My Turn: Juneau in the rearview mirror

Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2003

A little more than 20 years ago I packed up my truck, hitched a small sailboat on trailer to it, and drove to Juneau from Anchorage to take a position as a legislative aide for the representative for the university district where my stepmother still lives. I sold my downtown publishing business, kissed my wife goodbye, and embarked on an adventure that has now come full circle.

The winter drive in mostly sub-zero temperatures landed me in Alaska's capital city during January with plans to live aboard my boat in Harris Harbor while working on the hill.

Within two years I received divorce papers in the mail, and decided to stay in Juneau indefinitely. After my boss didn't run for re-election, I stuck around to work for the school boards association, the teachers' union, and one state employees' union before deciding I would pursue a K-8 teaching certificate while substitute teaching and working in the RALLY Program.

Over three school years I found out the teaching profession has plenty of very qualified people in line ahead of me and Juneau isn't where I want to be anymore.

This decision came as my wife, Cathy, was also getting sick of where Juneau seems to be going. We have witnessed almost unbelievable growth in the tourism industry, death of the timber industry, and dramatic changes in commercial fishing potentials. We've watched the community argue over whether there should be a road out of town, whether avalanche concerns should displace people from their long-standing homes, whether the public should be entitled to attend CBJ meetings to address aircraft noise concerns, and whether tourists are a blessing or curse. While many who live here act like Juneau is the center of the universe, we both came to the conclusion that it is not.

It isn't easy to get out of Juneau. We packed more than 12,000 pounds of belongings into a container van, put our boat on the market, and listed our house.

Driving to the ferry terminal, riding to Haines, and then driving through Canada to Anchorage with two vehicles, took three days. Once here we found that no landlord wants to lease for six months when it means a vacancy in the middle of winter, and we can't expect to purchase a new home until our Juneau place sells. No wonder so many goofballs never leave Juneau!

Anchorage, too, has changed significantly since I left. It has grown larger and developed a character such as poet Carl Sandburg might appreciate as he did the city of Chicago. The housing market is robust, the variety of community activities and opportunities extensive, and we can pack a picnic lunch for a drive to somewhere we have not been in a long time - without checking a ferry schedule.

I have taken a position using my education training to teach life skills to children in adult bodies. There are opportunities we have not yet discovered but can anticipate by the way Anchorage welcomes us. When I run into Anchorage residents whom I have known before, I introduce my wonderful wife from Southeast. They congratulate us on getting out of Juneau after all these years, but I tell them we aren't completely gone yet - we're in Juneau purgatory praying for redemption.

Donn Liston can be reached at P.O. Box 241204, Anchorage, AK 99524.

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