Wrangell, Alaska: first impressions
Population: 2,400 people, more or less; and seemingy just as many boats
Number of stop lights: 0
Number of openly-carried firearms I’ve seen in a month: 2
Number of fabric purveyors: 1 (by appointment only)
Greatest sticker shock at the grocery store: cheese
Number of radio stations: 1 (public radio, thank goodness)
Number of times I’ve been greeted outside of work with something like “oh, you’re the new Forest Service girl…I heard you were coming”: 4
I was careful to keep my expectations mild, and I struggled to be as prepared as possible, but also with not being naïve about what small Alaska town living would be like. To that end, I did my best to find out everything I could about Wrangell before I got here, as anyone does, through the internet. If you’ve googled Wrangell, you’ve probably found that aside from some sites on tourism, a real estate office and the obligatory wikipedia entry, Wrangell doesn’t have much of an online presence. I managed to glean from here and there that the grocery stores (two) keep basic business hours (8a-6p) and are closed on Sundays. Most of the businesses are open Monday through Friday, but several are closed for lunch. The museum/conference center screens one movie title each month. Based on photos of the main street, the only business name I’d ever heard before was Wells Fargo (it still is, excepting the IGA grocery store that everyone calls “Bob’s” and the TrueValue franchise that is locally called “Ottesen’s”). Home mail delivery is not an option, and following the 2012 presidential election, the town comes in at about a 60/40 red/blue split.
And I knew that I’d come to know people by face, if not by name, very quickly. Already I find myself running into people I know everywhere and with regularity. I knew I’d have no anonymity, especially given my new job, which will ultimately have an element of public interaction (helloooo, Forest Service uniform). But what I didn’t anticipate was the flip side of this non-anonymous citizenship, wherein I perceive myself as “stalkerish”. This feeling comes on when I encounter someone, say, an apartment neighbor, at the grocery store. I feel like it must have at least occurred to them that I’m stalking them and have just now followed them to the grocery store. I expressed this concern to a colleague who has lived in Wrangell for 25 years, and she cocked her head and said “I don’t think I can even comprehend what you mean”. I hope that means I’ll get over it…eventually.