I've meant to write about my impressions of Anchorage since I arrived, but there has always been something that kept me from sitting down and collecting my thoughts. Initial reactions to the place focused on how ugly the architecture is. And it is mostly ugly. Psuedo-modern, mostly boxy clunkers of buildings and lots and lots of strip malls. I have a hard time thinking of a place that I have been before that so struck me so seriously in how uniformly ugly the buildings were. I should admit that I have softened my opinion after being here for a few weeks, since I have found that there are some charming houses in the neighborhoods around downtown and flowers flourishing everywhere and the whole place is generally very clean.
I also wanted to write about gay life here. There seems to be more of it than I expected, with three gay bars thriving and even more homos hiding behind the scenes. And a bazillion lesbians everywhere. But perhaps the take-away thought that I had everytime I went out to the 'mo bars was that if I never see another piece of abercrombie and fitch clothing, it will be too soon. Seriously, I know that brand is a fucking plague and too many douchebags wear it, but at least half of all articles of clothing in a bar on a given night have that stupid logo assaulting our senses. I feel like the chick from Pattern Recognition, getting vertigo from the omnipresent branding. Apparently a&f is my Michelin Man. Anyway, there is some bad fucking fashion (I'm using that word loosely) in this town. But then sometimes there are some really rocking looks, just not often.
I said these are things I've wanted to write about, but I'm not going to write about them now. Because I've been crying for the last half hour.
Anchorage has a free paper that is obviously by the same folks who do the Village Voice and so many of the other free papers around the country. It has Savage Love and Free Will Astrology and News of the Weird, so it is comforting and makes me feel at home a little bit. And there are some good articles (and some insanely stupid ones, like when they take the side of the idiot suing their lawyer because they were so fat the chair broke in the lawyer's office when they plopped down in it). One bit of local flavor has stood out, though. The crime blotter is always good entertainment, because they pick the silly or funny crimes to feature. This crime blotter doesn't dissappoint, but it goes one step further and breaks your heart: they list the rapes that have occured in the week prior. Yup, a fucking rape list. Which, if they are happening, is probably good to broadcast. Warn people, make folks away that these things are happening. But you've got to admit, it is a little terrifying when a small city generates enough REPORTED rapes to have a weekly column listing them.
Our first week here, there were 10 listed. The second week, 10 again, so I began to wonder if that was just the cut-off point or there were exactly that many reported. Week three, the number was drastically lower, so we speculated about whether it was just a kinder, gentler week or cold weather keeping people indoors and safe that accounted for the steep drop. It was almost so disheartening that the only thing you could do with this rape report was make jokes about it, because really looking at what it suggested is too fucking grim.
I've been living in cities for quite a while now, and though I try to actively force myself to stay open to people and to listen to and help people on the street if I can, I still feel the walls go up when I see someone approach me who seems a little off-kilter. This is double for the middle of the night, so tonight when walking home from the bars, when I saw an older woman walking towards me, I started to put up shields and prepare to deflect her so I could keep walking and get home. Til I realize that she is truly upset. Because she had just been raped. Her cane was thrown in the bushes and she was using a stick of wood to walk with and he broke her phone so she couldn't call 911. So I did.
The dispatcher was polite and helpful and the police arrived quickly and seemed genuinely concerned and sympathetic, so I only have nice things to say about the emergency response in this town. But I didn't want to know how fast they respond. I didn't want a reminder of how calm I am in situations like this. I didn't want a reminder how much I break down and cry after the fact. But I got it, so if there is one indelible metric of Anchorage that I will take with me, it is the weekly rape report.