Juneau's hustle and bustle part of its charm

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2003

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

I like living in Juneau. I like to be able to walk to a coffee shop, a bakery or the bank and to buy newspapers from Anchorage, Seattle or New York that are available each day.

I even prefer Juneau to more remote places like Elfin Cove, Angoon, Pelican or Tenakee. If I lived in England, I suppose I would prefer London, or if I was a Roman two millennia ago, I would like to be in Rome itself rather than to sit out under an olive tree in the countryside.

Of course, there are drawbacks to living in an urban place. But I don't feel they hinder the enjoyment of city life; they are just part of it.

If you took away all the cruise ships, the tourist visitors and the helicopters, this would still be a city, with the background noise of thousands of automobiles and jet planes. We have to have cars in Juneau, just as we have to have airplanes, if we are going to travel.

Of course, Tenakee has no cars. They are banned there.

I like some of the noise. I like hearing the tolling fog horn of a great ship, as it moves slowly through the gray early morning mist to its berth. And I like to hear a float plane taking off in Gastineau Channel.

It is a beautiful sight to watch. It reminds me that at the dawn of the aviation age, we were participants and seaplanes soared aloft from the Juneau waterfront.

Where the Wharf restaurant is located was the home of Alaska Coastal Airlines. I worked there for a summer season in the l950s as a baggage handler. My fellow workers were Ernie Sinn from Germany and Odd Sundborg from Wrangell. We had good times together.

I marvel at the sight of large cruise ships, just as I love to see a halibut schooner or a troller. This is part of the marine environment of an urban city in Alaska.

We live in our own time. Eighty years ago you could have seen the hundreds of miners' lamps, bobbing in the dark, coming out of the mines and mills on the side of the mountain behind the town, as the men finished a shift.

The bustling, crowded streets of downtown Juneau, perhaps a little congested at times, were filled with miners and fishermen. There were a lot of bars, and other entertainment, too.

Of course, when a raven flies over your head, you can't hear anything because the background noise of the city takes away all other sense of sound. You have to be on a trail in Tenakee to hear the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the raven wings, and then you look up and know you are closer to nature there than on the barbecue patio of your Juneau home.

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau. He can be reached at 586-1655.

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