Saturday, December 17, 2016

Alaska as Shawshank Redemption

Toward the end of the film The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman's character "Red," who has spent most of his adult life in a state penitentiary in Maine, says shortly after he's released on parole: "There's a harsh truth to face. No way I'm gonna make it on the outside . . . All I want is to be back where things make sense."

I have a confession to make: I secretly feel this exact same way every time I leave Alaska for any extended period of time. 

In Alaska, Outside has a capital "O," and it means any non-Alaska location. I'm not trying to say that Alaska is like prison, not at all, or at least not to me. I'm only saying that every time I leave Alaska I feel like Red on parole. Like I'm not gonna make it, and all I want is to be back where things make sense.

Every year I take a few trips "Outside," and each year I discover something new and weird has cropped up in my absence. One time it was the iPhone. Then came Groupon. Then it was Uber and Lyft. Sometimes it's a hot new toy I've never heard of like Shopkins or Hatchimals. 

Which is not to say that savvy people paying attention here in Alaska haven't heard of this stuff or we are all hicks living under a rock or something. It's just to point out that certain trends are slow to catch on here, if they catch on at all, and if you're not paying attention, you can find yourself in a situation where your friend offers to call you a Lyft in Seattle, and when you ask him what that is, he literally asks if you're from another planet.

I notice it with my kids too. They don't have the words for it, but their Alaska-based cluelessness shows in the observations they make ("this town has a Waffle House AND a Taco Bell?!; "It's dark outside!" (in June)) and stuff like that.

I was having dinner at one of my Juneau "sister wives" houses last night. We were washing dishes and talking about the northeast, where we both grew up. Both of us have spent our entire adult lives and our lives as parents in Alaska.

"I don't think I could make it on the Outside," I told her. She laughed. "Seriously, I feel like Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption." We both admitted we were a little bit scared of four-lane highways and giant strip malls now. Another friend, also born and raised on the east coast and who has also lived her adult life in Alaska described it once like this: "I just want to go back to my moldy cocoon." 

As I prepare for one of several annual sojourns to the east coast, her words echo in my head. Before I even leave the Tarmac in Juneau, my moldy cocoon beckons and Morgan Freeman's words echo in my head:

"There's a harsh truth to face. No way I'm gonna make it on the outside . . . All I want is to be back where things make sense."

Image result for morgan freeman shawshank image


  1. A great observation and not uncommon, I think. I remember feeling the exact same when I was younger; a near dread of having to go visit the parents not because of them but because of the ambient. Nowadays it's more pleasurable because we're not toting anything but a change or two of clothes and the certainty of it being brief along with the certainty of return makes it endurable. I wasn't born here, I hitched the Alcan in those halcyon hippie days and little did I know how hard I would fall in love.

  2. I lived in Alaska from age 7 to 42. I've been gone now 15 years but I can relate to this post. What I didn't know then that I do know now is that Olive Garden isn't all that great. And, fresh air is hard to find. And, what's the hurry. Great post!


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