The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

February 5, 2009

Northern Exposure?

I was writing in the beer book today about a place we visited during the Portland expedition on one of our ventures out into the magnificent highs and lows of Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.  Mount Hood Brewery is located just south of Mount Hood and north of Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain (seriously) in a little community called Government Camp.  The commercial part of the community is pretty tiny, consisting of little more than the Ice Axe Grill where the brewery is housed.  As indicated by the multiple layers of snow still visible on the Sunday we visited in June, there may be more money in skiing in Government Camp than there is in beer.  Ski resorts are nestled around the pristine mountains and valleys, hidden from view, as is the Timberland Lodge, a WPA construction that we’ve all seen at least once in the opening scenes of The Shining. 

We parked in a rutted parking lot and hopped over puddles of melty snow to get to the Ice Axe Grill where we would belly up to the bar and begin sampling from the Mount Hood Brewery’s finest. 

As much a part of the beer book as the beer are the people we’ve encountered on our quest.  Looking around the Ice Axe Grill I was pleased to find many of the typical characters one might expect to see on a snowy day in June when you’re almost 6000 feet above sea level.  A sedentary balding guy who seemed to have gathered dust around the perimeter of his mug while he nursed his beer.  A lost looking tattooed girl whose eyes betrayed the innocence of the story she wanted to tell.  A trio of large bearded men dressed in flannel and gathered into a covy — or should I say den?  And us. 

Recalling this today put me in mind of one of my favorite fantasy destinations — Cicely, Alaska.  Home of Joel Fleischman, Holling Vincoeur, Mourice Minnifield and Chris in the Morning.  I’m the kind of person who claims to not watch a lot of television (de rigeur, right?), but will often fall in love with one or two specific series.  Right now it’s True Blood and Weeds; in the past it’s been Boston Legal, West Wing, Six Feet Under, St. Elsewhere and MASH.  I always inevitably fall for shows that are destined to be canceled, too — think Sports Night and Studio 60.  But I never loved a show like I loved Northern Exposure.  The theme song was my ring tone for a while.

I loved the purity of those characters — how they all seemed to know and own themselves and their eccentricities outright.  Mourice knew he was a puffed up, patronizing asshole and he reveled in it.  Maggie O’Connell loved being the bush-pilot bitch that she was.  Joel was prepared to take his particularly Jewish neurosies to the grave.  But mostly, I loved the idea that somewhere up north, if there wasn’t a Santa Claus, then at least there was a place where people lived an honestly thinking life; freed of the harsh boundaries of the suburbs and car pools and the daily commute.  I thought the characters were unique, diverse, intelligent and purposeful.  And, as humans are wont to do, I based all my assumptions about the real Alaska and its inhabitants on the characters in this TV show.  It was a lovely fantasy.

But on August 29th, 2008, that pleasant fantasy was ripped from my head like a scalp full of hair when presidential candidate John McCain approached a lecturn in Dayton, Ohio and announced that  Sarah Louise Heath Palin would join him on the Republican ticket.  For the next two and one half months I was reminded daily that not only is Alaska not the diversity heavy, cerebral haven I had hoped for, but that the residents of said state were thick enough to elect a hollow-headed Caribou Barbie as their governor.

There are a lot of things I will forever hate John McCain for.  Race-baiting and re-raising the Red Scare as he accused Barack Obama of being a Socialist notwithstanding.  But forevermore he will remain the lone individual who tore a big moose-shaped hole in my fantasy world by taking away my dreams of a better place on earth — a place like Cicely, Alaska.

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