Wilder by Far

A look at life with the Wilder family. Updated most weekends and some vacation days. You can contact me at movingnorth@gmail.com..

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"Only your father could take a part-time job at a small town paper and wind up the target of international assassins." - Marge, The Simpsons


All of Fairbanks, gathered for our annual equinox virgin sacrifice and beer fest.

Fairbanks is a small town, and being a small town, pretty soon you’re close to knowing everybody. If you recall the “six degrees of separation” theory, e.g., everyone’s within six people of knowing everyone else (i.e., I know Kevin Bacon, and Kevin Bacon knows this trashy starlet, who was the illicit lover of a former President, who knew the Pope, so therefore I could call the Pope and ask, “Hey, what’s with the hat?”), well, in Fairbanks I think that number drops to one or two at most. Three would get you all of Alaska.

This closeness has implications. If you steal a tank and tear up most of downtown Fairbanks, chances are that one of the cars you drive over in your drunken rampage will be that of someone you know – and that could be awkward at the next Christmas get-together. Nothing challenges a friendship like driving over your friend’s car in a tank.

In truth I was sitting in the parking lot of a local store, waiting to turn left. Left turns are the worst, especially with traffic in Fairbanks at rush hour. You might have to wait 35-45 seconds for an opening in traffic. So, I’m waiting at the stop sign (having been there 20 enraging seconds already), and then a mother with a passel of kids in a minivan pulls into the center lane to turn into a local fast-food restaurant (McNanookburger). Instead of turning at the next opportunity, the lady behind the wheel turns back to do something with her kids. Enraged by the now thirty-second wait, I think about honking the horn. I recall, however, that my horn is inoperable when the temperature drops below thirty (I have no idea why). I think that the universal “gesture of peace” might be more appropriate. I consider lifting my arm.

I then recognize the driver of the car. She’s my next-door neighbor.

That’s the difference in living in a small town. Everyone knows who you are. Everyone knows if you’re the guy who flips his next-door neighbor the bird because she pulls a doofus traffic move while her son is yakking up a chicken bone. You don’t want to be that guy.

There is extraordinarily little anonymity here. Consequently, most service clerks feel utterly free to treat you like you’re family, i.e., rudely or poorly. Last night I took The Mrs. out to dinner. As we were celebrating an anniversary, I took her to a place where the food doesn’t show up at the table wrapped in paper. I ordered iced tea. Beyond taking fifteen minutes for it to show up, I got one refill. Sigh.

So, do you nuke the poor waitress for poor service? Nah. She’s your boss’s daughter. Or your boss’s best friend’s daughter. Or the daughter of the guy who fixes roofs. You don’t really have that option, unless your self employed and can stop water from pouring into your own house. Plus, the waitress might have a gun and be a better shot than you.

Example: I went to Barnes and Noble the other day for their blockbuster opening here in Fairbanks. It was like an orgy of bibliophiles was released from prison into a sea of bookish love. The place was packed. The store manager declared it was one of the biggest opening days in the history of Barnes and Noble. The Mrs. and I went there on Friday, two days after the grand opening. There were five cashiers working, and the line was still forever long. The people in front of us each had fifty to seventy-five pounds of books that they were buying.

I think Fairbanks has more readers than average, what with the winter and crappy cable and all. It’s the same reason we have higher than average alcohol consumption, and greater number of kids per family. You have to have something to do in winter. This was a pent up fury of book loving people intent on grabbing their books on everything from string theory to lesbian studies, which in some metaphysical way might be joined, but I’m not gonna go there.

Barnes and Noble had released a joyous eruption of words, and the people of Fairbanks responded by buying everything they could at once, as if unsure that Barnes and Noble wouldn’t disappear into the night like Eddie Van Halen’s boyish good looks.

And, they have cappuccino. I like cappuccino. I ordered one. “Do you want that wet or dry?” I still have no idea what the difference is, but they gave me a cappuccino that was perfectly tasty and kept me up all night. Now everyone in town knows how I have no idea how I like my cappuccino, merely that I like it.

That was a huge digression. The nice thing about Fairbanks is the store was packed with people we knew. And every one (even the half-dozen folks we didn’t know) of them was polite, except the one that flipped me off on the way home because I was helping The Boy yak out a chicken bone instead of driving.

Glad I’m not that guy. But I have a long memory.

13 Comments:

Blogger Duck Hunter said...

I told my wife, Cari, to go and get something at the grocery store. She complained about what she was wearing. I told her not to worry. She saw three people she knew while there.

That's funny about "disappear into the night" and "wet or dry"

8:31 PM  
Blogger The Mayor said...

First off, Happy Anniversary! I just had one as well!

Second, I feel ya. I live in the town I grew up in, population 13,777, which might as well be 13 people, considering everytime I leave the house I run into all 13 of them!

Kinda sucks being a bartender and having to wait on people I went to high school with that I never even liked, much less feel like being polite to!

7:15 AM  
Blogger the Witch said...

Happy Anniversary!

8:48 AM  
Blogger Dame Koldfoot said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Dame Koldfoot said...

This town gets even smaller when you work in public assistance, law enforcement, drug rehab or a law office.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous CWH said...

Congrats, Your Mrs must have powerful patience. We hit 13 this year, it just feels longer (like the joke goes).

Having lived on both ends of the small town/big town spectrum, I would always choose the big town. I remember when my wife (girlfriend at the time) would visit Southern Ill, people would boldly tell her what I had been up to in her absence (not that there's anything wrong with that). In a big town there is a little less "big Brother".

Later,

11:29 AM  
Blogger brotherbill said...

Hey! What's with the hat?

12:24 PM  
Blogger Woofwoof said...

Waaaaahh I want to hear about the lesbian metaphysical joint.

That beige building to the left of the statue in the picture, is that the store in front of the Daily News Miner cam? What is it? A restaurant? Bar? Strip club? There are usually cars parked in front in the evening.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Shawn Kielty said...

Nice post John.

11:12 AM  
Blogger John said...

duckhunter,
Yeah, that is a metaphysical law - you're acting goofy, your boss is two tables over.

mayor,
Yeah, similar numbers (though a bit larger with a LOT of people moving in and out continually) here.

witch,
Thank you . . . and welcome back!

dame koldfoot,
I imagine that group is pretty familiar with one another . . . including the, er, clients.

Maybe especially the clients.

cwh,
Yeah, there aren't many secrets in a small town. But, c'mon, you were driving a Geo Storm back then.

brotherbill,
My question exactly!!

woof,
I did see one person at both places. Like I said, no secrets in a small town.

That building has about four businesses, including a bar and grill and a spot where you can have steel rods inserted in your eyebrow, or nose, or tongue, or bellybutton, or . . . well, where ever.

shawn,
Thanks!!!

9:45 AM  
Blogger Jonathan B. Horen said...

You're right; I'm late with this comment. Sorry, and I'll try to do better.

Yup, it's a small world in Alaska. I remember when I was stationed at Fort Richardson (1/72-1/74), and I went to a massage parlor out in Spenard -- she was a cute brunette named Roseanne. When I got back to the apartment I shared with a few guys from the unit, we smoked some and got to talking, and I mentioned my visit with Roseanne. Well, wouldn't you know that she was the sister of one of 'em! (s/he were home-town Anchorage-ites).

Nope, he and I didn't get into a fight or anything (see the beneficial effects of being an herbalist? But I did tell him that I respected her; don't think he believed me.

Yup, it's a small world.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! I just stumbled across your blog and found it interesting reading. I love the quotes and stuff from The Simpsons and Wile E Coyote. So you live in Alaska? Is is true that you need like a special light for the dark time of the year? Just wondered.
twilight@cbgb.net

12:40 PM  
Blogger Raelene said...

Ahhh, the joys of a small town! Actually by my likes, Fairbanks is pretty large! I live in a town where the population is listed as 5800 - and that includes the 2500 inmates at the Federal Prison! And by my definition, that's still too many people.
Hence the reason we're dreaming of escaping to a new reality and life in a (remote) location in Alaska!

7:49 AM  

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