I come from a long line of frugal people. Actually, by the time the family genes from my parents mingled, some would say frugal is a mild term for what resulted. So, despite what I recently paid for a pair of original Beatles-styled sunglasses from the sixties in almost mint condition for my sister’s 50th birthday present, I usually am on the side of caution in spending. I pay off my credit card every month and spend a lot of time reassuring myself that I do not have more debt than I could pay off instantly if required.
So when Governor Murkowski started agitating for a new jet, I came down solidly on the side of those citizens who thought he should be able schlep around in the plane he has and not try to be some jet-setting super star. After all, these were our tax dollars he wanted to use to make himself comfortable. How dare he!
Ok, being Alaskan means that he isn’t actually using “our” tax dollars since we don’t pay an income tax. But the self-righteous indignation I felt at his request was there nonetheless.
And then I had the opportunity of chatting with Nancy Murkowski while I was in Barrow this winter. The governor was at Barrow’s public radio station for an interview and I happened to be there visiting with old friends. Mrs. Murkowski was offered a cup of coffee. I saw her hesitate. I hastened to assure her that the coffee served on the North Slope was harmless but that wasn’t why she hesitated.
Her hesitation was that she was about to get back on the state plane to return to Fairbanks and it was about a three or four hour flight. The only bathroom that would be available to her during that flight was a funnel behind a curtain at the back of the plane. She instantly won me over to the need to upgrade the plane she flies in as our First Lady.
I spent a lot of years flying in the Bush in planes with no amenities for women. Men can get away with any old bottle or container available. A woman’s anatomy is such that it is physically impossible to accurately use such a system. And so I spent a lot of years risking kidney failure when I knew I had to fly somewhere in a plane with no restroom.
I’d stop drinking fluids about 4 PM the day before I had to get on the plane on the assumption that if nothing went in, then nothing would have to come out. My skin would start shriveling but still I would refuse anything but the smallest sips of coffee or water – just enough to keep me this side of an emergency room.
Then, after the trip was completed, I’d sit in my house and suck down enough liquid to sink the Titanic all over again in the hope of avoiding severe urinary track problems. Since this was a pattern I repeated for over 27 years, the wonder is that I haven’t had to have my bladder replaced yet with a plastic one.
I didn’t agree with Governor Murkowski’s attempt to buy a jet using Homeland Security funds. And apparently neither did the Feds. But I think we need to put aside the Puritan impulse that sometimes seems so rife in American life – the impulse that says any pleasure or easing of life’s passage is somehow vaguely suspect or sinful – and view the need for a new plane as what it really is. Simply put, it is a humanitarian gesture. It is something that we should do because asking our First Lady to use a funnel behind a curtain to answer nature’s call is just rude and mean.
If you think the governor misuses the privilege of having a state plane at his disposal, than tell him that in the most powerful terms you have at hand – with your vote at the ballot box. Because the issue of misuse of the plane is totally separate from the simple humanitarian gesture of providing a plane for use by our governor and his wife that admits to the need for some basic creature comforts.
We are trying to replace all the honey buckets in our villages as vestiges of a frontier past that no longer represent what we want for Alaska in the future. I think we should try to do the same with the plane our governor uses. Funnels, curtains behind a back seat – let’s put them to rest and give our First Lady a modicum of comfort and ease. She deserves it.