Roadless, harried, hungry and proud

Posted: Sunday, December 03, 2000

This just in ... Juneau is America's most isolated capital city.

Imagine my surprise when, while I vacationed at my parents' north Texas farm on the occasion of my father's 80th birthday, the Dallas Morning News reported our isolation on the front page of last Sunday's editions.

Normally, big city newspapers reserve page-one space for breaking news or compelling features. As the center of our universe, Juneau is important to those of us who choose to live here. But I was puzzled at how our historic isolation could be fodder for the front page.

Still, if the Dallas Morning News devotes part of page one and half of page 26 to Juneau, there's a chance we're going to come off looking good. I was ready to feel special and even grateful to the News and reporter Paul Pringle for telling the rest of the world about the wonders of Juneau.

I sensed we might be in trouble, however, when I closely read the front page headlines:

No road leads to Juneau

Isolated capital, dependent on ocean deliveries and harried by high prices, rejects highway plan

You remember the definition of harried: "Beset by problems, harassed."

Mr. Pringle began the fourth paragraph of his story with a quote from forklift driver Gage Schutte: "If we didn't have this barge coming in, we'd be in bad shape."

If ships and barges have been hauling people and goods to Juneau since 1880 and if we have daily airline service, including air freight, exactly how long has it been since we were in bad shape?

Not quite halfway through the article, Mr. Pringle reported on a visit to Rainbow Foods.

"The store was crowded with shoppers (that should have told him something) who appeared resigned to the slightly tired look of its fruits and vegetables. There is no telling what a barge journey will do to a banana."

The caption under a photo of one well-stocked bin read: "Aging produce is one compromise of life in isolated Juneau..."

Help me out here, friends. Do you approach your shopping trips resigned to the slightly tired look of aging produce?

Back home in Juneau on Friday, I called Nicole Lantz, Rainbow's produce manager, and asked her about her fruits and vegetables and about the story in the News.

"The food is shipped from Seattle on Wednesday and gets to us on Monday," she said. "He (Pringle) must have interpreted that as not fresh, but our produce looks really healthy and green. It's amazing what refrigeration will do. ...

"We get fresh, good, edible produce and varieties, too coconuts, bananas, persimmons, plums and strawberries. ...

"I don't remember him walking much beyond the front door. If he had looked in the produce section, which he didn't, he might have said, 'I was surprised to see how fresh produce could look after five days.' "

And what about that "rejects highway plan" portion of the News headline?

Dallas readers were told that Juneau voters defeated an advisory ballot measure that proposed building a $232 million highway to Skagway. There was no mention in the article about the other option on the very same ballot measure - enhanced ferry service.

The News portrays us as Roadless and Proud (granted, many of us are) but does not disclose the road vs. ferry vote or that it was a virtual tie.

Finally, there was a reference to forklifts hoisting jumbo containers in the snow at Alaska Marine Lines. Give Mr. Pringle credit as an investigative reporter. While we wonder if the snow ever will crawl down the mountainsides and stick to the streets and lawns of our neighborhoods, he found dockside accumulations last month.

Maybe the article was close enough by big-city journalistic standards. But I confess I found its superficiality and selectivity to be irritating.

Rainbow's Lantz believed the News article was misleading, but she had a different reaction.

"I like that they say that stuff because people won't want to move up here."

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