April 30 2003 12:00 AM ET
A hot time in Alaska’s winter
Our intrepid explorer,
When David Drake took his one-person show Son of Drakula to Anchorage, he found the days arent as dark and the weather isnt as cold as you might think. And at night things really heat up.
The dog sled races were canceled. So was ice bowling. This year’s annual Fur Rondy festival in Anchorage, Alaska—where trappers trade their catch and wares while tearing up the town via the aforementioned northern sports—may not have been a total bust, but because the winter of 2003 became the warmest on the state’s records, it certainly took a bath. In fact, throughout my 10-day stay in Anchorage in February—performing my new solo show, Son of Drakula, at the Out North Contemporary Art Houseit didnt snow one flake, and the temperature never went below freezing.
This is Alaska?
Regardless of the heat wave, the Last Frontier state still provided a rich, rustic experience that I wont soon forget.
Now, in some ways I may be a snide, cynical New Yorker. But having grown up in Baltimore, I must confess, Ive always had a soft spot for the modest charms of midsize American cities. That said, Anchorage made me melt. Depending on your point of reference, I found the rhythm, demeanor, and urban aesthetic of Anchorage akin to Buffalo, N.Y., with a dash of Seattle.
Inarguably, however, the natural surrounds are gorgeous. Breathtaking. Cuddled by the majesty of the omnipresent snowcapped mountains, the view from my downtown window at the Aspen Hoteland indeed, the backdrop displayed in the distance from every street cornerlent me a consistent and unexpected sense of serenity. Think Salt Lake City. Then double it.
The Aspen Hotel
Outside the city limits, driving past the sheaths of ice floating along the wetlands into the mountains covered with paths of pines among the streaming ski slopes, an aura of timelessness can swiftly take over. It most certainly did for meupon seeing, stepping on, and actually tasting a piece of the Portage Glacier. Although global warming has drastically diminished the size of this once spectacular natural landmark, experiencing this still-huge chunk of waterfrozen for thousands of yearswas pretty spiritual.
And then theres the color. Glaciers are blue. Baby-blanket blue. Glimpsed from afar, wedged into the rough-rock terrain, lit by the (often) gravel-gray hues of those murky Alaskan winter skies, the color is simply magic.
The Portage Glacier
Back in the city, the citizens cast quite a spell too. Like every city, the voodoo begins after sunset. (Note this about the myth of winter in Alaska: Day times are indeed shorter, but not pitch-black dark. Rather, the consistency of sunlight hoursfrom about 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.is more like late afternoon-overcast dark.) Once night falls, Anchorage can really kick some ass. With a twist of cowboy twang, the driving tone of the town is rock and roll doused with malt liquor. Dudes wear loose Levis and soul-patch goatees, while the babes knock off everything Shania Twain has ever worn. Think Albuquerque. Then double it.
So is this John Mellencampian utopia leaving the gay and lesbian folks out in the, er, cold?
Nope. Theyve got Mad Myrnas!
Although Anchorage has proudly supported an active gay and lesbian community center since 1978, local queers give their straight partying peers a run for their Eskimo Pies every weekend at 530 E. Fifth Ave. Mad Myrnas, you cant miss it: Its the only building on the block painted salmon-pink with lilac trim!
Mad Myrna's mad logo
On my Saturday night visit, the joint inside was jumpin with every kind of homo you can imagine: old, young, black, white, Asian, nativeand most astonishingly, the mix was 50-50 boy-girl. In five roomswith two dance floors, a lounge, a saloon-bar, and a spacious pool-tabled video game roomMad Myrnas boogied like a Brooklyn block party.
This refreshingly jovial mix seemed to startle loose a certain freedom in me that even the Portage Glacier hadnt quite cracked. The mingling of leather daddies with gym-suited native girls and giddy, speckled college queens with blunt-cut motorcycle mamas was further illuminated by the fact that the lighting in the central saloon-bar was actually bright enough to see who you were talking to!
That, by the way, is another story. Suffice to say, his name was Aleksai. A local of the states Russian heritage, the dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty told me, You know, before it was sold to the U.S. we called it Alyeska.
And indeed on Sunday morning...so did I. Alyeska!