[Unless indicated otherwise * all photos © 2010 Hart and Jayne Williams]
The politics of Wasilla were evident in the “Stephen Jacobson” signs. Whoever he was, and whatever party he represented, his signs dominated the Parks highway from one side of Wasilla to the other.
His only motto? “Enough is enough.” And in the upper right hand corner, tacked on to all his 3′ by 5′ signs, an afterthought: “NRA MEMBER” covering the “Alaska” graphic of the Big Dipper and the North Star.
I don’t know who Jacobson is, nor do I care. But the message he’s sending to the reptile brain is clear: “I’m pissed off and I have guns.”
One can hardly wait to see what wise governance THAT spawns. Good luck, Alaska voters.
But I don’t doubt that he’s being hyperbolic. When you have a choice between the truth and the myth, pick the myth every time. Consider Ronald Reagan (which Sarah Palin does in every speech, even though she doesn’t seem very clear on her facts — Eureka, Illinois is nowhere near Eureka, California) [emphasis added]:
His cowboy image–the one on the cover of both Time and Newsweek this week–was a beautiful thing. In 1966, a local reporter from KTIX in San Francisco wanted to do a segment on horseback with the candidate for governor of California. Lyn Nofziger, Mr. Reagan’s press secretary, accompanied the reporter and was shocked to see his candidate in jaspers and English riding boots. “When he changed into his riding clothes, he came out. And I looked at him-and he was not yet the governor-and I said, ‘You can’t do that,’” Mr. Nofziger recalled. “He said, ‘This is the way I always ride.’ I said, ‘This is not the purpose of that. It’s to get votes. They’re going to think you look like a sissy!’ He’s a great cowboy, looking at him. He played a cowboy in movies….”
From The New York Observer‘s “think” piece on Reagan’s death, they STILL can’t get the facts straight. Ronald Reagan WANTED to play a cowboy in the movies, but, except for a lackluster turn in “Santa Fe Trail,” with Errol Flynn, he never did. He later hosted the anthology TV show “Death Valley Days.” But English was the way he ALWAYS rode.
* Myth America Makeover: Before — as he always rode pre-1966 (photo is fake)
Which brings us back to the difference between mythology and history. Many Americans WANT Ronald Reagan to be a cowboy, even though he demonstrably isn’t. There is a deep-seated and demonstrable NEED for Reagan to be a cowboy, even in an essay about his death, celebrating his “stage craft” and “professionalism” in a bizarrely oxymoronic fashion: he is praised for the authenticity of his INauthenticity. We praise the liar for lying so convincingly. We praise the pretender for pretending, AS IF it were no pretense. This may be admirable on the stage and screen, but it is TOXIC in politics. You cannot make real decisions based on fake facts.
* Myth America Makeover: After – campaigning against President Gerald R. Ford in 1976
They WANT Fess Parker to be Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. We WANT Sarah Palin to be Caribou Barbie, riding shotgun on the dog sled, popping off wolves and grizzlies and orcs while her husband Todd wins the Iditarod. Remember the Iditarod?
Anchorage Museum painting of idealized Iditarod
What Sarah Palin’s husband Todd won was something called the Tesoro Iron Dog SNOWMOBILE race. (Tesoro is the local brand of gasoline.) And, like the modern Iditarod, it does not begin at Seward, 168 miles to the south, but right outside Wasilla at Big Lake (see the photo marked “land of a lotta lakes” from the last installment, and it will be instantly obvious which lake that is.)
Original Iditarod Mile Zero at Seward, Alaska, 200 Miles S. of Willow
The “Iron Dog” may be a tough snowmobile race, but it’ s not the Iditarod, and nobody’s ever died attempting it. There are checkpoints every 100 miles, and if you don’t show up, they send people out looking for you. Just as taking a cruise liner across the Atlantic isn’t the same as recreating the voyage of the Mayflower, the Iron Dog race is NOT the Iditarod; not even the modern Iditarod (which they’ve had to start from Willow — where we’re headed — in recent years because of inadequate snow in Wasilla.
Our host’s cabin lies in sight of the Iditarod trail — although whether modern, or modern and old-time, I can’t say. Either way, you can’t get there on a paved road.
In the backwoods @ Willow
When we drove the 42 miles to Wasilla from Anchorage, the first thing I noticed was that this was NOT the hardscrabble, pioneer village that we’d been told. “It’s Fort Collins,” I said, exaggerating by a wee factor of ten. (Fort Collins, Colorado is now over 100,000; Wasilla is now over 10,000.)
Actual downtown Wasilla
But the feeling was the same. An urban center in a valley of sprawl and vacation homes. When the census says that the population is ten thousand and it’s reported that it’s five thousand, somebody’s yanking your chain. Wikipedia:
The city’s population was 5,469 at the 2000 census; the Census Bureau estimated that it had risen to 10,256 in 2008.
 “Table 4: Annual Estimates of the Population for Incorporated Places in Alaska, Listed Alphabetically: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008″ (CSV). 2008 Population Estimates. U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division. July 1, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-19.
OK. Those figures weren’t available to our vaunted media when Sarah Palin was plucked from moosey obscurity to become John McCain’s running mate in late August 2008. But the whole “Alaska – The Last Frontier” narrative was pushed to the limits. She was a “hockey mom,” a “pit bull,” a “momma grizzly,” and all the rest of the Moosylvanian hype.
Here’s a dirty little secret: the Anchorage metropolitan area occupies an area smaller than the state of Connecticut, but two out of three Alaskans live there. Wasilla is borough of Anchorage.
But, to hear the hype, you’d think that Sarah Palin commuted to her Wasilla mayorality every day by dog sled, shooting wolves and bears along the way with her trusty .44 magnum Luger.
This is NOT downtown Wasilla. That is a lie.
Downtown Wasilla? (from Mudflats blog) NOT! Looking away from Downtown toward our hotel
After we drove back from Houston, Alaska, we checked into our hotel, even though it was only about 1 PM and the stated check-in time on our reservation was 3 PM. There are no cars in the parking lot, and they are amenable. It’s a beautiful place, overlooking a lake, and we store our bags.
The only vehicle at our hotel, lake in background
Since we’re going to be continuing up past Houston to Willow, we decide to drive BACK to downtown Wasilla, and have lunch at one of the gazillion fast food joints on the main drag: Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, A&W, Arby’s, Taco Bell, Dairy Queen, Papa Murphy’s Pizza (but we only have a microwave in our room, so that’s out) etc. etc. etc.
The Wasilla Mickey D’s
The Wasilla Wendy’s
The Wasilla Arby’s
The Wasilla KFC and A&W
About a mile from our hotel back towards downtown is the Mug Shot Saloon, at the end of a strip mall. They line the road all the way back to somewhere past Wal-Mart on the Anchorage side of town, beyond the city limits.
Strip malls heading back to downtown The “Mug Shot” would be at the extreme right
Not to tarnish anybody’s golden ideel (sic) but Wasilla has a population of over 10,000 PERMANENT residents, but it’s obvious that a lot of people are only seasonal (summer) residents. 15,000? 20,000? I can’t find any hard figures. But Wasilla is not at all as advertised.
Here’s the Mug Shot Saloon (seen from reverse of Mudflats shot above) Still about a mile
from downtown Wasilla, @ foreground is the “FRONTIER MALL”
Teeny hard-scrabble “downtown” Wasilla, two miles from actual Downtown
Seriously, Folks, we were conned. I have heard from many readers who also believed that Wasilla was this little place with just the bar and a coffee shop. HOW could any reputable news organization pretend that there wasn’t a MALL right behind the Mug Shot Saloon?
It’s not incompetence, nor even wilful blindness, but can ONLY be willing collaboration by the “news media” to present a false narrative. And that’s a lot scarier than even the shit that Sarah Palin says, which is generally bat-shit karazee when she actually finishes a thought, which seems to be never, you betcha.
How did Mudflats manage to miss that SHOPPING MALL? It’s more than two years old, I guarantee.
About a half mile from downtown, we spot a Blockbuster Video on the left:
NOT the big Blockbuster
Here’s what you might call downtown proper, the old Railroad depot (which is now the Chamber of Commerce, rather than a museum, as every other town in America has turned their old depot into):
Chamber of Commerce on Main Street
With cell phone towers
Main Street sign – Chamber & cell phone towers in BG
But even more interesting is the next stoplight back towards Anchorage. We sideslip the highway traffic, and take Mr. Frontage’s Road. (That Frontage character must have really got ’round the West, because you see a “Frontage Road” in just about every town of any size):
Taking Mr. Frontage’s Road
Hey! That’s a Fred Meyer, like we’ve got back in Eugene!
A brief digression.
Fred Meyer is a Northwest institution, founded in 1922 in Portland by Fred G. Meyer, and growing into a regional chain of hypermarts that sell everything from jewelry (Fred Meyer Jewelers) to groceries, clothing, paint, lumber, gardening, electronics and drugs. And gasoline. Eugene’s Fred Meyer is the cheapest gas in town today. An early NorthWestern Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer was bought up in 1998 by Kroger — the largest grocery chain in North America — and retains its brand and flavor under the new ownership.
According to Wikipedia:
The company currently operates 129 Fred Meyer stores.
State Number of stores Alaska 11 Idaho 10 Oregon 50 Washington 58
So, I realized that I could probably get my prescription filled at the Fred Meyer pharmacy. We pulled into the lot:
Frontage road turns left into the Fred Meyer parking lot
The BIG Blockbuster (seen from the back)
And into the Fred Meyer parking lot:
One of the two Fred Meyer entrances
We enter, and search the mega-store for the pharmacy.
Inside the grocery section.
While everyone in Alaska notices my “Oregon Rose Bowl 2010″ baseball cap (everyone in Alaska either has a relative, or grew up or used to live in Oregon, it seems), nobody ever notices that my idea of going to Alaska is wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
In Alaska, wearing a Hawaiian shirt
After a hike of several miles, we find the pharmacist, and there is no line. They will get the information from my pharmacy in Eugene, and even though I only miscalculated by four pills, if it’s the same price to refill the entire prescription, they will do that. It should be ready in about three hours.
We’ll come back tomorrow. Meantime, we ask around and find the “tourist” aisle, where you can buy Alaska t-shirts, pullovers, bears, cups, candy, etc. etc. etc. Most are various designs saying “ALASKA” in one form or another. Nothing with place. (A pullover, but I don’t need a pullover.)
But — and we’ll see this a lot — there is also a plethora of “THE DEADLIEST CATCH” hats, t-shirts and paraphernalia. We’re right back to “Laramie” and Cheyenne. The “real” Alaska sells the Television show, a “reality” TV show about … fishing. Sort of like they’re mythologizing Washington and Oregon loggers in “Ax Men — History.com TV“ and North Slope truck drivers in “Ice Road Truckers.” Also from the “History Channel,” which often is very bad or distorted history, sad to say. But what we’re talking about is mythologizing historical facts, and creating “new” cowboys for Eastern Pulp TV enthusiasts. (Compare with Clint Eastwood’s overlooked film “Bronco Billy.”)
And maybe with a bit TOO much reality for a reality TV show, this appeared soon after we returned, via the New York Times:
By BRIAN STELTER
Published: June 21, 2010
Reality TV has brought birth, dating, marriage, divorce, drinking, dieting, hiring, firing and old age into American homes. And now, death.
The next four episodes of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” document in grueling detail the death of Capt. Phil Harris, a skipper who braved the Bering Sea each winter for both Alaskan king crab and a popular TV show.
Captain Harris, 53, died in February, almost two weeks after a crippling stroke on his ship, the Cornelia Marie, while docked at St. Paul Island off the Aleutian Islands. Since then, the show’s producers have grappled with a question that is new to reality TV: how do you tell a true story about a man’s final days without crossing the boundaries of good taste and offending viewers?
The producers say they opted not to show graphic hospital scenes of Captain Harris after the right side of his skull had been removed to relieve pressure on his brain. Still, in the episode to be shown on Tuesday, viewers are face to face with him in the cramped stateroom minutes after his stroke; with paramedics in the ambulance; and with his tearful sons, Josh and Jake, who have to figure out what to do with the family business….
I don’t know why the ghoulish sight of selling hats commemorating a show whose “reality star” died is important for the souvenir trade. TV turns anything into mythology. If you get on TV, you’re famous. If you’re famous, they put you on TV, as in the Celebrity Hell of Troy Aikman (former football star) and Hulk Hogan (former wrestling and reality star) teaming up to sell “Rent-A-Center” where you don’t need credit to rent a laptop computer for a mere $22 … a WEEK.
But to sell Myth Alaska and her Husband the Iditarod Dude (and where I’m from, “Dude” was NOT considered complimentary), they have to do the TV mythology thing.
There is no mythology in finding a Blockbuster Video, a Frontier Mall, a McDonald’s and a Fred Meyer. So, we have been force-fed this line about Myth Alathka, Tharah Palin. And only available to the press via her ghost-written Facebook page, and the bizarrely restrictive speaking events, where she gives her canned speech, gets some laughs and finishes by twirling flaming batons, all the while invoking the Great Presence of Saint Ronald of the Sacred Ray Gun, and thank you very much, you betcha.
Mythologizing Ronald Reagan, English rider to Cowboy Ronald Reagan, American Spokesmodel and wreaker of some of the ugliest American policy of the past half-century.
Mythologizing the old Commie-hunter Tricky Dick Nixon from the guy you wouldn’t buy a used car from to the “new” Nixon, who turned out to be worse than anybody in 1960 could have imagined.
Mythologizing Chuck Norris into an articulate human being whose ideas about public policy really OUGHT to be taken seriously, because, you know, he beat up all those bad guys on TV and in the movies.
We are at an ugly pass in American life when we have so confused reality and fantasy that we aren’t ever sure, moment to moment, what is a fact, what is propaganda, and what is a monstrous lie.
Or a mad fiction.
Out here in Iditarod-land, where they only have the one bar and dirt roads except on the highway, out here in teensy backwoods, Sergeant Preston of the Mounties-Land, where moose and bears take turns eating small children and True Macho American Manliness and Animal Killing and Stuffing to Prove That Maniliness Land is only able to keep the slaughter in check with their high powered rifles and woodland skills.
* Arctic Cat 600 Pro, the “dude”s version of a sled dog team
Of course, THAT Alaska doesn’t have a Fred Meyer where I can get my prescription filled in three hours from an Oregon pharmacy. And, perhaps, that Alaska isn’t exactly about a buck more for just about any item you care to mention.
We eat at Carl’s Junior. Between the Fred Meyer shopping center and ANOTHER shopping center, equally large, a giant Target store, with a Walgreen’s and a Taco Bell and a giant sporting goods store. Everything on the menu is about a buck higher than the same menu in Oregon. This has been true through our entire week in Alaska.
Many Alaskans I’ve talked to complain bitterly about all the extra charges piled on anything bought mail-order. Via US Postal Service the price is the same, but they feel they’re being gouged by mainland mail order hosues, and wish it would stop. And they’ve got a point.
As far as shipping little Japanese cars, they ought to actually be cheaper.
But it’s a brave new world.
Here’s a panorama of one of the twin shopping centers at the center of town (click on the image for the complete panorama. Will open in another window/tab):
We eat at the Carl’s Junior at the Extreme End of the panorama, and looking at the NEXT shopping center, decide to check them out. Surely they will have Alaska hats up the wazoo, in the sporting goods store right?
I go in, and it turns out that Adidas hats are 25% off. (The “Cat” hats at Fred Meyer are 50% off.) The North Face hats are regular retail (about a buck more than you’d find down here in the Lower 48). As are the Nike hats, and all the other advertising hats. How did we end up living in a “consumer” society in which we PAY for the privilege of advertising some company? How insane is that?
I ask a friendly local clerk, seemingly maybe a couple years out of high school.
“Naw, man,” he says. “They don’t have any here. All our inventory is ordered by some guy in Colorado, at the headquarters office.”
OK, sez I. You know where I can FIND a “Wasilla” hat?
“Sure,” says the Wasilly guy. “There’s a bunch of gift shops on Main Street. You ought to be able to find one there.”
Thanks, I tell him, and we drive back to Main Street. There’s a library. There’s various stores and banks and such. We see Wasilla High School on a side street. We find exactly zero “gift shops.”
Thus far that which I had believed to be a simple thing turns out to be a quest for a Big White Whale.
Seriously? We can’t find a “Wasilla” baseball cap?
We drive to Willow.
On the way, we spot a small sign, just at the edge of town, before the Wasilla Airport.
We end up at the Alaska Museum of Transportation & Industry.
Alaska Museum of Transportation & Industry
Their gift shop doesn’t have any “Wasilla” hats EITHER, but their regular hats run several dollars less than anywhere else. I guess they haven’t heard that you’re supposed to SCREW the tourists.
And it looks like an amazing place. We’ll have to come back tomorrow.
Yes. That’s a V-1 Buzzbomb. Body by Willys. Engine by Ford. No kidding.
As it is, we need to get to Willow to visit the backwoodsman.
He’s pissed off AND he owns guns
After we get past the political advertising, I mean.
On the way to Willow
An Alaskan backwoodsman who ACTUALLY feeds himself by hunting and fishing.
Tomorrow: I know. I thought I could finish today, too, but you deserve the whole story. We find out for SURE whether we found Sarah Palin’s Fence of Doom and the legendary Wasilla Baseball Cap. AND we pick up our Fred Meyer prescription. The ACTUAL thrilling conclusion.
NOTE: This is part VII of a series of VIII.
The other installments are:
- I. North to Alaska, or, Back From AK, 17 JUNE 2010
- II. Back From AK 2: Moosylvania is Saved, 19 JUNE 2010
- III. North to Alaska: Into the Belly of the Moose, 24 JUNE 2010
- IV. North to Alaska: Moose of Darkness 26 JUNE 2010
- V. Moosterious Interlude, or, Strangers In The Right, 29 JUNE 2010
- VI. North to Alaska, 2010- A Moose Odyssey 2 July 2010
- VII. North to Alaska: How Moose Was My Valley 4 July 2010
- VIII. North to Alaska: The Moosterious Stranger 7 July 2010
- (appendix) Mudflats Flaps Back? Tries To Declare Moosetrial 10 July 2010