bakery and lunch at the Mermaid Cafe, in Old Town Homer. I bought myself some Smartwool clothing that was on sale, my present to myself is practical clothing. How boring am I.

I drove back at about 2 pm, knowing traffic would be a bearcat. I missed Ninilchik. I wanted to see the boats launch into the pounding surf. But it's ok. It's pretty important not to see everything in one go. You have to save something for next time.

So now I've seen Seward and Homer in addition to all the towns in Southeast. Frankly, I am surprised how interchangeable they all are. The scenery and the outdoors around the town vary greatly but the towns and the shops really don't. They all sell the same old crap. There's always one cool bar and one really great coffee place. Round this out with a harbor and a grocery store and you have Anytown (coastal) Alaska.

People who know me in real life--I've been putting pictures of my time on the Kenai on my facebook page.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Alaska Romance Novel Project: Mail Order Bride

That's right, kids. I'm back. I have a glass brimming with box wine, my give-a-shit-o-meter is pegged at "Attack of the Eye Creatures" production values, and if you don't get that MST3K joke there, well, then I don't care about you.

Kidding! Come huddle around the tale from the glittery pen of Debbie Macomber. I have to be drunk because black-out drunk heroines are key plot points in the novel Mail-Order Bride.
The mail order bride industry is alive and well in the Greatland. It is a practice that I don't pretend to understand. I'm sure people end up happy or whatever, but I could not hitch my wagon to any of the premium individuals who have to purchase a wife from a catalog. There is a reason that local woman have avoided them. Sorry foreign women there are no winners here!

This little tale is not of one Czech bride moving in with a 65 year old gillnetter. No. This is the loving tale of Caroline Meyers of Seattle and her lovably drunk aunts who conspire behind her back to mail her to the Alaskan Interior. Caroline was a jilted bride and her life is, like, soooo sad. Aunty McDrunk sez to Aunt tipsee-dee, "We should totes send Caroline off to marry this guy Paul Trevor. But we should tell her that we're sending her on an Alaskan vacation, guided by Paul Trevor, to clear her head after such terrible relationship drama. Let's not forget to include a thermos of our plot-point alcoholic tea."

And so begins this Swirler. Ms. Macomber's books are hilariously chaste (Oh, yes there are more to come). Characters do sex to each other but it is always after they are married--typically after knowing each other for mere weeks. It is grosser than actual premarital sex.

Here comes Caroline sloshing off the flight to Fairbanks! Pilot John loads her drunk ass into a Cessna and they're off to Atta, her new home. Except she thinks she is on vacation but everyone else knows she's off to be married as soon as the prop stops. Being the last to know is really great! John tells Caroline that Paul runs a pump station on the pipeline and is the only white man in town. (I will not get into why Paul felt he needed to import a White Lady to marry because thinking about that makes me feel gross and conflicted. I really don't know how Alaska Native people would react to this. Maybe it's my liberal white guilt.)

It's a good thing that Paul is pretty hot and Caroline is attracted to him otherwise it may be wierd to drunkenly marry a perfect stranger in an Athabaskan village. Paul whisks Caroline off to the meeting hall and a Russian Orthodox ceremony conducted entirely in Russian. Will she marry him? Everyone made her feel so welcome! It really is good service, treating all the tourists to Atta this way. So Caroline accepts and the two are married. Paul kisses the holy moly out of her and she is super sure this is a very nice dream. Paul wastes no time getting her out of the hall and back to his cabin. Where Caroline passes out in the homey room complete with hand-made quilt. Paul is happy that she fell asleep so he wouldn't tear at her like a wild animal.

But oh, the next morning. When it was not a dream and Caroline is hung over and married to some guy in Alaska. And she realizes her Aunts set her up. I'm surprised that she wasn't more pissed at her only living relatives selling her up the river. Caroline, very reasonably, wants out of this arrangement and is willing to get the sham of a marriage annulled or divorced (becausetheytotallydiditnotheydidn'twinkywink). Paul says no way and he paid for her trip and she is stuck up here and she could just deal with it.

Paul has to go to work and he makes Caroline promise not to run away. She pinky swears, fingers crossed, that she won't. But then she jumps on the first/only plane headed for Circle Hot Springs in a not-warm-enough coat. Circle Hot Springs boasts a lodge filled with hunters. Hunters who treat Caroline like meat and make her dance to avoid rape. Paul walks in and refuses to "save" her from the disgusting men until they demand that she strip. Nobody sees Caroline naked but him. Having taught her a lesson, he flies home with her. Then she isn't allowed out of his sight.

Caroline must go where Paul goes. Progressive, feminist values! Let's recap this love story:
  • Caroline is mailed to Alaska to marry some guy
  • She, very reasonably, wants out and because Paul says no she runs away
  • He teaches her a lesson in obedience by making her dance in front of letchers
  • Caroline must be supervised at all times to keep her in a marriage and a place that she hates for a month. A month is what it takes to love a guy holding you against your will, I guess.
Paul hauls Caroline off to the pumping station every day until he can find some kindly girl to babysit her. Their evenings are spent playing Scrabble and betting on the outcomes. Surprisingly, not really, Caroline really starts enjoying Paul's company. No, it's not Stockholm Syndrome it is twoo wuv. Gag. Tanana, the pregnant girl babysitting Caroline, takes her to the meeting hall to knit with all the other women of the village. The stitching coven tell her how luck she is that Paul is such a fine, virile man. Caroline decides they all know this because he has done the nasty with all of them. Oooh is she mad. And sad. And betrayed. So Paul pins her to the wall and kisses her until she isn't mad anymore. That's some Jim Talbot shit right there.

After that night, Caroline accepts her fate. She begins practicing her nursing trade. She totally left her job without any notice in Seattle! How convenient that there are sick people in Atta. Paul and Caroline finalleee consumate their marriage after a party of some sort. But then Tanana goes into labor. (A pregnant woman in the first act of a romance novel must give birth in the third!) Caroline delivers the breech baby. Like you all knew she would.

Larry, the guy who jilted Caroline, writes a letter and Paul punishes her for writing back by not letting her go to Fairbanks with him. Cripes, this guy is a real peach. He fumes in Fairbanks while a wise elder talks to Caroline about Paul's baggage. A woman left him and he didn't follow her to get her back so Caroline better not ever leave because Paul won't come after her. Then the whole town gets sick and Caroline has to save them all on her own because Paul was weathered out of Atta.

Caroline has had enough and wants to leave. She eventually makes her way home to Seattle and her drunk Aunts. The stupid aunts write to tell Paul that Caroline is pregnant, she isn't, but the Aunts are meddlesome. Paul returns and he has shaved and is better looking for it. Caroline is happy because he loves her more than the woman who left Paul the first time. Caroline won!

I own this book as part of a Romance Mega Book called "Solution: Marriage." If there is something that solves problems, it's getting married. If that doesn't fix ya, have a kid!