Columns 2000

The joys of urban living

I asked a friend who recently moved to Anchorage from Barrow how long it took before the urge to buy 10 cases of paper towels every time he shopped at Costco wore off. He said it had been over nine months since he left the bush and that moment had not yet occurred for him.

As I approach the final few weeks of my life here, I find myself wondering more and more how I will adjust to life in a place with not only multiple choice shopping, but the ready availability of goods.  I will no longer have to keep that running list on my refrigerator entitled, “Things to buy in Anchorage”. I will no longer plan my medical appointments to coincide with when I will run out of enough stuff to make a Costco run worthwhile.

It’s not that we don’t have grocery stores here in Barrow. In fact we have two. But two still isn’t very much of a choice. And sometimes you get the distinct impression that competition in the bush is not based on how low a price they can charge but how high a price they can charge before you start fomenting rebellion at the checkout stand.  I think many bush grocers have as their motto, “If you don’t like us, feel free to shop at our competition. Oh wait – that’s right, there isn’t any.”

I also am concerned about my reaction to restaurants.  It’s not that we don’t also have restaurants in the bush. It’s just that there is a limited amount of them and after the first few weeks you tend to know the menus by heart.  Instead of a choice of Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese or Japanese cuisine, you get generic Asian restaurants. Instead of French, Italian, Greek or Spanish cuisine, you get generic European restaurants with a BLT and steak thrown in to represent America.  Many of my friends sheepishly admit that when they hit the big city, their first stop is not the Crow’s Nest but MacDonald’s. When they return from a trip out, they fill the plane with the smell of KFC and Big Macs they are bringing home to the wife and kids.

And then there is my car. As I look around its interior, an interior into which I have been throwing things for 11 years now, I wonder if I will ever be comfortable driving a car that doesn’t have chains, tow ropes and extra warm weather gear like gloves, hats and scarves scattered tastefully throughout.  Can you actually drive safely in Anchorage without them?  It doesn’t seem like you can still be in Alaska if you can.  And I am led to understand that in the big city you don’t have to drive with you car permanently set on four-wheel high.  Is that really possible?

I know I can expect a lot of things to be different when I finally settle down in Anchorage.  And I expect that I will eventually be able to leave Costco without clutching a hotel sized pack of toilet paper in one arm and a 2000 packet box of Equal in the other.  But I’m guessing that will take awhile. As for the restaurants, I plan to stick a lovely plant on top of my stove and store books in my new dishwasher for at least the first year I’m there.  I plan to take out the phone book and start at the A’s and work my way through every restaurant and fast food joint in Anchorage. And when I’m done, I might consider buying some pots and pans for my kitchen.  Or I might just start at the A’s all over again. 

Ah, the joys of urban life!