Real Alaska is really beautiful, but Alaska is really serious about three things: 1. Prices for stuff that border on the whimsical. 2. Booze. 3. Bears.
I saw a sign at Exit Glacier, which, summarized, said “If you are attacked by a black bear, fight back. If you are attacked by a grizzly bear, play dead, unless the bear starts to eat you, then fight back.”
That’s a lot of stuff to remember in those trenchant moments when you are being attacked by a bear, in my opinion. First off, you have to decide what species the angry mass of teeth and claws that is rushing out of the pines to devour you belongs to. Second, if you are being attacked by a grizzly bear, you have to be sensitive to the moment when it decides you are not just an intruder that needs to be pulped, but a tasty treat that happened to be wandering in the woods, at which point you need to become the snack that fights back.
How you “fight” a thousand-pound animal is left deliberately vague, in my opinion, by bear warning signs. You are left to your own martial arts preferences in a bear fight. Possibly you have MME caliber skills. Conversely, maybe you are just barely capable of looking for an opening to kick your opponent in the genitals. Fortunately for you, the attackee, your personal fighting skills are not likely to have much effect on the decision, which is always made by the bear.
If you are worried about bears attacking you to the point of anxiety, there is always alcohol to ease your dread, provided you don’t give any to minors. The penalty for doing so on the Last Frontier is 5 years in state prison. So, for giving a can of beer to a twenty-year-old in Alaska, you can serve a prison term that many states would regard as adequate for manslaughter.
Fortunately, we didn’t know any minors in Alaska, but I still got in trouble buying beer. First, no matter how old you appear to be, anytime you buy alcohol there, you get carded. I can assure you that liquor store clerks in Anchorage do not appreciate it if you respond “You’re shitting me, right?” when they ask for ID. Also, there is a special counter where you must purchase your beer, due to the hushed, sinful nature of the transaction. Simply dumping your sixer on the regular counter where you buy jerky and Doritos will earn you some stinkeye from the convenience store worker.
All this is because Alaska has a problem with Native Alaskans drinking too much because they have an inherited disposition toward severe alcoholism. How carding people nearly old enough for Medicare, and putting guys who give wine coolers to their underaged dates in the slam for five years, solves this problem is something you’ll have to ask Juneau.
I thought I was ready for Alaska prices, because I lived in Hawaii for nine years, where gouging tourists is how we made our living, but the price of stuff in Alaska is even more random. If you are not fully awake by the time you finish your bacon and eggs in Alaska, you will be jolted to full alertness when you realize you are going to pay fifty bucks for them. Alaskans only have about four months a year to clean out tourist’s wallets, whereas in Hawaii we had all year round. Alaskans have to be more serious about it. And they are.
In Hawaii, if you live there, you are considered kama’aina, which is a beautiful old Hawaiian word which means “Fuck the tourists,” and you get lower prices on everything than malahinis, or visitors. As far as I could tell, Alaska does not have a similar practice. If it does, the locals kept it on the down-low from me.
Looks like I’ve reached my word limit for the day, and I haven’t even gotten out of Anchorage, so this column will have to have a Part II.
*Not to be confused with the Final Frontier. That's Star Trek.