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


The Psychology of Hurricane Season


Scary hurricane graphic from the news.

We are almost at the end of hurricane season and New Orleans has emerged storm free. A few weeks ago it seemed the city would be hit by Tropical Storm Karen. The power of a tropical storm pales in comparison with higher-grade hurricanes, but the memory of Hurricane Isaac last summer filled me with dread about the potential of another set of days without electricity or something far worse to disrupt our fragile city. This recent storm threat had me pondering the hurricane mindset accompanied with growing up in the South.

The start of hurricane season on June 1 always makes the news and through the end of November, checking the weather requires a tertiary look at the tropics and the Gulf of Mexico for storm activity. I even know what times the National Weather Center posts their hurricane updates.  In Washington D.C. (where I used to live) it was the lack of conversation about activity in the tropics that made me realize that hurricanes are pigeonholed as regional news across the country. I didn’t miss the pre-storm shopping frenzy and drumbeat of doom fostered by the media, but unless a hurricane made landfall, the threat of a hurricane never made news up there. I moved to DC shortly before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and I didn’t even know a hurricane had formed until it came ashore in Miami.

Screenshot of Tropical Storm Karen's projected path. It's pretty depressing, but by wishing a hurricane changes direction you're essentially hoping it hits someone else.

Screenshot of Tropical Storm Karen’s projected path. It’s pretty depressing, but by wishing a hurricane changes direction you’re essentially hoping it hits someone else.

The morose biproduct of watching the path of a hurricane so closely is that you hope the hurricane shifts away from your city– essentially hoping it goes and hits someone else. In Miami, where I’m from, the hope was that it would turn and dissipate somewhere in the Atlantic. Here in the Gulf South, a slight turn is a sigh of relief for New Orleans. But if you really consider it, you’re just relieved you’re not in West Louisiana or Mobile Bay.

Growing up within this culture also helped me retain information about the science of hurricanes. I think this is unique to areas threatened by hurricanes, simply because we are inundated with news information about them from the time we are very little. I can barely tell you why it rains, but I know that warm waters strengthens a hurricane.

The branches of a downed tree in my yard, after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

The branches of a downed tree in my yard, after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

I wonder if this the same for other regions affected by severe weather? I assume not because earthquakes and tornados don’t have the same predictability. Do regional differences influence the way the weather is covered in your area?

Is there a Jazzfest “Season?”

On my bike the other morning I noticed a house with a Jazzfast flag flying. Behind Rouses, a Miller Lite truck proclaimed itself “The Official Drink of Jazzfest.” (Granted, that sign could’ve been on the truck all year) With Carnival Season parading off into storage units does that mean we’re in Jazzfest season? And is there such a thing? Carnival Season involves costumes, king cakes, parties and parades. In the months leading up to Jazzfest are there related celebrations? (I should note that some years Mardi Gras Day is later in the calendar, so the time between Mardi Gras and Jazzfest is truncated.)

The Seasons of New Orleans
I’ve written about how I miss the changing weather of D.C. Growing up, I found the eternal spring-summer cycle in my hometown of Miami dulling. However, New Orleans makes a slightly more differentiated spring-summer cycle by creating seasons of its own, marked by festivals and extended holiday celebrations. My blog-post hypothesis is that these festivals and celebrations create a rhythm to the year and mark time in a way that the city’s slightly colder winter and brutal summers do not.

Fall through start of Winter: Football and Christmas
September in New Orleans reminds me of living in a college town in that the whole city is galvanized by a sporting event. People here are nuts about LSU and the SEC. As a Gator I am always ruffled by LSU-ness of the celebration around here, but am grateful to be around a community that enjoys college football (and the SEC!). It’s a welcome reprise from living in D.C., which is more of a pro-sports town.

I’ve written about the Saints excitement many, many, many, many, many, many times. But this year marked the first time I watched a LOT of the NFL. It feels like you have to here, or you’re left out of cultural conversation and references. I used to only spend Saturdays at the bar to catch my college team. Now it’s all bar, all weekend… and I guess that’s New Orleans in a microcosm.

New Orleans also does a great job creating a festive Christmas atmosphere. The French Quarter Festival and The New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation organize Christmas New Orleans Style, an annual citywide celebration of New Orleans holiday activities. The festival started 27 years ago, as way to attract visitors to the city at a time when tourism traditionally dips. Throughout the month there are events around the city that remind you of the season. And even though we have had a mild winter, walking through the French Quarter in December felt like Christmas.

Carnival Season

March is marked by St. Patrick’s Day, April by the French Quarter Festival and then Jazzfest in April/May. That’s more than enough, but I point you back to my hypothesis: Is there something that unites the season?

Now that I’ve nearly lived here a year, I recognize summer as the city’s downtime. The summer, like the spring,  is punctuated by festivals and regular events, some of which I’ve blogged about here: 610 Stompers, Satchmo Fest and White Linen Night, but there doesn’t seem to be one element that captures the city’s excitement.

Update: Seasonal Beers 3/1/12
Upon relaying this post’s topic to my boyfriend, he reminded me of seasonal beers. We are lucky to have a number of great local breweries, including LA 31, Covington Brewhouse, Tin Roof and Lazy Magnolia. However, Abita is the line I’m really familiar with, and the release of their seasonal brews always mark the season for me.

January-March: Mardi Gras Bock
Spring: Strawberry Harvest
March-May: Red Ale
May-September: Wheat
Summer: Satsuma Harvest Wit
Fall: Pecan Harvest
September-November: Fall Fest
November-December: Christmas Ale

When my boyfriend and I moved into our Uptown sublet in June, our summer landlord was kind enough to leave us some Strawberry ale in the fridge. When we moved out we bought a pack of Satsuma ale for her– a remnant of the New Orleans summer she had missed.

NOLA Brewery also releases seasonal beer, but I’m not as certain about the seasons they’re out because they’re a relatively new brewery. As far as I can tell:

Fall: Smoky Mary
Winter: Irish Channel Stout
January-March: Flambeau Red Ale (for Mardi Gras)
Spring: Hurricane Saison

New Orleans’ Winter Makes Me Miss DC

Keeping Track of the Weather
After a brutal summer, it’s finally cold. I still remember the week at the end of August when the heat first snapped, only to return again a week later. It amuses me that I retained this information, but I think that’s because it’s my first year back in New Orleans. It took me a few years of living in D.C. to predict the weather’s moods. I still recall how late I wore my winter jackets in my first year there (last week of March, 2006).

The last week of March, 2006. From top to bottom: Cherry blossoms, me.

For the purpose of next year, and those new to the city, here is my weather calendar thus far:
June-August: Unbearably hot (Sun sets at 7:45)
September: Warm, but okay. A few cold snaps. (Sun sets at 7)
October: Beautiful (Sun sets at 6:15)
November: Beautiful most days, sometimes a bit uncomfortably chilly (Sun sets by 5:15)

Questions for New Orleanians:
– How accurate is my calendar?
– This week, and a few weeks during November, we jumped from days where the mercury read 75 degrees to days like today, when my phone says 38. Is this typical?

Missing DC
I grew up in Miami, and Washington was the first place I ever lived with four, full seasons. I loved the way the seasons marked. Unlike areas further north and south, DC seasons generally last three months. I knew I’d miss the seasons when I moved down here, and I’ve felt the pangs as the weather has turned cold. I miss snow. Sure, it’s a pain, but I always got excited when the snow fell, which happened 3-4 times a year. We even had a few snowstorms, but I thought it was fun. I didn’t own property or drive a car, so it just meant time off work.

Winter on Connecticut Ave., Cleveland Park

I loved the way the trees told time. In the winter when the leaves fell I could see up the street for miles. The view from the Taft Bridge let me to see deep into Rock Creek Park. By summer the trees get so full that I couldn’t see the road. I miss that.

Fall in Cleveland Park

Fall on Connecticut Ave., Cleveland Park

The full look of summer.

This Friday I am going on a mini vacation to D.C. It’ll be the first time back since I packed up my apartment over the summer, which was no vacation, lemme tell ya! More on this in the upcoming week. I’m very excited.

A Very New Orleanian Weekend

With apologies, I bring you my weekend post on Wednesday.

Laundromat+ Bar
My boyfriend and I haven’t yet bought a washer/dryer for our new place and sought to make a tedious task more entertaining by doing our laundry at  Buddha Belly Burger Bar, a bar/music venue/pool hall with an outdoor deck … and laundry machines.

While I won’t designate Buddha Belly the cleanest place I’ve ever done laundry (some smokers ignored the signs to limit their smoking to the patio space), the time passed quickly as we enjoyed our beers.

Combining a laundromat with another service seems very New Orleanian to me. When I lived here before I did my laundry at Babylon Cafe, a laundromat/Mediterranean restaurant. There is also Schiro’s Cafe in the Marigny: a bar, cafe, grocery store and laundromat.

Satchmo Fest
Both days of the weekend I attended Satchmo Fest, an annual French Quarter festival that celebrates Louis Armstrong’s legacy.  Even with oppressive heat, people still turned out. New Orleanians just find a way to cope by bringing paper fans, decorated umbrellas… and drinking. I wonder if an August festival in another city would attract such large crowds.

On Sunday, we walked* with the Satchmo Second Line. Something about the event felt commercialized–or, rather, touristy (which is the New Orleans version of commercialized.) It was very different from the second line I attended earlier in the summer.  The majority of the second liners were white and many seemed just as concerned with taking pictures as dancing. Plus, the event was well organized (not very New Orleanian). However, it was impossible not to be impressed by the talent, which included the Baby Boyz and the Treme Brass Band, and delight with the dancing. The Gambit has some great videos here.

*Question: What is the verb for describing that you “attend” a Second Line, but don’t perform in it?

As the second line came to an end, festival organizers herded the performers into the Old US Mint. Very organized.

Figuring out how to lead the bands into the Mint.

White Linen Night
Saturday a group of us went to White Linen Night, an evening in which the galleries on Julia Street stay open late and attendees wear white as they meander in the streets. When I attended in 2004, I couldn’t find an all-white outfit and wore a black shirt and khaki skirt. I stood out. As I keep learning, New Orleanians dress up for events.

Afterwards our group ended up at Finn McCools where someone made a disparaging comment about our white outfits. I didn’t understand it at the time, but a verified New Orleanian friend said that White Linen night is considered a little uppity, so perhaps I was being judged in working-class Mid City?

610 Stompers Try Outs
I stopped by the 610 Stompers auditions and saw about 50 people practicing. Since were were only there for a few minutes I’d have to assume hundreds of people tried out! Good for them!

Lagniappe: Swim at Your Own Risk

New Orleans is infamous for its flooding. But I’m not sure if people realize the affect even a brief storm has on the city. The city’s roads are among the worst in the nation, so you need to watch your step following the daily summertime showers or you’ll end up in a pothole puddle.

This picture was taken on Bordeaux street, by our old sublet.

Previously in Lagniappe:
Eaten Alive
Mardi Gras Float Storage