Greetings from Unalaska

by Dave Weigel

UNALASKA, AK -- When I agreed to blog here for a week I gave a quick word of warning: I was set to spend a week in Dutch Harbor, the remote fishing town made globally famous by 1) the series "Deadliest Catch" and 2) fish.

"Remote" is a word we like to misuse, like "awesome" or "ironic" or "electable." You go to a hunting cabin in West Virginia and you say you're in a remote location. But I am about as far from the great mass of humanity as I could be right now. This is obvious if you open a map and notice that the island is closer to Pyongyang than it is to Seattle. The trip out here made this more obvious. Fly into Anchorage's Ted Stevens International Airport (yes, still) and you don't immediately see the listing for your Dutch Harbor connecting flight. This is because you need to walk out of the main airport and into a few rooms located next to the airfield upon which 737s wait for clearance to fly.

There is usually some diversity of companions on an airplane. Not on this one. The men have beards and gear and heavy boots; the women have all but one of these things. Your fellow travelers look like they're heading to the same bar after work, possibly because they are. Another thing you notice is that most of them have shirts or jackets with "Alaska" written on them. This seems odd -- you don't head into Newark and bump into travelers with "New Jersey" jackets. Then you realize you're being foolish, and that almost everyone you're flying with works for some Alaska company, in construction or fishing or research, and that they're wearing the raincoats they've been handed for free.

I said we overuse the word "remote." One example that comes to mind is that commercial for wireless 3G cards that feature a British person (I don't know why this is) camping out in barren locations, showing off the fact that he can, click, get onto the internet. He never made it out here. When you exit your plane your phone informs you that you have a new Alaska Wireless number that you can pay for and use if ever you want to make a phone call. When you sign onto a wireless account, you are one of 4000-odd people who might be on at any given time, and this makes your 4-bar connection about as speedy as a 1-bar connection back in your soft, cozy urban cafe. When you plug in your 3G card? Nothing! Serves you right for trusting commercials with inappropriately wacky actors.

Find a helpful radio station, though, like KUCB, and you're back and blogging, only four hours behind the east coast.