Postcards Home: Legislative intern Mark Simon on his solo journey to Juneau
by Kathleen McCoy |
PART 1: FROM ANCHORAGE TO HAINES
Tribulations are subjective. While I am about to spend the next few months writing about the knowledge and adventure of working in the Alaska Legislature, I will almost certainly be talking about some of the hardships. I want to assure you that I know I am still in a fantastic position, doing work I have wanted to do for years. So when I say, "Getting to Juneau was incredibly hard," know that I realize many have gone through more taxing experiences.
My trip to Juneau was difficult in two ways. One, of course, being the sheer distance I needed to cover. My journey started in Kirkland, WA, where my parents moved when I went to college.
Landing back in Anchorage after a five-hour flight, most travelers would choose to go home and sleep. Unfortunately, I had no home to go to. I had already moved out of my apartment before the holidays so that I could hit the ground running once I got back to Alaska. And so, after many airborne hours wedged between a man who smelled like cheese and a young girl who kept humming "Let It Go," I jumped into my freezing car, paid $300 for parking and hit the road.
The first stop was Palmer, my hometown. I stopped off at the local Fred Meyers, which was closed because sane people do not do their grocery shopping at midnight. In that cold, wind-swept parking lot, I opened the back of my car and removed everything I own in the world. I needed to repack my suitcases into the car in a way that allowed me to see out the right side of my car. This required some organizing.
So there I was, with all my earthly possessions sitting in the middle of a grocery store parking lot. If my life were more poetic, I would have gathered them up into a pile and set fire to symbolize letting go of the past. But I have always been more practical then poetic, so my possessions simply went back into the car in a "neat" manner.
With my car now more tightly packed then a can of sardines, I found a nice parking lot to sleep in, since most hotels will not rent to a 'homeless' 20-year-old.
PART 2: SURVIVING AS A HARBOR SEAL
With morning came the familiar silhouette of the mountains that surround my hometown like a massive granite hug. After running a few errands and picking up two boxes of granola bars which would stand as a thin line between myself and any auto-cannibalistic urges that could come while secluded in the middle of the Alaska wilderness, I set off for my first stop of the day, Glennallen.
Good thing I wasn't really in a rush. The roads were sometimes featureless white slabs promising no grip should you need it, so a good deal of the trek was done at speeds safe enough for a school zone full of hyperactive kids with a low sense of self-preservation.
After a few hours, a few granola bars, and one moonrise later, I reached Glennallen. At the time I was still wearing what I wore in Kirkland. This outfit, my parents had warned, would not be warm enough even for Kirkland.
I was not thinking about this when I stepped out of my car in Glennallen. In fact, I was outside for a good five minutes before someone dressed up like the Michelin Tires man informed me that it was 23 degrees below zero. It was at this moment that I realized Alaska in January is cold.
Fortunately for me, I am built like a seal. Not a Navy SEAL, oh I wish. No, I am built like a harbor seal, which means I could stand out in the cold for five minutes and not even feel a thing. Years of playing Xbox and eating poorly may have killed my social skills, and I'm sure it damaged a few other skills, like math, or running, but it does allow me to survive in below-zero temperatures while wearing a short sleeve shirt and a light vest.
The trip from Glennallen to Tok was about as eventful as an art documentary, and as I pulled into Tok I realized that, while my car and body can do some amazing things, negative 35 degrees is the point where even I will pull in for a hotel.
Luckily it was late enough that certain laws regarding age restrictions on getting hotel rooms do not apply. So I managed to get a hotel room, took a long deserved hot shower, and lay down in a vertical position, something I had not done in more than 48 hours. Outside, the northern lights danced around in a way I had never seen in my life. It was as if God himself was telling me just how curvy the road to Haines was going to be.
PART 3: MY EXISTENTIAL CRISIS
Leaving Tok, a thought dawned on me that began my 100-mile-long existential crisis. I was going over a particularly tough part of road when an innocent thought struck: "Man, this is going to be a pain on the way back."
It was a thought I had had many times during the trip so far, but it was the first time it occurred to me I could be wrong. I may wind up taking an internship in Washington D.C. over the summer, or finish out my degree at UAS, or even move to Washington, which my parents keep casually mentioning twice a day.
I began to realize that meant this could be the first one-way trip I had ever taken in my life. I had grown up in Palmer, attended school in Wasilla (Career Tech, not Wasilla High, don't want people getting the wrong idea) and studied at UAA. I have always been a short car ride from my childhood home. Now, hundreds of miles from home, and with hundreds of miles to go, it weighed on me. I have friends at home, family, crushes, ex's (who I am perfectly fine moving hundreds of miles away from).
I know people back home; I know no one in Juneau.
I would have thought more on the subject, but then I noticed I was speeding toward a building that had quite a few Department of Homeland Security vehicles out front, and decided it would be a bad idea to whiz past them, lest I end up in Cuba, which is much further away from home then Juneau.
Going into Canada on this trip was the first time I consciously left the United States. I had done so as a young baby, but that doesn't count in my book.
I had a great deal of fear going into Canada: my cellphone wouldn't work, my money would be foreign, everything would be in metric, and as we all know, if you die in Canada, you die in real life. So it was with this mindset that I pulled away from the border crossing, and entered the Yukon Territory.
I could spend several hours writing about the splendor of Canada, but I will leave you only with this photo taken in the mountains. I had seen this mountain from several miles away, and it served as a landmark to show me just how far away I was. I figured that, surely, I would be turning away from it at any moment, and that there was no way I would actually be driving past that mountain. Not only did I pass it, but it would be several more miles until I reached the border.
AND SO IT BEGINS
To say Haines is a small town is to say that I am wordy when it comes to telling a story. The town has a population of less than 3,000. When I was there, the only thing to do was eat at the two open restaurants, play on the internet at the library, or walk out to the end of a pier and experience what a hurricane would feel like if it took place at one of the poles.
I had given myself an extra day to get to Haines, which I needed about as much as I needed a kick to the shins. Eventually I just went to the ferry terminal and talked with the staff for hours before, finally, the boat came into the harbor and we were permitted to board.
I had read up on the amenities aboard the M/V Malaspina. It featured a hot-food cafeteria, a bar, a theater and a solarium. I soon found out that, with the exception of the bar, these were all half-truths. The theater was there, but closed for the season. There was food, but the kitchen had closed and the cold food cleared out by other passengers. The "sun deck" was only such when there was sun, and it being around 10 p.m. when I boarded, there was none.
With a tail wind on the boat making the stern uninhabitable (save for-and I kid you not-one guy who slept on the deck of the ship in a sleeping bag) I decided to stand on the bow, which, due to the wind at our backs, was completely free of wind. It was actually quite relaxing, especially since I was able to bum a cigarette. I stood, watching 12-foot waves roll around the ship. I stared off into the darkness, and finally saw the lights of Juneau.
A short car trip later and I was standing at the base of a hill; my apartment sits at the top. My room in the apartment, rather appropriately, has the same dimensions as a solitary-confinement cell. There is a small kitchen in a room the size of a closet, a bathroom down the hall. Because the building is 100 years old, my room is not square, giving the sense that it exists in the ancient city of R'lyeh, where all angles are not as they seem.
I couldn't be happier with my apartment.
However, I could be happier.
I miss home. I miss friends, enemies, familiarity. At night here in Juneau, I walk the streets at bar break, bumming smokes off people and listening to them talk. I'm making new memories in this town, which make the old memories sweeter. The legislative session started Jan. 20. Life is full of adventure; I hope I can share this one with you.
Written by Mark Simon, a UAA political science major. Simon will file more Postcards Home while he participates in the Alaska Legislative session in Juneau working for Minority Whip Max Gruenberg. Read more about Simon and his fellow legislative interns. Listen to Simon and fellow legislative intern German Baquero interviewed on KRUA's Student Storyboard.