Wednesday, July 25, 2018

10 Reasons Why Juneau, Alaska is One of the Best Kept Secrets in America

1. We live in a postcard. I've lived in Juneau for twelve years, and I never get tired of looking at the scenery. Ever. Especially when the sun is out (which, okay, isn't often), there's no place on earth more spectacular. Sun-dappled ocean, salt-spray, mountains jutting out of glacial lakes, vast meadows of fireweed and nagoonberries, a bomber trail system. People save up their entire lives just to get a glimpse of the place I feel grateful every day to call home.

2. We try to take care of each other. No one can be nice to each other all the time, especially on the internet. But most folks don't realize how small Juneau is, both in geography and population. With under 33,000 locals, we can't afford to alienate our neighbors. You never know when you'll need a tow out of a snow berm in winter or a meal train for a birth or a death in the family. I've seen it over and over: Juneauites come through for each other in times of need.

3. We value diversity. Sadly, casual racism is the new normal under Trump. Juneau isn't immune to it, nor is my original hometown, New York City. But just as remarkable are all the voices who refuse to accept this bullshit and call it out when they see it. Juneau is socioeconomically and racially diverse for a town of its size. It's typically a safe community for LGBTQ folks and folks of all abilities. It's a welcoming place.

4. We have an unofficial official shoe. Xtratuffs. Enough said.

5. Orcas, humpbacks, eagles, and bears are our neighbors. Eagles are pigeons and bears are giant raccoons, but they're still magnificent. And I don't know a single Juneauite who doesn't thrill to see a humpback breaching or a pod of orcas. One of my favorite things to see on the internet is an ORCAS IN THE CHANNEL status update, and cars pulled over on Egan Drive to watch these majestic creatures literally cruising right past our homes.

6. We like to show off for tourists. Sure the cruise ship industry is kind of a dick, tourists ask silly questions, the ships disgorge plenty of smog and sewage, and no one likes any of that. But we take pride in our town and showing tourists a good time. From feeding them wild-caught Alaska seafood to letting celebrities like J.K. Rowling peruse Rainy Retreat (a local second-hand bookstore) unnoticed ("it was lovely," she said on Twitter), Juneau knows how to do hospitality.

7. Our arts, culture, and indy business scene rocks. There are so many young creatives doing amazing stuff in Juneau, from music to art to comedy to entrepreneurship. Some of my personal favorite haunts include (but are by NO means limited to): Alaska Robotics comic shop; Bustin' Out Boutique (great bras and expert fittings); Amalga Distillery (locally-made gin); Trickster (innovative indigenous design); Aurora Projekt (local threads); Shoefly (amazing shoes and clothes); the Narrows (craft cocktails); the Rookery and Coppa (both great coffee); Pucker Wilson's (yummy food-truck burgers and fries in two locations); KTOO public radio that brings such great news, arts programming, and musical acts to Juneau; Kindred Post (socially conscious post office); and Zerelda’s Bistro (pro tip: make a reservation). Also our great public works and facilities like the two pools, Eaglecrest Ski Area, parks and rec youth sports, and public libraries.

8. We are the only state capital unreachable by road. When you look at Juneau on Google Earth, it's amazing how in the middle of nowhere it really is. It's just a blip in the trees of the Tongass National Forest, and only reachable by boat or plane. In 2018, that's pretty incredible.

9. You can't get everything you want and we have real problems. If you want great weather, a good tomato, reliable operating hours, specialized medical care, or impeccable customer service, you're unlikely to find it in Juneau. That's life in Alaska. We also have very real problems typical of many American communities: opioids and opioid-related crime, domestic violence and sexual assault, lack of affordable housing and child care, homelessness, and a strained school system. But many of us acknowledge these problems and try to work on them as a community.

10. Southeast Alaska is Native Land. As long as I live in Juneau, I will be a guest on Native Land. For 10,000 years before it was colonized and stolen by white people, the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples existed in harmony with this place. Rich cultures were disrupted and families were broken. There is very real and living historical trauma associated with that shameful injustice, and much to be learned from indigenous cultures, art, and traditions. For me, this is the most important and humbling aspect of life in Juneau.

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