Kind of New Orleanian Interview: Life in Alaska with Adam Pinsker (Part 2)

My brother moved to Anchorage, Alaska over 2 years ago to take a job as a TV reporter for KTUU. Adam has lived all over the country, but Alaska was still a culture shock from him– after all, my family is from Miami! Last year, I had the opportunity to visit him there and we sat down for a Kind of New Orleanian interview.

This is part 2. Read part 1 here.

Adam Pinsker at the Yukon border, during a drive through Alaska. The Yukon is a Canadian territory that borders Alaska.

Adam Pinsker at the Yukon border, during a drive through Alaska. The Yukon is a Canadian territory that borders Alaska.

What are the politics here like in the state?
I think people mistake it for being a very right-wing place. It’s definitely a solid red state, but there’s a Libertarian, progressive streak here. This is a very unionized state. They value hard work here.

People here are very civically minded, especially about local politics. People genuinely care about how things go here because there’s such a small population and the state hasn’t been around that long.

There’s a lot of pride in Alaskan statehood. Here’s a cup from the 49th State Brewery, near Denali National Park.

There’s a lot of pride in Alaskan statehood. Here’s a cup from the 49th State Brewery, near Denali National Park.

I’ve noticed people have a lot of pride in Alaska’s statehood.
They’re really passionate. There’s so many people here who were alive when the state was founded.

So you think that’s got a lot to do with it?
Yeah. Statehood was a long struggle. They actually tried to make this place a state in the 1920s.

People here seem very hardcore about being from Alaska. Do you think it’s because it can be hard to live here?
It’s a badge of honor if you survive 5, 10, 15, years here. People here have pride in weathering the tough climate. I’ve been in sub-zero temperatures and boy, it’s cold. You feel the difference from when it’s minus five to when it’s 25 degrees.

What kind of effect have the long days of darkness and light had on you?
You know what? The winter is worse than the summer. It doesn’t matter what time you go to bed, you can go to bed at 10 o’clock at night, fall asleep instantly and get up at 6 am and still feel like crap, even though that’s the best time to sleep.

I never have a problem falling asleep when it’s light out. I have a problem staying asleep. That’s always been the issue because you wake up, and your mind doesn’t understand what time it is. You don’t know if it’s 11:00 in the morning or if it’s 5:00 in the morning. It looks the same.

From a professional standpoint, working an evening shift is really hard. I had to do an interview in mid-November when the sun sets around 3:30. I got into work around 1:30 and we had to immediately rush up to this place, grab the person, and interview him on the spot because we’re literally losing daylight by the minute.

Anchorage, Alaska, 10 p.m., August 2013. In the summertime, there can be almost 12 hours of daylight in Alaska.

Anchorage, Alaska, 10 p.m., August 2013. In the summer, there can be almost 12 hours of daylight in Alaska.

Pictures from the spot in Healy, Alaska, just outside of Denali National Park. In the summertime, there can be almost 12 hours of daylight in Alaska.

Pictures from the spot in Healy, Alaska, just outside of Denali National Park. In the summer, there can be almost 12 hours of daylight in Alaska.

Is it depressing in the winter time?
I think that aspect of living in Alaska was a little overblown. But I’ve only done one winter here. I just kept myself so busy that I didn’t have time to think of it. But I live in a big city. If it’s a dreary, miserable winter day where the sun sets at 2, I can run out and go to a movie, rent a movie or go to a friend’s house. If I’m in one of these villages I might not have a movie theater or internet access. So either I read a book or I socialize. But you can only socialize with the same people so many times. It really depends, culturally.

So what are your favorite things about the state and what are some of your least favorite things?
Definitely the scenery. The mountains are just amazing. My least favorite things is definitely the distance from everything. I don’t know anybody who lives in Anchorage, beyond people I’ve met already here.

Adam Pinsker in front of the Kenai fjords, his top recommendation in Alaska.

Adam Pinsker in front of the Kenai fjords, his top recommendation in Alaska.

Do you think you would’ve ever come up here had you not lived here?
Honestly, probably not. Not because I’m closed off to it, but because it’s almost like travelling to Europe. You have to have the time, money and means to do it. And that’s one of the reasons I came here. Not only am I going to be working professionally, but I have a chance to see a side of things I’ve never seen before.

If there’s one thing that you would recommend people see in Alaska, what would that be?
I think if you could see one thing, it would just be the Kenai fjords. There, you get a sample of all of Alaska almost in one. You get the rugged wildlife and the mountains. Then you get out to the ocean and you see the finned animals and whales, all that within a 150-mile radius. Whereas if you go up to Denali you see Mt. McKinley, but you won’t see a walrus in Denali.

What is one thing you want people to know about Alaska?
It’s not a backwoods. It does have a frontier atmosphere to it, but it’s part of the United States. It’s far away geographically, but it’s not some caveman-like tundra.

More Kind of New Orleanian Interviews:

Rachael Kansas, New Orleanian

Kind of New Orleanian Interview: Life in Alaska with Adam Pinsker (Part 1)

Adam thought life in Alaska would be living in a tundra. The state's greenery surprised him.

Adam thought life in Alaska would be living in a tundra. Here’s a picture I took driving through the Kenai peninsula.

My brother moved to Anchorage, Alaska over 2 years ago to take a job as a TV reporter for KTUU. Adam has lived all over the country, but Alaska was still a culture shock from him– after all, my family is from Miami! Last year, I had the opportunity to visit him there and we sat down for a Kind of New Orleanian interview. We talked about state pride, losing daylight, and the correct way to describe someone from Alaska.

What did you think Alaska would be like before you got here?
I thought it would be a frozen tundra, not as green as it is. I was surprised at how Anchorage is very similar to a lot of other Lower 48 cities.

What are the stereotypes of people in Alaska?
People imagine Alaskans are like hermits. Anti government or anti social. Someone told me when I first got here was that people come to Alaska for two reasons: they’re trying to improve themselves or they’re escaping something.

Have you found that to be true?
I don’t think a lot of people are here because they’re escaping. They’re here for opportunity or they just love the outdoors.

What percentage of people have you met are from here?
Very few. Maybe 20 to 30 percent. I think that’s because this is a very young state.

Did living here get you more into nature?
Absolutely. I’ve learned to appreciate animals much more. I don’t think you can live here without at least opening yourself up to nature.

A view of Anchorage from the airport. Adam says most people who live in Alaska move to Anchorage, the largest city in the state.

A view of Anchorage from the airport. Adam says most people who live in Alaska move to Anchorage, the largest city in the state.

In a lot of other states kids leave the rural cities to go to the “big city.” Is that accurate for Alaska?
Yes. There are a lot of people here that come here from villages and other small towns. If you’re going to stay in Alaska, Anchorage is the place to be (unless you have a family run business or a reason to be in another city.)

What kind of jobs do people have in the smaller cities?
It depends. In some of the villages, it’s fishing or mining. Or maybe you own a small business. Other people work for the city’s government or something with the natural resources.

How would you describe people from Alaska?
People here are pretty genuine. They’re very open and honest with you. They’re definitely a very tested people. They’ve been through a lot and they’re tough.

It’s interesting that you said genuine to describe Alaskans. Why does that stick out to you?
People seem to be less fake in Alaska. Like in South Florida, people have this fake persona. In Alaska, you may find somebody who drives a beat up truck, with a fishing rod hanging outside, wearing camouflage… and he’s like “It’s who I am. I’m proud of it. But I’m going to be nice to you if you’re nice to me.”

People here have varied interests. A guy that looks like a professional, works in the BP building and wears a suit and tie Monday through Friday could be out on the weekend shooting moose in the middle of nowhere.

So you’ve said you don’t call people from Alaska “Natives” not Indians?
I’ve never heard the word Indian used here, ever.

So what do they call them… Natives?
Actually, somebody taught me that you call people that are Eskimos—I hate using that word but I’m just using it for description sake—you call them Alaska Natives. You call someone who is not of native descent but was born here Native Alaskan. You do that to distinguish between what’s considered an actual Native American person and it’s sort of more like a formality thing, as a respect thing.

And then Eskimo is just one of the tribes, I’m assuming?
To say an Eskimo would be a really blanket statement. There’s different tribes here. And actually, I learned the people that build actual igloos are mostly Canadian Eskimos. They’re not really even in Alaska. People do build houses under the ground (from what I’ve heard) in some of the villages in the arctic, but they’re made out of bits of trees, skins of animals. Whatever they can forage out of nature.

So the Eskimo… are they a tribe?
No, that’s just a description of them. They’re more like a … um, there’s different ones. A Nupiak, Athobascan, Klincket… there’s a few more. I should know, but I don’t. It’d be like saying, “Christian.” Baptists, Methodists, Southern Baptists. They’re different descriptions. It’s not inaccurate to say someone’s Christian if they are but they may be Methodist.

But you wouldn’t call a Native American from Oklahoma an Eskimo? It’s more a description for Northern people? Is it common to meet Alaska Natives?
Very much so. Obviously more so out of Anchorage, but you can find a lot of them here.

Life in Alaska gets you more into nature, says my brother.

Life in Alaska gets you more into nature, says my brother.

I’ve split this interview into two parts. Click here to read part 2, with Adam’s thoughts on the long hours of darkness in Alaska and his number one recommendation in the state.

More Kind of New Orleanian Interviews:

Rachael Kansas, New Orleanian

Memories of my Harrowing and Upsetting Amtrak Trip

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A series of posts from my four-day trip back to D.C., where I lived for six years…

When flying to and from Washington D.C. my preferred airport was always the metro-accessible Reagan National airport (more on that in a post to come). However, on this sojourn back to D.C. I flew into Baltimore. It’s a lot of travel to get from BWI to DC. You must find and wait for the ten-minute shuttle from the airport to the train station; wait for the train; ride 35 minutes south; and take the DC to metro to your final destination.

Friday’s journey from plane to city was lovely and uneventful. But as I stepped off the BWI shuttle into the winter air, I recalled the most harrowing and upsetting experience I had returning from NOLA to DC.

The Most Harrowing and Upsetting Experience I Had Returning from NOLA to DC
Two years ago I flying back from a New Years vacation in New Orleans in an emotionally fragile state. Things weren’t going so well in my personal life and I was eager to get home,

On a layover I switched to the smallest plane I had ever been on. I am not afraid of flying, but I am afraid of heights and the shaky plane accentuated our distance from the ground. It made such loud sounds that I couldn’t hear my iPod. I was also physically uncomfortable because I was seated next to a woman who requested a seatbelt extendor to fit her body, and my poor decision to wear a not-long skirt and tall boots left me cold with aching feet.

When traveling I opt for comfort over style, but on this trip I wore a not-long wool skirt and tall boots because sometimes I like to imagine I like to I’m the kind of girl who dresses up for flying. My feet ached from running through the airports and I was cold. Tears rolled down my face as I pressed up against the window to give myself space from my neighbor. I wanted to be in my bed, cuddling my cat.

BWI was quiet when we touched down. I didn’t know when the trains to DC departed and there was no one around to ask. The ticketing office was closed when I got to the MARC station and a display said that the next train wouldn’t come for 30 minutes. A few cab drivers offered to drive those of us waiting back to DC, but it was expensive and I refused.

A group of about ten people huddled in an enclosed walkway that connected the train platforms to wait for the train. Someone checked their phone and it was 19 degrees. We watched the electronic train schedule as it counted down and all of a sudden the next train’s arrival time disappeared. Another train appeared on the schedule, one that was to arrive in 50 minutes.

To keep warm I alternated between pacing the coved overpass and sitting in a seat, bent over towards my toes, all the while cursing my outfit. I wondered if the train would ever come. I was lonely and it was late so I couldn’t call or text anyone. (This was before I had a smart phone, so I couldn’t search the Internet, send an email or social media– small measures that make the world feel smaller.) My only company was the assortment of shivering strangers and the lone podcast on my iPod I had not yet heard– a conversation about an ESPN documentary with sportswriter Dan LeBetard.

The next scheduled train never came. One of my companions called Amtrak and relayed the message that a train was on the way…soon. Someone lent me their jacket (damn outfit!) and we continued to wait.

When the train finally arrived I curled into the corner of a seat and defrosted, shuddering each time we reached a new stop to pick up passengers, who themselves all greeted the train with boundless joy.

This memory seemed so far away in the pleasant and accomodating light of late Friday. The train arrived on time, and travel went off without a hitch.

But I didn’t forget.

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Baton Rouge Seems Okay

I needed a change of scenery, so today I accompanied my boyfriend on his work trip to Baton Rouge. I had been to Baton Rouge once, in 2004 when a friend accompanied me to see the Gator basketball team get beat by the Tigers. For that trip we drove right off the highway to the basketball arena and departed straight after. All I remembered of the city was the lake right off the interstate and yellowy tinge of the campus.

Today’s journey commenced after rush hour, so it only took an hour and 15 minutes– the length of one very good episode of TBTL, my favorite podcast. I heard the drive wasn’t scenic, so I was surprised when I saw this.

The view from the car window

“Hey! That’s nice!” I exclaimed
“That’s the nicest part of the drive,” my boyfriend responded.

Turns out he was right. I-10 hugs Lake Pontchatrain on the way out to Baton Rouge and this was only time that I didn’t see copious fast food chains and outlet malls out my window. (But due respect to Chik Fil A! I love you! [Closed Sunday])

Once in Baton Rouge, we got lunch at the Main Street Market, a food court that features regional farmers and local small businesses. Main Street Market is located at the bottom of a parking lot, which is impressive reuse of space. However, the rest of the downtown seemed pretty glum–there didn’t seem to be much else open.

I used Yelp to find the coffee shop I’ve posted up at this afternoon: Highland Coffee Shop. It’s at the edge of the LSU campus and so it’s much more bustling than downtown. We got off at the same exit I remembered from years ago (the lake is still there) and drove around a bit until we found our way (the campus remains yellowy.) Despite the copious amounts of LSU gear (and their football schedule written on the wall of a Reginellis, with that big W next to the tragic Florida game) I find myself enjoying the company of Baton Rougers at the coffee shop. The barista was friendly and several people helped me as I sought a plug that had power. These small gestures of kindness leave a big impression.

Looking outside from my seat at the coffee shop. Hello homeless man!

As always, I am eager to find the positive aspects of maligned towns– even ones I’ve maligned myself for containing the presence of SEC rivals. (Athens will be tough for me.) I’m sure there’s more to like about the city, but I’ll be out of here before rush hour. I know I’ll be back at some point, so please send suggestions!

There’s Something Comforting About Atlanta

Hey guys! I’m back in New Orleans, but I there are some more thoughts I want to share about my recent road trip.

On the way back from South Carolina my boyfriend and I stopped stopped in Atlanta to eat lunch with a friend at Hankook Taqueria (and pick up Publix subs for the road). I am quite fond of Atlanta. I have been many times and have a number of  friends who live there. My boyfriend is from Sacramento and hasn’t traveled as much through the South as I have. He remarked that he didn’t see the difference between Atlanta and any of the sprawling cities we’ve driven through on this road trip and others. I realize that Atlanta has a lot of metropolitan aspects that I really don’t like including traffic, suburban sprawl, chain stores and big, glass buildings that don’t make leave an aesthetic memory.

Yet, as we wove through the city on Hwy 85, I snapped pictures of the tall buildings that hugged the roads and thought about the impressive expanse of the city. To me, Atlanta represents a compromise between the bustling, unique cities I’ve always liked and enjoyed living in, and the familiarity of recognizable brand names and new building comforts that remind of growing up in Miami and going to college in Gainesville.

There’s a lot of creative spirit in the city. Atlanta is home to a number of graphic design schools (The Portfolio Center and Creative Circus come to mind) as well as the Cartoon Network. There is a great music scene and lots of independent shops. The city’s older neighborhoods are beautiful and the commercial areas are diverse and interesting–some are transitioning/gentrifying, while others are yuppy and well manicured. And although you do need a car to get most places, you have the option of MARTA to get to the airport.

Anyone who has read this blog knows I hate to admit how much I enjoy chain stores. But I do. And one advantage that Atlanta has even over my beloved West Bank, is PUBLIX. Publix grocery stores started in Florida, but have spread throughout the South… except to New Orleans. The stores are clean, reasonably priced, homey and make the best subs. They also have amazing packaging.

Atlanta also reminds me a lot of Gainesville, where I went to college. (It helps that there are a lot of Gator Alum in the city.) Like that college town, there are hundreds of apartment complexes, and although they are new and many don’t seethe of personality, they are new. They have pools, fresh carpets, big bathrooms and normal plumbing. I loved my DC apartment, with its built-in bookshelves and curved ceilings, but I had ongoing sewage problems for six months. I like the wood floors and raised porch of my house in Mid City, but you all really know I just want a closet.

What do you guys think of Atlanta? Would you ever live there?

Columbia, South Carolina is Not a Dump

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I’m embarrassed to say that in the six years my brother has lived in Columbia, South Carolina, I have never visited him. I blame part of this on the fact that my brother has described the city as a dump.

But I am here to tell you it is not.

The city is the capital of the state and the home of its flagship university, the University of South Carolina. The campus is BEAUTIFUL and the state capital building and its grounds are charming. My brother’s girlfriend drove us around and showed us the small theaters and indie movie houses near campus, brick houses surrounded by trees in lively neighborhoods and a sprawling former mental hospital that now stands empty. I did not see the city that my claims is boring and behind (although I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Confederate flag in front of the capital building.)

This morning, over breakfast at IHOP, I asked my brother why he is so negative about the city. He went on at length about the state’s underperforming schools, corrupt government and failure to maintain infrastructure, especially the roads. I nodded in understanding. After all, I live in Louisiana. However, my brother is a TV reporter, so he lives and breathes the news and can’t ignore it. He has got to interview the very politicians and bureaucrats that frustrate him.

My brother is also a sports fanatic and he explained how the city chased out its longtime minor-league team (that Babe Ruth once played for) and turned down the opportunity for the Carolina Panthers to play in the city during their inaugural NFL year, before their current stadium in Charlotte was built. For a sports fan, these failures seem to represent the city’s inability to advance it’s position and capitalize on its resources.

So, like many cities, Columbia has a lot to offer, but its downsides wear down its citizens. New Orleans too has terrible roads and terrible public officials, and has certainly discouraged many of its residents with its backwards ways. But for all its frustrations, the city offers so many “only in New Orleans” moments that make it worth it.

I was in Columbia for less than a day (did I mention I’m embarrassed about this?). I know I’ll be back to investigate further.

“Their South is different than our South”

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… is what I said to my boyfriend as we left North Carolina. As mentioned earlier, we’ve been on a five-day tear through the South. Our purpose was a wedding in Charlotte, but we tacked on stops in Atlanta, Winston-Salem and Columbia, South Carolina.

Charlotte
We spent less than 24 hours in Charlotte, but it struck me as a very modern city. It’s the largest city in North Carolina and the city has experienced a lot of new building since the 1980s. The downtown was sparsely populated, but not under used. My friends and I got around the city’s light rail, and it was always packed (unlike a lot of public tranporation systems in the south.) I wasn’t moved by the built environment, but I have a feeling that there is more to Charlotte than the slice I saw. I look forward to seeing more.

Winston-Salem
I was more charmed by Winston-Salem. It has maintained a lot of its older buildings or built newer buildings that fit into the context of their surroundings. The friends that we visited took us to Misty Creek vineyards, in nearby Mocksville. I have spent time in western North Carolina, in the Smoky Mountains, but I didnt know what to expect in the central part of the state. I was surpised by the area’s green, rolling hillsides. It also helped that the weather was beautiful and our friends drove us around in their Mini convertible. I’m going to insist I always experience the area this way.

Their South
There are a few southern stereotypes that I haven’t experienced strongly in NOLA. I have yet to spend a lot of time in the rest of Louisiana, so perhaps it’s just the city.

Overall, North Carolina seemed very religious. It is known as part of the bible belt (does the “bible belt” include Louisiana?) and it seemed that people we encountered spoke more openly about religion and everyone wore religious jewlery. I have noticed that New Orleanians sprinkle their language with the word “blessed,” and openly bless the aspects of the city (“Bless You Boys” is often said about the Saints). However, to me it feels like a term that has been secularized. There are certainly religious New Orleanians, but being a part of the city fabric is what makes the community– not shared religious beliefs.

I also heard a few people in North Carolina  make comments that made me feel like a fancy “city folk.” A waitress at a diner outside Charlotte teased one of our friends for eating a salad for brunch because it was healthy. And, yeah, not to rely on stereotypes… but the people at this diner didn’t look so healthy themselves.

A woman at a bagel shop in Winston asked me if I was carrying a dead body in my overstuffed puma shoulder bag. Schlepping around a big bag filled with everything I need for the day is a holdover from commuting on the metro each day in D.C.

I know New Orleans is more cosmopolitan than the rest of the state, so I look forward to visiting the rest of Louisiana to sample its southern-ness. I’ll be sure to order salads and put my computer in my over-sized bag so I can report back.