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A hot time in Alaska’s winter (8501)

8501Advocate Travel2003-04-30

A hot time in Alaska's winter

Our intrepid explorer,
David Drake

When David Drake took his one-person show Son of Drakula to Anchorage, he found the days aren't as dark and the weather isn't as cold as you might think. And at night things really heat up.

David Drake

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 House--it didn't 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 won't soon forget.

Now, in some ways I may be a snide, cynical New Yorker. But having grown up in Baltimore, I must confess, I've 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 Hotel--and indeed, the backdrop displayed in the distance from every street corner--lent 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 me--upon 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 water--frozen for thousands of years--was pretty spiritual.

And then there's 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 hours--from 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 Levi's 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. They've got Mad Myrna's!

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 Myrna's, you can't miss it: It's 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, native--and most astonishingly, the mix was 50-50 boy-girl. In five rooms--with two dance floors, a lounge, a saloon-bar, and a spacious pool-tabled video game room--Mad Myrna's boogied like a Brooklyn block party.

This refreshingly jovial mix seemed to startle loose a certain freedom in me that even the Portage Glacier hadn't 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 state's 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 did I. Alyeska!

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