East Anchorage transplant: Life on the other side


I’m not new to Anchorage. In fact, in the five years I’ve lived here full time, I’d argue that I’ve managed to explore more of it than most. By way of the inter-city trail system, the Front Range access via upper and lower Hillside and the outlying trails snaking down the Turnagain Arm, I would have claimed to be very well versed in the city. Considering the fact that I spend my summers landscaping, finding hidden neighborhoods that you normally would have no reason to come across, I’d have expected to have ceased finding new areas of town by now.

I was very accustomed to the east side of Anchorage and all of its quirks. I knew the hours and delivery policies of all the restaurants in the area, and had become so familiar at Thai Kitchen that they knew my name by my order. I haunted the space between the U-Med district and Muldoon for years, intimately familiar with every trail, side road, and hole in the wall burger joint imaginable. Since moving to the Sand Lake area I’ve realized that there’s an entire side of Anchorage that I’d been neglecting for all these years.

The first thing you notice about the area is that everyone seems to be running. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. Mothers run with strollers with extra kids running alongside, and all manner of children who really ought to be in school seem to be training for the Hunger Games on the side of road.

Intrigued, I figured I’d follow the “when in Rome” principle and go for what I expected to be an easy run at Kincaid the other day, having been vaguely aware that it was a nice area rife with ski trails and a meandering disk golf course. Three hours later I emerged from what was almost certainly not a trail, covered in dirt from falling down an icy hill, and completely dumbfounded at the vast expanse of land the park inhabits. I wandered up and down two hills that must have been intended for biking and across ski trails that snaked through a dense forest of devils club before finding what I thought to be the main trail again. Twenty minutes later, I stumbled across a map that indicated that I had somehow found the coastal trail and was headed towards downtown Anchorage, which was unfortunately about three zip codes away from where I’d parked.

Apparently, once I cross the Seward Highway, all sense of direction goes out the window. I’ve grown a bit more accustomed to the main “berry streets” such as Raspberry, Strawberry and even Cranberry, but every third day I end up on some obscure berry (like Marionberry or something equally ludicrous), which almost always turns out to be a meandering one-way cul-de-sac intended only for bikes. The upside of this is that any would-be stalkers that might be following me should have even less luck in locating my home than I do.

Then there’s the Jewel Lake area, which must be contained in some sort of time warp, because the area doesn’t look like its aged in decades. There’s the True Value hardware store that I’d previously thought only to exist in farther-flung towns like Homer and Glenallen, which seems to have only survived the competition of big box home stores by hiding out in an alternate timeline. Then there’s the Tastee Freez, which has quite literally existed since the fifties and seems to anchor the area to a bygone era of small town diners.

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It’s consistently baffling to me that I can drive to UAA within fifteen minutes of the new apartment because it feels as if I’ve moved to an entirely different city, trading the base of the Chugach for a more coastal view. So far my neighbors don’t seem to be dealing anything, and the neighborhood children don’t appear to be forming any sort of Warriors style street gangs. I no longer have to risk sliding off the Muldoon on-ramp on my way into town, or science equipment stolen for daring to venture down Reka Drive. I even seem to have left the jurisdiction of the Anchorage code enforcement officer that had been stalking my car and threating to have me towed for the apparently vile offense of parking outside my own home.

Call it a new adventure, or simply a change of scenery, but I’m actually enjoying the chance to re-explore a city I thought I knew. Not all traces of the Anchorage I knew have disappeared however. I’m still able to find an identical Thai and Pho restaurant on every corner, the streets are still filled with poorly driven Subaru’s and the other night I was awoken by a weirdly familiar series of eight gunshots followed by the sound of a car speeding off.

Ah, Anchorage. Some things never change.