Can I have that expedited?

November 5, 2010


I always knew I was a city girl. Well, for the most part. For a good portion of my childhood I convinced myself that I lived in the country. This wasn’t some sort of delusion or fairy tale, but I think that it was derived from children’s books and Sesame Street. The “city” meant sky scrapers and horns honking and subways and things of the like that I had never experienced in suburbia. The “country” was animals and fields of grass. Suburbia had parks that were like fields, and dogs like Lassie who was from a farm, but yet it also had equally spaced houses that were organized kind of like the theoretical New York or Chicago that I had in my mind.  Life in the city was fast and exciting and people had lots of different accents and their heritage could be determined by the color felt they were made with. Eventually I learned that suburbia is virtually the city and that I conformed to its fast pace, but to what extent I didn’t really understand until I actually went to the “country.”

The conventional “slow life” that is synonymous with the “country” is what first convinced me that no matter how ideally picturesque and pastoral the middle of nowhere may be, I did not fit into it. My first experience with “the slow life” was when my parents moved to rural Kentucky and I would go to visit for vacations. At first it could be likened to camping because it was unbearably hot and we were using Coleman stoves and lanterns and there were lots and lots of bugs. The heat was so bad that we would spend the days lounging on old lawn chairs or sleeping next to the room air conditioner with satellite TV droning on comfortingly in the background. That’s all good and well for about a week, but then I would just get bored. I hate to say this because I call myself an outdoor enthusiast, but there’s a big distinction between the outdoors and the country. Eventually I wanted to go shopping, or go to a movie or just plain interact with people. These desires were instilled as a kid and how to pass time without them is puzzling. Then of course there is the issue with people saying they will come over on a specific day, let’s say Tuesday. As an urbanite we assume this is the coming Tuesday, but unknowingly to us they simply mean a Tuesday that is up to their discretion. Although I respect that lackadaisical practices like this are pretty common in several cultures, I still don’t know how not to get irritated by this. In many Latin American cultures, urban or not, I have learned that it’s not uncommon to show up a few hours late for an appointment and this is acceptable. I can’t help but feel bad for the person left waiting because they respected that other person enough to show up when they gave their word they would, while the other person simply neglects to do so. It’s really hard for me to get my mind around tardiness, and I suppose this is more evidence of my trying to fit a square into a peg hole.

Anyway, this is the mindset I had come with to Barrow and I think Barrow’s innately “slow” qualities are proving to be a great challenge to me. First off, I do not want to give the impression of my being judgmental about this aspect of Barrow, and I am definitely not saying that this makes the community or city better or worse than any other place. I’m simply discovering that some of the “slow” characteristics are frustrating to someone accustomed to the metropolis of Mount Pleasant, Michigan. One of the first things Jake and I observed even before we got here is the immensely molasses-like pace of the postal service to Barrow. For economic reasons we chose to parcel post most of our packages here, which USPS.com informs us takes 2-6 weeks. We all know that mail usually does not take the maximum amount of time, but when it does it’s because something unforeseen took place to delay things. In Barrow, six weeks is entirely normal and acceptable. In other words, if we parcel posted a DVD it could very well take a month and a half to get here simply because of the limited postal lines through to Barrow. Add this onto an absence of home delivery and no Saturday postal activity at all and getting your mail here is notably more difficult than most of the lower forty-eight.

The problem of P.O. Boxes transitions well into the issue of Internet shopping, which is likewise very slow here. Something I just realized is that one of my beefs with rural Kentucky was that your only option was Wal-Mart. Really – there aren’t any comparable places to shop for home goods or groceries. Now that I am dealing with delivery only to P.O. Boxes I find that once again Wal-Mart is my only choice. Having shopped around for a while online I found that it is extremely difficult to find a department store that will ship to a P.O. Box since most of them do not use USPS, but rather FedEx or UPS, which don’t operate here. Given this unfortunate news, I commenced my Wal-Mart shopping only to find it would probably have been faster for me to cross-country ski the hundreds of miles to Anchorage or Fairbanks to buy the stuff. WalMart.com said my order would arrive on October 27th, but when that date passed I checked again and my order tracker pointed and laughed at me. Now the delivery date is maybe two weeks later. Maybe. All I know is that maybe, sometime in the distant future, I may or may not receive two storage units, a shower head, and a clothes line in the mail. Not to mention the shipping charges cost the same as the merchandise. I thought maybe this was just because Wal-Mart is part of the fascist revolution, but I found on Wednesday that Amazon.com will also take about a month to mail me 3 novels. Again, today I ordered some art supplies from DickBlick.com that will take three weeks. With this experience thus far I figure that from now on my best bet would be to have my products delivered to the Detroit area, and then have someone take them to the Post Office for priority shipping and just pay twice for shipping charges. It will probably be better in the long run.

Aside from the postal debacle, I find that the culture here seems relatively “slow” at the same time. The difference between the fried-chicken slow and the slow up here is marked though. At this point, which is an early point to make too many observations, it is not the same kind of relaxed slow here. There are no images of sipping tea on a plantation front porch and there are no impressions of it just being to dang hot to move any faster. I’m not sure where this characteristic comes from. I noticed this for the first time when I went to turn in an application at the mayor’s office. At first I was confused because each person I asked for directions or for clarification spoke very slowly, and I thought maybe it was because they were unsure of me or uncomfortable with me because I was doing something strange that I was unaware of – like maybe I was violating a cultural practice and being disrespectful unknowingly. After some back and forth with someone and realizing that this was not the case because she was actually rather friendly, I have come to the tentative conclusion that that’s simply the method of communication here. When Jake first started here he was told to speak slower on the air because of the same reason. This probably seems like a minimal difference to a lot of people, but because we are immersed in it and it is a constant principle it is difficult to overlook. The initial similarity between speaking to someone with a Bible Belt drawl and someone from Barrow in contrast to me as the jabbering city girl is striking.

Then there are the random miscellaneous slow things too. Our landlord said he would stop by on Saturday, and Jake ends up hunting him down the following Thursday at his place of employment. Our deposits to Wells-Fargo (the only bank in town) could easily take two or three days to be documented since they have to be flown in to Anchorage every night. We don’t have a car, so we have to wait for a taxi whenever we go anywhere not in walking distance. Oh, and our AT&T phones either have full coverage or no service at all, so sometimes you just have to wait twenty minutes until service comes back. When you are on the phone, the delay is at least two seconds. And the cable likes to cut out for a few seconds periodically – sometimes the picture, sometimes the audio.

It sounds like I’m complaining, but really I’m not. It’s not as if I’m living in the Amazon or something, but the experience of living outside of my comfort zone has already given me a different perspective on how I live. When you have to wait six weeks for a coffee maker you really begin to appreciate the wonders of caffeine, but at the same time lost an unhealthy dependence on it. Slower speech gives you the opportunity to really listen to people and not just pick out words and phrases. When the cable cuts out it keeps me from having it on for 20 hours a day. And, of course, delayed deposit time helps me stay conservative on the budget because I’m never really sure how much we have! Maybe our landlord’s tardiness means we can pick up some culture and be a few days late on our rent, too!

Annnnnd Barrow!

November 2, 2010


Okay, I realize this is a month after the fact but its better than never, right? I’ve found that this sort of thing is easy to put off until the next day in favor of watching That 70’s Show or the subsequent Gilmore Girls. Anyway, here’s my account of getting to and arriving in Barrow before I forget it all.

We started our journey to Alaska first by heading south from Detroit to Chicago. The story of why we were flying out of Chicago is a complicated one that inevitably comes back to my cat, as do most stories here. More on that later. Anyway, KBRW was supposed to cover Jake’s airfare so they had to book the plane. Of course we initially planned to fly out of Detroit, but we found that Alaska Airlines did not fly directly out of Detroit and thus we would have to fly on Delta and have to pay the companion pet fee twice. Alaska Airlines does fly directly out of Chicago though so we opted for that route. Of course, as all planning does, things went awry somewhere. We still ended up flying out of Chicago on Delta. In other words, the five hour drive to Chicago was completely pointless.

Driving to Chicago was fine enough though. I wish I could say I slept most of the time, but in reality I was comforting my cat for five hours. Usually she does fine  with car rides, but for some reason she chose this especially stressful adventure to cry, pee, and decide that she absolutely required to wander about the car crying and peeing. Ugh. If this was any indication of what the following day would bring I just wanted to get on the plane. And go home.

We (Me, Jake and his dad) got to Elgin on Wednesday night and had a great dinner with Jake’s Aunt Sue and Uncle Tom. After a heated debate over Detroit politics that inevitably accompanies any post-dinner discussion with Jake – a topic I know nothing at all about 😛 – we headed to bed early. This brings out another theme persistent in my current situation, that of the life of the newlywed. Me and Jake actually got to sleep in the same bed at a relative’s house! I don’t intend any sarcasm or disdain in this observation, either. Although the practice does seem a bit outdated, I admittedly find a hint of charm in it. Anyway, it was a new and unexpected experience to be accepted as a couple in every respect.

Thursday morning went surprisingly well. There were little to no hassles in terms of the airlines with tickets or with a carry-on pet. Luckily we unknowingly chose to travel in Chicago on the same day President Obama was coming into town so nobody was at the airport. Something about an increased risk of a terrorist attack. The bonus of this is that security was remarkably painless and we got to our gate in time to enjoy an overpriced sandwich and an $8 bottle of water. Score!

In Minneapolis we switched planes to go to Anchorage. Nothing too exciting about Minneapolis.

On the flight to Anchorage we sat next to this exceedingly friendly woman brimming with stories about her son’s wedding, her son’s time in a prestigious law school and his subsequent career in the Alaskan senate, and anecdotes about Anchorage and preparing for her daughter’s wedding and her huge antique engagement ring. I spent most of the time with my headphones on and watched Twilight and the new Nightmare on Elm Street. If you would like to know more about her life, ask Jake. He had to sit by her! Poor Jake. That flight was about 6 hours.

In the airport in Anchorage we met a family also headed to Fairbanks who were from Utah and Minnesota, I believe. They moved to Fairbanks a few years ago when the wife was hired at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. They had a lot of stories about initially not having indoor plumbing in their first home in Alaska and also all of their pets they brought to Alaska from the lower 48.

Probably the coolest part of the whole trip was seeing Denali out of the airplane window. If you don’t know, Denali, or Mount McKinley is the tallest point in North America. And we saw it out of the window – talk about a priceless view! It was so small in the vast landscape, another example of just how incredibly huge Alaska is. I’m not going to attempt to describe it too much and leave it to your personal experience and surprise if any of you fly between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Completely worth the cost of the plane ticket.

Unfortunately the flight to Barrow was pretty cloudy so we couldn’t see much out the window. Then again, it’s the Arctic tundra so it’s mostly flat, snowy plains anyway. The plane wasn’t huge but it wasn’t one of those tiny ones infamous for killing people or disappearing into mountainsides either. It was only half filled, but we found out that this is probably because the luggage compartment was likely half filled with goods and supplies. If you didn’t already know, everything in Barrow is flown in or comes in during the summer on a barge. This flight was about an hour or so.

Arriving in Barrow was a surreal experience. After months of telling everyone we knew about it and imagining what it would be like it was actually happening! It was snowing. On October 7th. It was cold. The airport is about the size of a doctor’s office, although it arguably took them longer to get our luggage turned around to us than in a large hub. I’m looking forward to flying out of Barrow just to see how efficient they are with a line of 20 people as opposed to the thousands at O’Hare.

So that was us getting to Barrow.

Howdy, Blog

August 12, 2010


Before I say anything of relevance, I would like to inquire about the proper manner in which to compose a blog post. Is there a set of ethics or tools to which I am unknowingly subscribing to? For example, are blogs addressed to the writer kind of like a diary, to the masses, or to a singular reader? Are they to be well thought out, formal pieces with a thesis and supporting paragraphs cited according to academic standards? I really don’t know the answer to any of these questions, probably because I never read blogs and normally relish in the strict etiquette of academic writing. Nevertheless, here I am not only giving blogging a try, but virtually committing to a year of it.

I suppose this is the point where some explanation is needed regarding this seemingly random move to the embodiment and source of the folkloric “middle of nowhere.” And no, I’m not referring to the noteworthy 1997 album by Hanson. Our discovery of Barrow came about in June after Jake’s rejection from another station in Cody, Wyoming due to an aggravating epic fail of cmich email accounts. I found the position by googling “public radio jobs” and coming across a listing with the standard qualifications of two years of experience, familiarity with various radio-esque technologies, etc. The fun came about with the final qualification: ability to withstand long, cold, dark winters. I knew this was the place for us to start our marriage.

After his interview I was giddy at the prospect of quitting Meijer after about two years of surrendering 20 hours a week to the fruity whims of belligerent, starved, and apparently entitled produce shoppers. I did not want “Food Clerk” to become my career title, especially after four years of University Program classes and the student loan debt to show for it. Besides, my position called for excellence in potato stacking, not in speaking Spanish or forming coherent English sentences. I always felt less comfortable with the former.

Anyway, I knew Jake got the job when I came out onto the sales floor after lunch and he was standing by the onions, unshowered, grinning like a kid getting Christmas in March. I didn’t get much work done that day and had to suppress the desire to walk out and see how long it took someone to realize I was gone, tell a manager, and for me to get an angry/confused voicemail. Then again, that may have taken a week or two.

So here we are, getting married and moving to Barrow. I remember a year ago thinking about where we would be living after the wedding and having absolutely no idea. How could I have ever guessed Barrow?

In case you don’t know anything about Barrow, I will save you the inconvenience of googling it and I will plagiarize Wikipedia right here. Barrow has an estimated population of about 4,500 people and can only be accessed by plane, as there are no roads into the town. It is named after the English Statesman Sir John Barrow, who allegedly loved the Arctic, though I am willing to bet that he never visited Barrow. A polar desert, Barrow does not get as much snow as one would think, although it is pretty freaking cold. Temperatures range from -20 in the winter to about 60 in the summer, although that is without the wind that comes in from the Arctic, since Barrow is oceanfront. In the winter the sun doesn’t rise for two months, and in the summer it doesn’t set for two months. I guess you have to take the bad with the good, but I’m not entirely sure which is which. About 60% of the population is Inupiat, Eskimo. Barrow is a “damp” community, meaning that the sale of alcohol is prohibited, but the possession and consumption of it is not. The movie “30 Days of Night” is set in a fictionalized Barrow, though the depiction is markedly inaccurate because present-day Barrow is “too modern” to provide an adequately alarming setting for a vamp flick. Oh well.

It would be an understatement to say that I’m not sure how this whole adventure will work out, but this is how we got here. I only hope that we will have reliable Internet access up north so that I can continue to update the blog. We’ll see.