You know that metaphor about trying to nail Jell-O to a table? The Betster has had a week like that. That’s situation normal here in the news business, where every week some story comes up that wants to be slippery. Some weeks, though, the gelatin dessert fights back and your hammer turns to rust. It’s enough sometimes to make you want to go all TV reporter on the job, like the woman who delivered her resignation live, on camera and with an f-bomb tossed in to make sure she’d never work in broadcast journalism again.
Today, history will be made. Today, a northern region rich with oil and populated by cantankerous individuals votes on its independence. Aye or nay? Freedom or union?
No, no, that’s not the Alaska Independence Party’s dream come true, but the Scottish independence referendum, when Scots decide if they want to end their 307-year-old union with England or continue to be British. The polls look close, with “yes” ahead by a few points but within the margin of error.
Thirteen years ago evil men flew planes into tall buildings and changed our world. One plane of heroes fell from the sky. Towers fell. Thousands ran down the streets of lower Manhattan trying to escape dust and devastation.
Two wars later, security alert after security alert, we muddle through this brave new world. Thousands died on Sept. 11, and thousands more have died from combat and from hundreds of smaller acts of violence — car bombings and beheadings and endless random shootings.
Concerned citizens following statewide elections might have noticed how things have begun to heat up. Here at Latitude 59 degrees and some change, we don’t burn up precious electrons reporting on all that stuff. Newsroom central gets about a dozen emails a day from the elephant and donkey U.S. Senate campaigns. Knowing how sensitive Homer people can be, we’ve been sparing you this political sniping. Most of it’s like “You’re a big doo-doo head” and he like goes, “No, you’re a bigger doo-doo head,” and then he goes, “Yo’ mama” and then stuff really gets ugly.
Once again it’s time for the annual Allstate America’s Best Drivers Report that ranks the 200 largest cities in terms of car-collision frequency. The rankings also factor in things like precipitation. The rankings don’t include the southern Kenai Peninsula area, but it does include Anchorage. Since many of us find ourselves driving in Anchor Town, we might want to know what to expect.
Now that the August primary has ended, school has started, the silver salmon run has slowed down and the Kenai Peninsula Fair is over, it seems calm around here. Almost too calm, you know, like that scene in a Western film where a tumbleweed blows down a dusty, deserted street and an old cowboy plays a mournful tune on his harmonica.
Holy Sergio Leone! You know how that turns out. A bunch of bad dudes ride in wearing black dusters, Clint Eastwood steps through the saloon door and stuff happens.
Starting next week we enter the Twilight Zone of not-quite summer but not yet fall. Here in Alaska, traditional definitions of fall like the autumnal equinox don’t always work. Alaska, living true to its motto of “North to the Future,” starts fall early. Consider these upcoming dates:
• At 12:01 a.m. Friday, snagging for silver salmon starts in some parts of the Spit;
• At 1:30 p.m. Saturday is the first Homer High School Mariner football game of the season;
Now would be the time when the Betster does the annual summer punch list column. As kids prepare for school and voters steel themselves for round one of elections, you’d expect the B. to get all snarky about the chores not done.
Nope, not gonna do that.
If you’ve been seeing coworkers and friends walking around bleary eyed and in a daze, no, they haven’t been attacked by zombies. Considering we’re at high summer, there can be only three possible explanations:
• They’ve been entertaining VFRs — that’s visiting friends and relatives;
• They’re employed in the tourism industry; or
• They have salmon fever.
Have you noticed how some Alaskans like to drive glossy black trucks with tinted windows, jacked up tires and not a hint of chrome. The Betster gets that no-chrome thing. Chrome can be a pain to polish. Big, black truck are part of the tactical trend — you know, silver is the new black. You don’t want a lick of bright as you drive down a backwoods road like a superninja heading toward that secret fishing hole.
A recent article in Slate magazine reported that the Associated Press has begun using robots to write business stories on corporate quarterly earnings. Well, the stories aren’t written by actual robots, but a computer software program called Wordsmith. Many corporations already have replaced human workers with robots or computer programs, so it seems appropriate to have earning reports generated by computers. Next thing you know robots will be buying the products made by corporations and we humans can get jobs serving double skinny WD-40 lattes to them.
Not that the Betster actually saw it, but observant citizens reported that last weekend tents covered every square foot of beach above the high-tide line on the Spit. A campfire haze circled Kachemak Bay from Point Pogibshi to Bluff Point, which probably had some homesick Californians pining for LA.
Independence Day is one of the few American holidays that always falls on the same date — July 4, of course. This year the fourth falls on a Friday. Hurray! That means we actually can get a three-day weekend out of the holiday.
Recently up in Anchorage a wolf ate a small dog running loose on a hiking trail. Some people suggested installing warning signs so hikers would be alert to the presence of wild animals in the backcountry. The Betster thinks this is a marvelous idea because, you know, this is Alaska and apparently some visitors and residents haven’t read the tour guides closely.
Alaska has two seasons, the old joke goes: winter and road construction. We all know about road construction. You can’t go hardly anywhere in the state without running into some sort of repaving, unpaving or widening project. Seasoned summer travelers know to take a big fat book with them on trips around the state. You do remember books, don’t you? A book is like a smart phone, except authors write in complete sentences and your connection doesn’t go down in a power outage.
We’re in a lull right now with the summer tourist season. Although shops and restaurants have opened on the Spit, the big wave of Lower 48 visitors hasn’t yet arrived. Still, we’re seeing some new faces around town. The other day the Betster met a delightful family from Dublin. You could tell right off the teenage guy was from Outside, because he wore skinny jeans. Homer men don’t wear skinny jeans unless they’ve been hipsterized after a few semesters of college in Portland, Ore.
Heat. Frost. An earthquake. Wildfires. Smoke. High winds. Snow. Aren’t you glad to see the end of May? While the weather has been dang nice at times, we sure have been through the wringer as far as what Ma Nature gives.
The Betster is afraid to imagine what else could happen, or at least write it down, because the way this spring has gone, to write it might just be enough to make it be in the touchy corner of the universe we call Homer.
Years ago the Betster visited West Palm Beach, Fla., for a wedding of a friend. A couple of friends from Los Angeles also visited. Bob and Steve had been through a long drought back in Tinsel Town. We were driving around before the wedding when a classic Florida afternoon thunderstorm swept in. We’re talking buckets of rain, not the soft summer rain we have here in Alaska. You would have thought Bob and Steve hadn’t seen rain in decades the way they hung their heads out of the car, drinking in the rain and whooping.
Well, we all knew it couldn’t last. Here we’ve been on an awesome super sunny day roll, and what happens? A big fire flares up 50 miles north of us, and a smoke plume the size of Godzilla rolls over Kachemak Bay. Holy Beijing! Despite all our clean living and responsible environmentalism, this week it was as if we’d lived in Los Angeles circa 1965. You can’t blame polluting cars, smokestacks and wood stoves. Nope, Ma Nature, with a bit of help from some irresponsible humans, got that wildfire going.