Columns 2008

Pass the turkey leg and forget the politicians

Since I’m not really what you would call a holiday kind of person, if forced to choose a holiday to celebrate, I always choose Thanksgiving.  It’s about food, family, insane after dinner board games, and a long night of sleeping off a turkey high. No gift shopping involved, no strange looks from the gift recepients. What’s not to love?

As I left for my Thanksgiving trip to the lower 48, I wondered how this one would differ from others now that Alaska’s governor has become a media superstar, almost eclipsing the omnipresent Paris Hilton in adoring coverage by magazines I religiously read only at my hairdresser’s.

Sarah remains a potent symbol of our state, and not necessarily in a good way.  Before Sarah’s VP run, the questions I was asked about Alaska ran the normal gamut from what we use for money up here, to whether a passport was needed to get in, to whether Americans needed a visa to work here, to my all time favorite about where exactly was Alaska because it seemed too cold to really be in the Pacific off the California coastline.

On this trip, the questions showed that while people now clearly understood that we were part of America (OK, maybe some of them didn’t or they wouldn’t have asked me how Sarah could run for VP since she hadn’t been born in America), they now had even more perplexing issues to grapple with about our state.

Some apparently took Palin’s comment that Russia was our neighbor and she could see it from Wasilla quite literally and exclaimed they were unaware the Bering land bridge still connected us or that Alaska was on Russia’s continent, even though they weren’t at all sure what continent that was. When pressed, they would get all fuzzy with their geography until I though it would just be easier to carry at Atlas than try to explain things to the geographically challenged that we seem to be turning out of our school system in droves.

I had one young man ask me if we had to take Sarah back now that she’d lost her bid to be vice-president. This otherwise charming, intelligent young man, who was in the process of finishing up his master’s degree, admitted he really didn’t understand how that stuff worked. Meanwhile, I was forced to admit that she was still our governor and, as Robert Frost so aptly said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”.  Right after that, the unfortunate interview in front of the even more unfortunate turkeys hit the airwaves and I found myself wishing it would all just go away and people would forget about Alaska again.

Aside from that, I spent an inordinate amount of time explaining to people that I was pretty sure Palin knew Africa was a continent before being so informed by McCain staffers and that if pushed, I was also pretty sure she could name the countries that make up North America. On the other hand, when pressed on that issue, I found myself wishing the conversation would return to the turkey video.

So yes, Alaska is now on the map with the rest of America and I unfortunately cannot claim for sure that is a good thing.  We seem to have been better off when we were mostly known for whales stuck in the ice and bridges to nowhere.

But it’s almost Thanksgiving, the turkey is thawing, the cranberries are cooking and I’m thinking of all the things I have to be grateful for in life. I am grateful I have lived long enough to hold my godchild’s babies, have enough airline miles to get me to where she lives to do that, have a sense of smell still strong enough to detect a poopy diaper, and the wisdom to hand the kid back to mom when he does.

Mostly though, despite this rough year of indictments, sentences, careers ending in disgrace and possible ruin, and a governor who put Alaska on the national map in an equally positive and negative fashion, I am grateful that I live in what is still the most insane, vibrant, crazy and wonderful state in this union. Now pass that turkey leg and get out the mahjong tiles.