I’m a born and raised Anchorage girl. Specifically, a born and raised west-side Anchorage girl. I grew up exploring Lyn Ary park, playing soccer at Balto Seppala, skiing at Kincaid, and visiting Loussac library. My feelings for Anchorage back then were undefined; it was home, and the only place I really knew. By the time I finished high school, I longed for adventure, warmer weather, and to make my own way in the world.
Leaving Anchorage was easy.
After college in Walla Walla, WA, traveling to sunshiney places like Australia, Turks and Caicos, Fiji, and Mexico, and beginning my professional career in Washington, D.C, I started to feel the pull of home. Sunshine and sand were somehow less appealing than snow and mountains (and far more appealing than the 17 year cicadas, hurricanes, snakefish, and political climbers, all of which I encountered in D.C.). No matter where I went, there was never coffee as good as Kaladi Bros, outdoor stores as friendly as AMH, bookstores as quirky as Title Wave, or summer days as long as the ones we enjoy in Alaska. Not to mention, my family and my then-future/now-current husband’s family all still lived in Anchorage (does anyone else feel like, now that we’re older and not angst-ridden teens, hanging out with our parents is SO FUN? I love it!).
We (future hubby and me) quit our jobs, packed our bags, and headed home.
Despite my excitement to be home again, loving Anchorage was hard (at first – now I find new and wonderful things to love almost daily). I’d lived in Walla Walla, WA, a place that will always be, to me, (and many others) the perfect small town, complete with a main street, farmers markets, corn mazes, hot air balloons, and miles and miles of wheat fields combined with wineries, art, theater, and fabulous restaurants (I could write another blog called GretchenLovesWallaWalla).
After Walla Walla, I moved to D.C. which (despite my complaints about the weather and the “wildlife”) has its own share of attractions: all the Smithsonian museums, the Kennedy Center, the many, many monuments, cherry trees, charismatic homes, walkable/bike-able neighborhoods, and fantastic public transit, combined with the ever-present, ever intoxicating buzz of being at the forefront of all things political.
When we arrived home, the people and places that I already loved were just as I remembered, but my frame of reference had changed. I found myself comparing Anchorage to other cities I’d lived in or visited (for example, in Sydney, Australia, if you get up early enough in the morning and walk through downtown, you’ll find the streets filled with people sweeping the sidewalks and washing the windows so that the city can start its day sparkling clean) and found it lacking.
I missed walking from my apartment to drinks and dinner along city streets that were visually delightful. In Anchorage, I was relegated to driving everywhere, watching the strip malls, crumbling sidewalks, uninspired box buildings, and restaurant chains fly by as I drove past. I was home, but not loving home.
My pivotal moment was when, mid shudder at the prospect of actually entering a strip mall (the horror!), I realized I’d have to choose – interesting, local stores that I knew I’d love, or staying away from aesthetically unpleasing buildings. And really, it was no choice at all. Why limit myself from enjoying all of Anchorage? Being snobby about design was just so BORING.
Bit by bit, I started to get to know Anchorage all over again, the good, the bad, and even the ugly. And bit by bit, I started to fall head over heels in love with the place I’d spent most of my life.
These days, my favorite restaurant is in a strip mall, and I don’t even notice because it’s the best food I’ve had ANYWHERE, EVER (there will be a separate post dedicated to this particular dining establishment). And, even though there are plenty of crumbly sidewalks, there are many, many lovely places to walk. Some of the least desirable buildings harbor unexpectedly lovely shops to poke around in. I still don’t like big box stores or chain restaurants, but I’m okay with that. Most of all, I love Anchorage so much that I want to share it with anyone and everyone who will listen. GretchenLovesAnchorage is my place to share the love.
Do you share the love? If so, I’d love to hear your Anchorage love story.