Alaska: Your Uncle’s Tales from the Last Frontier

Alaska: Your Uncle’s Tales from the Last Frontier

Before the Internet, our imagination took us to Alaska: land of snow, oil, mid-life crisis luxury cruises, three Republican electoral votes and caribou. Studious third grade boys held on to the belief that it is the largest U.S. state by area, over cries of “stupid” and the pressure to give in to Texas. It was a place that your crazy, bearded uncle moved to because he had to “sort things out.” Nature channels featured jobs in Alaska as “opportunities for death at sea.”

One day, your crazy, bearded uncle returned with a developed interest in contemporary ceramics. He tells you that Alaska is one of the most culturally diverse communities in the world. He tells you that Alaska’s gross state product and economy are the third strongest in the nation. He tells you that rent is cheap… and that they even pay you to live there! Your mother reminds you that your Uncle isn’t getting enough sun and that Alaska is so far away, it might as well be Russia. You bite your tongue instead of responding and turn to your old, battered encyclopedias with a loving eye.

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This is Alaska…
-photo courtesy of

Yes, they pay you to live in Alaska.

Qualifying residents of Alaska receive an annual payment from the state, known as the Permanent Fund Dividend. The fund was established to feed money into the local economy and the Trans-Alaska pipeline. Your crazy bearded Uncle braved an entire year in Alaska for a $2000 check. Nowadays, you can even apply online! Other industries like tourism, media and trade are enticing potential employees with furnished housing, extensive health coverage (note that Alaska boasts one of the highest rates of citizens without healthcare) and bonuses galore. This job is offering $100,000 a year to sell copier machines! Of course, this compensates for the extremely high cost of living. Some Alaskans complain that Alaska needs to market to Alaskans and not “Outsiders.” Ouch.

You cannot smoke in Juneau bars.

Health and environment issues are always on the minds of Alaskans. The state has been a battleground for big oil industry and environmentalists. The battle for your lungs, however, is over and the verdict is in: to prevent you from dying of cancer, the city of Juneau asks you to step outside in the 19 degree weather if you would like to smoke. Bartenders have seen a drop in business, but expect the tourists to make up for it. “Now instead of cigarettes you can smell everyone’s B.O.,” bartender Jeremiah Blankenship said. Greg Skinner, Juneau Empire.

…and so is this.
-photo courtesy of

The Taxi Capital of America is Bethel, Alaska.

According to Tomas Alex Tizon’s wonderful piece in The Los Angeles Times, there are 5,800 people and 93 taxi drivers in Bethel. That’s one taxi for every 62 residents. It gets better: there’s only 10 miles of paved road. The cabbies admit that most of the time, they just drive around in circles. It makes perfect sense in a community where gas can get as expensive as 7 dollars a gallon. These drivers are so nice, they’ll wait for you while you fish! Try asking a NYC cabbie for 45 minutes for anything less than a thousand dollars. Cabbies in Bethel are the precursor to barber shops at the beach. Entrepreneurs, look into it. It’s your free tip of the day: barber shops at the beach.

Ship Creek finally gets a paddle.

Anchorage is an evolving city. Over one quarter of a million people (half of Alaska’s population) live and complain there. They yearn for a city rich in the arts, culture and business. Plans have been in the works to develop downtown Anchorage, where the key phrase is “multi-use.” Diversity is what developers believe to be the cornerstone in the city’s identity. There was much hype over the renovation of the Ship Creek Mall into a cultural center. The mall’s owner, Jimmy Wong, called it “his legacy,” in this NBC news feature. In his effort to rejuvinate the economy outside of tourist season, Wong gave the Ship Creek mall a $2 million dollar facelift: presenting museums and historical centers to bring locals together. Some critics called the new Ship Creek “full of touristy gimmicks.”

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