Friday, April 13, 2018

Lower 48 Re-Entry Syndrome

If you’ve lived in Alaska for any significant period of time, you’ll instantly know what I mean when I talk about Lower 48 re-entry syndrome. Surely it’s more acute if you’re in rural Alaska, where there’s a better than 50/50 chance you don’t have running water, much less Uber.  

But even “urban” Alaska, by comparison to “urban” places down south, is ... well ... not exactly the same.

It’s hard to explain and a bit subtle, but so-called “urban” Alaska is just different enough from the rest of the country to make this noticeable. Personally, I get rusty at navigating big crowds, stores, new convenience apps, and traffic; and once among these things, I get a deer-in-the-headlights feeling of disorientation that takes about 72 hours to dispel.

There’s always some new piece of tech that’s slightly different from the last time you were there. Simple transactions like paying for a cab in New York or Boston using a touchscreen in the backseat can make you feel like a foreigner in your own country, a Martian, or like you just hatched out of an egg. 

You’re slow on the uptake. Everyone around you is stylishly buzzing about in the rhythm of their routine, and there you are, standing still, looking around blinking and kind of dumbstruck in a river of lights, cars, and people.

It’s like your brain hasn’t had to be used in this way for awhile and must reacclimate to the pace, culture, and trappings of the rest of the world, which seems to have forged ahead without you while time in Alaska remained more or less frozen.

When Isaac, then six, asked if there was “good fishing” in the Hudson River off the New Jersey Turnpike, called a pigeon a “ptarmigan,” and a cactus “devil’s club,” I knew that for better or worse, my kids were always going to suffer from Lower 48 Re-Entry syndrome.

At least they have a good excuse. They were born in Alaska and are thankfully semi-competent at being Alaskan and doing Alaska stuff. I left New York City 13 years ago and never even got a real handle on Alaska either, so now I’m just incompetent everywhere.

Mars is looking better and better every day.


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