Ambassador for Alaska

Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2004

Robert Hale is publisher of the Juneau Empire.

While on the road in Washington, D.C., this week, I've gotten to see and experience much that heretofore I'd only known second- or third-hand. But, on this inaugural trip to America's capital city, I've shared a good bit about Alaska's capital city with most of the locals and other tourists I've encountered.

Since my arrival in the District Thursday, I've sought directions and information on nearby points of interest from hotel and restaurant employees and from people who appear to know what's what with the city. That, in addition to casual conversation with other tourists from Florida, Arizona and Louisiana who are also first-time visitors.

Most of the people I've conversed with pick up on the southern accent right away and ask where I'm from. "Well, most recently Georgia," is the response, "but my wife and I moved from there to Alaska six months ago." At that point they get as interested in America's 49th state as they've been about the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural Science.

As I stepped onto the elevator at the hotel late Thursday night, a 9-year-old girl who had been at the pool with her mother piped up and asked, "So where are you visiting from?"

"I've just come in from Alaska," I said. "I live where we have lots of whales, seals, eagles and even bears that come into town looking for food after their winter hibernation."

The girl flashed a big toothy grin, except for one missing front and center, and said to her mom, "Wow! I want to go to Alaska for our next vacation," to which the mother asked of me, "How cold does it get there in the summer?"

"Not very," I said. "You're gonna love it."

Several of the people I've encountered had no prior knowledge of Alaska. A few others have either spent time in the state or know someone who has. Only one, however, had any specific knowledge of Juneau and its inclusion in the temperate rainforest. The others were almost amazed to learn that our summers are warm and that winter is rough only for a few weeks.

To a couple of folks I've had to explain the whole Alaska-continental U.S. thing. In asking someone at my hotel about mailing a package home to myself, the woman said, "I'm pretty sure we only send things within the U.S., but I bet UPS or FedEx could ship it to you." We're in the U.S., I told her, but I could tell that anything more detailed would be like trying to explain to her one or more theories of quantum physics. I figured I'd spend that time more productively.

A California couple with whom I struck up a conversation while waiting for a cab on Saturday actually got it, that living in Alaska is something unique and exciting.

"How did you decide on living in Alaska?" the man's wife asked.

"Well, my wife and I had the chance to do so and we jumped at it," I said. "Having no kids and nothing to keep us from making such a move, we took a large leap of faith and did something we probably would never have considered before."

The woman made the connection.

"That's awesome," she said. "Most people would love to do something like that but there are too many barriers in their minds. What an adventure and a very, very cool thing to do. Squeeze all the life out of this that you can and then, if you're lucky, an even bigger adventure will come your way someday. If nothing else, imagine the possibilities."

I thought about that Saturday afternoon while visiting the Washington Mall. Life in Alaska is still so new - and so exciting - for me that I can't imagine a more-bigger-better adventure just yet. But if life in L.A. (Lower Alaska) doesn't open my mind to the possibilities, nothing will.

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