I’m involved in a weird, long-distance relationship of sorts with “H,” even though we only live 17 miles apart. I hear from my friends about all the cool things that H does. I must admit I do a bit of cyber-stalking to find out what I am missing by not hanging out with H more. We only see each other a few times a year, and often just meet at the airport for brief, unsatisfying visits as I’m passing through. But I always think that it will get better. I find myself obsessively arranging our next visit, hoping for the best THIS time, maybe we’ll get to hang out and chill, relax and enjoy. But to tell you the truth, H is a lot of work. Once I finally get up close I just want to get away as soon as possible.
H is not some guy. It’s the city where I do my shopping. Homer.
Even though my town, Seldovia, is not on an island, it might as well be. We are off the road system, accessible only by boat or plane. Although we do have a small grocery store and a fuel station that carries odds and ends, there are many necessities you simply can’t buy here. And everything had to get here by boat or plane, so it’s expensive, especially if it’s heavy, liquid, refrigerated, or frozen. (Think beer and ice cream.) It makes sense to do a supply run to Homer now and then, to stock up. Since Homer is across the bay from Seldovia, when people around here say they are going to “The Other Side,” it usually means they are going shopping.
If you don’t go to The Other Side very often, you work on your Homer List for months. I have mine taped inside the kitchen cabinet where I keep the coffee beans. Maybe it’s September, but you are already thinking about Christmas cookie ingredients, or canning jars for next summer’s berries. How much toothpaste will get me through until April? If I ration the spiced rum will I have enough for hot toddies if I catch a cold this winter?
You plan your transportation. There are more options in the summer, with tourist boats and the fast ferry going back and forth across the bay every day. In the winter, you can take a water taxi, ride the Alaska Marine Highway System Ferry (the M/V Tustumena), or take a plane. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The ferry, “The Rusty Tusty,” is the cheapest way to go, at $66 round trip, but as her nickname implies, she’s a dear old gal and sometimes isn’t the most dependable. If you fly, $130 round trip, you will have to pay for your freight by the pound.
You check the weather. Can the Tusty make it across the bay? Are there big swells at the Homer dock? Is a storm blowing in from Kodiak or the Barren Islands that will interfere with your plans? Will you end up flying after all? Can the planes handle the weather? Maybe the whole thing will just get cancelled.
Once you get to Homer, you’ll have to run your errands somehow. It’s not a walkable city. There’s no public transportation. So you either borrow a car from friends, or take cab rides ($5-$15 each).
Unless you fly, you’ll be spending at least one night in Homer, so make those reservations for a motel room, or call your friends who live over there and ask if you can crash at their place. See if they have a car you can borrow while you’re at it. Make sure you take them some halibut, berries, or homemade cookies as a thank you gift.
If you’re arranging the logistics and spending all this money just for a shopping trip, you might as well get your teeth cleaned and go to the eye doctor while you’re at it, so make all those phone calls and see if there are any appointments available. It’s a juggling act, almost like planning a big vacation. By the time you get to Homer you’re keyed up and nervous about making all the connections, anxious about spending so much money. That list with all the errands and stuff on it? Usually there are at least a few things that get blown off. Somehow once you’re standing in the store, looking at price tags, none of it seems that important anymore. All you need, then, is to get back home, where you know everybody’s name, it’s quiet, and there isn’t any traffic.
Homer has a lot to offer. A movie theatre. A farmers’ market. Restaurants and pubs. A birding club. The Pratt Museum. A great library. Live music. Lectures and field trips and art galleries. Actual Nordic skiing where you don’t have to climb up a 3,000 foot mountain first. But, like the random things on the list, you skip it all. You’re here to SHOP, after all.
The trip isn’t over until you get all your loot from the dock back to your house, unpack everything, find niches to stow the goods. Bask in the overwhelming sensation of richness. You have your winter supply put up. No need to go anywhere for a while.
I did a Homer trip this week, and as soon as I was unpacked there was a knock at the door. Good friends stopped by to welcome me home. Even though I’d just seen them the day before it seemed like we’d been apart for a long time. Together we went to my neighbors’ for a birthday party. Seven of us sat in their little wooden house on stilts, celebrating with homemade pie and whiskey. One friend played new fiddle tunes she had just learned. We tapped our feet and sipped our whiskey. All my anxiety about H drifted away. I’m happy right where I am.