A fifty something Alaskan painter stands halfway up on a ladder. She throws her head back to get her long gold-blond thick pony tail on her back. She re-adjusts her wrist bandage that has seen better times long time ago. The velcro fastener is just one plain colorful oblong on the bandage. Nevertheless, she puts it in place. In the bandaged hand, she has a roll of duct tape. She reaches for the tape, wraps it around here wrist bandage twice, and cuts the tape off with a knife she obviously had in her carpenter jeans. She smiles at me, who had watched her while walking up the long stairs. She says to me “That’ll do it.” “Yep, it’s only broken when you can’t fix it with duct tape” I reply while continuing my walk to my office. I return her smile and say “I hope it does not hurt too badly. Have a nice day.”
Duct tape – the most important imported item in Alaska
This story is typical for Alaska. People meeting by accident talk to each other, being aware of their environment, and repairing everything with duct tape, if possible.
In Alaska, all supplies, parts, groceries, and medication have to be shipped up either by trucks via the Alcan – a dirt road built during WWII, by ship or by plane. There is no railroad to Canada and the Lower 48. Thus, parts and special things beyond the daily usual are hard to get. The demand is too low for auto repair shops to spend real estate on storage. The demand is too low to have more than one choice of everything. As soon as you get out of the three major cities (Anchorage population 291826, Fairbanks population 51926, Juneau population 31275 according to the US Census 2010), you can count yourself lucky to find either Coke or Pepsi.
Thus, whenever a piece breaks you must be as lucky as Gladstone Gander to find the part in town and not have to order it. Orders take time and shipping costs are high, especially when the piece is huge and heavy. You always wonder why it says on eBay “US only, seller does not ship to Alaska or Hawaii!”
Most Alaskans don’t even bother to order a replacement part. A broken car window will be fixed with transparent plastic foil taped on with duct tape. A broken bumper gets a band aid with duct tape. A broken turn signal? Replace the bulb, use yellow foil, and duct tape. Someone broke off your side mirror in the parking lot? Annoying, especially because they obviously didn’t even notice or bother (?)! Tape it back into place with duct tape and drive on. Your water bottle has a leak? No problem – there is always duct tape. Your heel broke off? Who is wearing heels in Alaska? Never mind, tape it back on with duct tape.
Duct tape is also used to produce needed items. In berry picking competitions, one saves time when one has not to move the buckets and makes sure they don’t tumble over. Solution to the problem? Tape the bucket to a rope on two sides and hang the robe around your neck. In best Madonna style – recall her cone bra – wear two buckets and you save even more time on the way to the weight station. On St. Patrick’s Day your kid did refuse to wear a green shirt, but after being pinched three times wants something green? Take the green duct tape off your purse’s handle and put it on your kid’s T-shirt. Your and your kid’s day are saved.
Duct tape anyone?
Business casual winter work look with leather pants …
…. and no duct tape. In the first photo of this post, I am wearing a cornflower blue sweater with chocolate brown leather pants for the office. The color combination reminds me of the black spruce against the blue sky of Alaska in mid spring. Since it is sometimes chilly in my office, I layered with a blazer (last photo in this post). To stay with the Alaska focus, its colors reminds me of the lichen on the spruce twigs. The previous photo shows details of the scarf’s print and the blazer’s plaid weave, buttons, and corduroy collar.
You may like a story on dumpster diving or on why Alaskans get their lives back in September. Focus Alaska is a weekly series on Alaska lifestyle, curiousa, insider travel tips, and Alaska street style. Thanks for stopping by! Come back soon.
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Photos: G. Kramm
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