– Strange nausea in the Alaskan backwaters
Independence Day went up in smoke on Delaney Park Strip shortly after midnight. Anchorage is 370 miles south of the Arctic Circle and darkness is a scarce commodity during summer months. The city schedule their firework display for late July 3rd rather than the 4th for maximum darkness, but of course it really didn’t get dark last night at all.
Weird sleep and not nearly enough of it. Strange dreams of familiar journeys, but all wrong. Black smog and grey rectangles. Giant hands erupted from the ground. Dislocated digits mangled backwards into bizarre symbols, the meaning of which I did not know.
9:00am. Wednesday arrived lazy before my secretary and I finally got on the road and left Anchorage for Wasilla. Overcast, 11 degrees and damp. On the way into Wasilla, we stopped at a Fred Meyer for groceries. For those of you residing outside of the US, Fred Meyer is a chain of supermarkets that have been clinically proven to cause bipolar disorder. In fact, scientists have recently hypothesized that bipolar disorder actually originated in a Portland branch of Fred Meyer before the disease became airborne in 1977.
It took too long and we left Fred Meyer on our knees, unable to fight the darkness any longer. Our suffering was necessary however, and with the essential assortment of beer and fruit acquired, we join George Parks Highway and drive through Wasilla, still crying uncontrollably.
This is the hometown of Sarah Palin, the consistently asinine ex-governess of Alaska. What kind of godforsaken land could harbour such a nauseating harpy? It looks like an industrial estate, but I see none of the infrastructure of evil required to bring such a fiend into the world. You could even call it nondescript. Perhaps in the same way the larvae of the Ichneumonidae Wasp will devour their host from the inside, Palin consumed all evidence of the mechanics of her birth to remain undetected on this mortal plane.
Wasilla started and Wasilla ended and nothing had changed, so we continue through dense scrub and birch trees. Sticks interspersed only by the occasional abandoned gravel lot and herds of bulldozers digging up the ground for no obvious reason. Perhaps they were making more abandoned gravel lots.
Wet, green, grey, brown. Brown Highway. Sarah’s skid mark.
We hit Talkeetna just before midday. A full 12 hours after Anchorage exploded. The morning cloud cover was burning off and we caught some sun.
Population 876, Downtown Talkeetna is a dirt track and the mayor is a cat named Mr Stubbs (b. 1997). No joke. He lives at Nagley’s General Store on Main Street. People voted for him and everything.
It was unusually busy for a town shit deep in the Alaskan backwaters. Today’s 4th of July festivities had coaxed what might be called a crowd into Downtown Talkeetna. Lucky for us, my secretary and I were just in time to catch the Independence Day parade. We were handed small plastic American flags as a bizarre circus of war veterans, fire breathing moose, a tank, a red Cadillac full of trash with pineapples taped over its headlights, a human hamster wheel, old ladies in hats, amputees and what could only be described as a sort of gimp Santa on a tricycle rolled down Main Street, delighting in the perverted spectacle they had created.
I stood strangely numb at the side of the road as the crowd went wild in equal measurements of screams and salutes. The situation called for an immediate reassessment of my cognitive abilities. Is this really happening? Were they seeing the same things that I was?
The woman next to me was vibrating. I was afraid she would go off at any moment. She waved her hands in the air and cheered the parade, wild animals behind her eyes. I asked her what it all meant.
‘I don’t know’, she said without looking at me. She wasn’t even smiling as she vomited stars and stripes all over Main Street like a demented bulimic vulture.
There was a long pause and the noise of the crowd seemed to fade to near silence as the magnitude of the situation slowly dawned on me.
W h a t t h e f u c k i s h a p p e n i n g h e r e ?
At the end of the road, the parade turned around and went back again, in case anyone missed it the first time.
…O say can you see by the dawn’s early light…
The situation was grim. Fanatic patriots in these quantities are highly suggestible and could be capable of all kinds of unspeakable criminal behaviour given the right direction. All it takes is one spark and that could easily be us. It would have been obvious to anybody who took the time to look that we did not belong here. We were like moths in a bath. Too arrogant for our own good and too conspicuous to get away with it. It was time to go, before the bathwater went cold.
We took refuge in the nearest bar. I didn’t catch the name of it. I wasn’t sure what it was that we had just witnessed, but I was certain that we had just witnessed it.
There is an uncomfortable incorporation of traditional values and metropolitan pursuits in Talkeetna. The antiquated Nagley’s store and rustic Main Street, the miles of wilderness in every direction and the moose auction they are having later this afternoon all sit alongside the heli-tours, glacier flights and zip-line guides that keep the local economy alive. These two axioms seem like they should be mutually exclusive and Talkeetna’s cultural confluence feels more like a jigsaw put together with a hammer. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe all the heli-skiers, farmers, mountain bikers and moose wranglers get together every night in the local barn to drink moonshine and do the hoedown. Maybe the tourist tat pushers trade dream catchers with the Aleut in exchange for furs and salmon. What would I know about it? I have only been here for about an hour after all.
2:30pm. Our short time is up and we leave Talkeetna to continue its degenerate experiment unsupervised.
Sustina River at 3:00pm. Trapper Creek.
Mile after mile of dirt road; trees and mud, mud and trees. I think I’m asleep. Our chances of surviving this trip have just dropped. Our current death rate is running at around 17% if my calculations are correct.
Woke up at Hurricane Gulch and everything has changed. Sarah Palin’s wet drizzling skid mark is now epic mountain vistas sprawling out either side of the highway as far as we can see. Flat plains of wilderness engulf us until the Alaskan Range shatters the horizon.
Was that a giant igloo at the side of the road?
4:50pm. We cross the bridge into Cantwell and stop for gas. The gas station in Cantwell is the archetype of all shithole, cow country gas stations slapped across the red backside of America. The place looked like it had been looted and relooted by the starving survivors of whichever inevitable apocalypse is on our doomed trajectory. A film of grime lined every surface in the store. Shelves sat almost empty of product, yet useless junk propped up the aisles waiting to take the legs of anyone foolish enough to feign interest in this garbage. I follow the acrid stench of piss to the toilets at the back. There in one of the worst smelling crap caverns that has ever tickled my sick trigger, was a pristine vase of white roses sitting by the streaky brown sink. Who would have put this here? How has it survived such an inhospitable climate? And what can we conclude about the gas station in Cantwell? The answer is nothing. This is just a pointless anecdote about a smelly toilet.
But stranger things happen in gas stations around these parts. Just over a year ago, the rival Chevron across the road exploded and burned to the ground in mysterious circumstances. No-one was killed, but little was saved. The fuel storage tanks were later found intact and unexploded and the cause of the blast that injured five and levelled the gas station was never determined. Clearly, this was just a freak accident. Or was it? I cannot say with any degree of certainty. But as a rule, one should never toy with business entrepreneurs in the Alaskan boondocks.
Back on the road. To endless horizons. The Alaskan summer prevents us from driving off into a romantic sunset, as is usually required of all good tales from the road. Instead, a perpetual dusk haunts us until dawn and we sleep with one eye open.
The savage peaks of Denali National Park loom and Talkeetna is now just a peculiar memory. But memories never forget. For years to come, the weird ghosts of Talkeetna will whisper in my ear at 3:00am when I am almost asleep:
…Gimp Santa blew up the gas station…