Voices of MainStreet: Dave Dorsey

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Supporting the Troops Is Key

April 1, 2011

Back in the late '70s I went to Ramstein AB in Germany several times with the Air Force and got to meet some of the local people. One couple called the U.S. the policeman of the world. At that time I thought that was kind of a strong assessment, but after our recent actions in Libya, I now agree with them.

For the record, I do think that Moammar Gadhafi has been a terrorist for decades and needs to be removed from power if not more. I’m glad that the U.S. took a stance where it backed out of the lead role from the military action against Libya and insisted that the United Nations take over. We’re already fighting two wars and our military is definitely spread thin.

The military is doing an excellent job. It is the most advanced military in the world and deserves all that we can give it. The days of war bond rallies are long over, but we can show support in many ways.

When I joined the Air Force in 1974, being in the military was not a popular thing. The Vietnam conflict was winding down and everyone knows how unpopular that war was. A lot was blamed on the military even though it was run by the politicians back in Washington. Vietnam veterans never received the respect that they earned like their comrades do today.

Today I see young kids with goals to join the military. Their parents, family and community are behind them all the way. The military is marching in local parades, posting the colors at sports events among other things and rightfully getting applause from those watching.

Politicians are fighting for the veterans rights to ensure they get what they’ve earned while they’re deployed and when they get back home.

There are some anti-war protests from time to time, but not like in the 1960s and 70s. At these protests they say right out that the protest isn’t against our young men and women in the military, but the actual war itself. I have seen a few military funerals and the deceased are treated with the highest respect for giving the biggest sacrifice. Here in Alaska there hasn’t been any protest at these funerals. I would hate to see what would happen to the protesters if there was.

Our military personnel deserve all that we can give them to finish their mission while deployed and after they come home. We should also ensure their homes and families are protected and cared for while they are deployed.

They are doing it all for us, we should do the same for them.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

Changing Jobs, But Not Phones

March 25, 2011

This concern over the AT&T and T-Mobile merger is a little overrated. I doubt that in Alaska we’re going to see much change, if any. AT&T is the only national wireless company in Alaska; Verizon has announced plans to move here in the future but as of yet hasn’t set a date.

AT&T pulled out of Alaska about 8 years ago in a trade with Cellular One. What a horrible time in wireless history. Cellular One was terrible. Rates increased and service dropped. Customer service was next to non-existent. When AT&T bought out Cellular One we were warned of how bad the customer service was. I couldn’t believe it was worse than Cellular One, and it wasn’t. I’ve never had a problem with AT&T’s customer service.

I do feel that cellphone rates are high. I use a Blackberry Torch and use all of the bells and whistles. The charge for those bells and whistles I feel is a little high. I do have unlimited minutes, data, unlimited texting, bb service, roadside assistance and insurance. I think my cellphone bill is my highest utility bill. If it were to increase, I’d have to trim some of those services for sure.

I’m changing companies and probably won’t need all of them, but I’ll keep them anyway. Email and internet is always nice to have at hand. I can’t wait for the faster 4G network to make it to Alaska. It’s nice that I’m changing companies and I don’t have a company cellphone. All of my contacts go with me. They’re synced to my computer. That’s part of the reason why I got a quality smartphone. I guess it’s true when they say you get what you pay for.

If the merger goes through, I guess it will be up to Sprint and Verizon to raise the bar, to make the next big move. Like the airlines, mergers might be where it’s at for wireless companies.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

My Giving Goes to the Birds

March 18, 2011

I am cautious when I give to charities. I’m sure everyone has wondered about some of their past donations. You here of scandals, embezzlement, frivolous purchases and such, it makes you wonder how your money is used. I tend to stay with the big boys when it comes to national or international disaster relief. I feel I can’t go wrong with the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army. I’m not saying it’s not safe to go with others, I just feel comfortable with them.

I do donate all year long, but I keep it local. The ones that tear at my heart usually get into my wallet. Kids and animals are the usual ones. They both get sick and injured usually through no fault of their own, but through us adult humans.

The biggest cause I support is the rehabilitation of wild birds by the Bird Treatment and Learning Center here in Anchorage. Most of the birds they get in are sick or injured by some type of human interaction. Birds that are electrocuted on power lines, caught in traps, hit by a car, got into some type of toxin discarded or even flew into a window. Last year they took in more than 50 bald eagles and more than 600 other types of wild birds. Over half of them were able to be returned back to the wild. The rest were placed in facilities to where they could be used for educational purposes or passed away.

Their volunteers work at their clinic every day of the year. They also take their education birds around the state of Alaska to schools and different organizations, teaching people about the species and the dangers presented by man that they can face. They do all of this with no government funding. They do it with donations from individuals like you and me and some corporations.

I support them with both time and money. I see what a supporter’s money goes to and I’ve never seen a dime wasted. With a small and extremely talented staff, they perform the unthinkable. They piece the largest and smallest birds back together so they can have a second chance. I’ve seen three people struggle to hold an eagle while it is cared for and one person struggle to handle a chickadee because it’s so small. No matter what the species, they all get an equal chance.

There are many good charities out there and they all have a good cause. You need to pick one that is right for you. Money is tight, so I try to make it count. Bird TLC gets my money because they make a difference. Make sure whoever you donate to makes a difference. I don’t do it for a tax break; I do it so they get a break.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

Not Much of a Payback
March 11, 2011


Like many people, I am anticipating a tax refund this year, but I don’t expect it to be a lot. At my part-time job, my pay was a little less last year. It’s partially based on commission, and sales were off for 2010. For the amount of taxes that I do pay, sometimes I feel that I’m financing my military retirement pay.

I am a procrastinator when it comes to filing my taxes. I wait at least until April 1st, but I do file it on line. It just feels like I’m doing it at my own pace when I wait to file. I have waited until the 15th and even filed extensions, but that’s when I knew I had to pay a large sum.

I have used tax advisors in the past, but it’s hard to find one I feel like I can trust to give me good information. I’ve consolidated my investments and even my 401k is all in one location now. At one time I had four different 401ks out there from different jobs over the years.

The IRS has relaxed some over the years, but there was a time when I thought they had way too much power and no sympathy for the little guy. Back then, I was going through a divorce when I was a young buck sergeant in the 1980s. All of a sudden I had no dependents and owed a lot of taxes for that year. I made payment arrangements with the IRS, but later that year they changed their mind and wanted it all right away. No matter who I talked to at the IRS didn’t matter, there was nothing they could do. So I decided to visit U.S. Senator Ted Stevens’s office and pleaded my case. His staff came through for me and my payment arrangement with the IRS was back on track. After that, I called him Uncle Ted like all of the other Alaskans. We won’t talk about what I call the IRS.

Alaska doesn’t have a state income tax or a state sales tax. The revenue from oil production takes care of that for now. I’ve lived in other states where you had to file your state return about the same time as the federal return. It felt like double dipping to me and I never felt like I got my return on my dollar.

Everyone says that Uncle Sam needs to get his share, but I like to hang onto mine for as long as I can.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

Spring is a Big Deal in Alaska

Mar. 4, 2011

Spring Break will come and go without notice this year. The recession might be over, but the rising cost of goods is not. I stopped this morning and filled my gas tank up. The price was $3.65 a gallon. I drove by the same station after lunch today and the price had gone up to $3.75 a gallon. Any kind of trip will have to be a good one, if and when I decide to take it.

Traveling by plane won’t be any less expensive this year either. Several years back when the fuel prices spiked, the airlines raised pricing accordingly. When the price of fuel went down, they didn’t adjust the price down a penny. Now with it going back up again they are raising prices because of fuel costs. If it continues to rise, don’t be surprised if there’s some big shake ups in the airline industry.

I prefer not to burn up all of my vacation time at one shot. I like breaking it up and taking a number of long weekends. Time off is essential to me. I have a lot of things I prefer doing when I’m off the clock. Most of it usually means a trip out of town, but things might get reeled in a little closer to home this year.

Winter is still in full swing here in Alaska. I believe we hit the high of 11 degrees today. For the next week it should be in the mid 20s during the day and single digits at night. Even though the first day of spring is in two weeks, it really won’t feel like spring for about another month and a half. But once the snow is melting and we start to get other colors besides black, gray and white, there will be no time for sitting still.

The daylight hours are longer now and getting longer every day. Right now we have about 10½ hours of daylight and gaining about 10 minutes of daylight a day. When winter starts to break up, the sun is out most of the day, the birds migrate back, the colors come alive and I will too!

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

Price Check, Please!

Feb. 18, 2011

I got my driver’s license in 1973 in Maryland and the price of gas was 52 cents a gallon. It’s ironic that today I filled up the gas tank in my truck and regular gas was $3.52 a gallon. I don’t have a 1967 Firebird like I did back then, but a more fuel efficient Dodge and I don’t joy ride near as much as I did back then. I doubt that in 1973 that I could afford to pay $80 to fill up a gas tank.

The price of coffee, sugar and you name it are going up left and right. It’s going up so much that it’s making the national news every day. Consumer pricing is up 0.4% in January. OK, the recession is over, so start raising the prices? I’m fortunate to be getting a paycheck, but it’s not getting any bigger. More people want a part of it though. At least my vanilla latte’ hasn’t gone up in price.

It’s tough for the American consumer right now. Statistics show that only 71% of Americans can live within their means. When I got divorced in 2009, I had a feeling that there was going to be tough financial times ahead. First thing I did was pay off all of my credit cards.

Then I started paying all of my bills online through my banks bill pay program. It was amazing how much money I saved and how I could see where my money was going.

I shop hard now for big ticket items. I use to always use Alaska Airlines for out of state travel. I get their air miles through credit cards, grocery purchases, cable TV, you name it. I also only fly on American made aircraft, so the shopping takes a little bit now. By shopping online, I saved $400 on round trip tickets to Maryland on Continental Airlines and Boeing aircraft. Sorry Alaska Airlines, $400 is $400 to me. You posted $250 million in profits last year, I didn’t.

The days of 52 cents a gallon for gas is gone. No more 5-cent candy bars or $1 movie tickets. We would love to have those days back, but it’s sad to say that they are gone.

I haven’t turned into Ebenezer Scrooge, but I am watching the cost of the things I buy now or in some cases, use to buy.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

And the Envelope Please!

Feb. 11, 2011

This year I pick none of the above. I haven’t been to a movie at the theaters in several years. I can’t even remember the last movie I saw away from home. I can’t get into high priced soda, popcorn or candy. I also can’t deal with people kicking the back of my chair, ringing cell phones (oh I forgot to turn it off) or the lack of a pause button for when I must leave to use the facilities.

If the movie is that important for me to see, I’ll rent it and watch it at home. That’s of course after I buy a CD player, DVD player, Blueray, Wii II or whatever I need to watch a movie and have some kid hook it up for me.

I went on the Oscar website and checked out what and who was nominated. The only movie I heard of was True Grit, and that’s because I saw it 45 years ago. Jeff Bridges is a heck of an actor, but he’s not The Duke. If I think of True Grit, I think of John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, not Jeff Bridges. The Duke took the Oscar home. I wonder if Jeff will.

Of all of the actors nominated, I only recognized two names. None of them are bigger than life like Bogart, Bacall, Fonda, Bergman or Grant. Say those names and I see a face, a character or a movie. I’ll even start saying lines from some of their movies. Say the names of this year’s nominees and I won’t know what you’re talking about.

Do you have a line that sticks out in your head from this year’s movies like Jack Nicholson in The Shinning with “Here’s Johnny!” or Bogie with "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." True Grit doesn’t count “little sister”, because it’s a remake.

Hollywood lost me. I don’t know when or why, but it lost me. I guess I’m stuck in time. If I want to see this year’s best, I’ll turn on TCM and watch it from my Lazy Boy while enjoying my ice tea and corn bread. That’ll be my Oscar-watching party.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

Valentine’s Day Thoughts Do Count

Feb. 4, 2011

I don’t spend a lot of time on getting ready for Valentine’s Day. About a month before the holiday, the retailers start putting things out. They seem to go Valentine’s Day crazy and go all out for candies and cards and I’m more than happy to look at what they’ve got and start selecting what I need.

I usually buy all the ladies at the office where I volunteer a large Hershey’s Kiss. They’re all hard workers there and I love cheering them up. They’re the best and I feel they need to know they’re appreciated and loved by us volunteers.

My special Valentine and I don’t go way out on buying expensive gifts. It’s generally a couple cards with a special meaning inside, some really good candy (Godiva Chocolates usually goes well) and then some quality time together. With Valentine’s Day coming on a work day, it does make it a little hard scheduling the quality time.

I always like adding something humorous. It’ll be nothing really embarrassing or anything like that. Just a little giggle reminder of a special time, place or memory. I think the worst Valentine’s Day present I’ve ever received was a weed eater. Needless to say, the romance was over in that relationship.

Anyway, Valentine’s Day is not a blown out affair with me. It’s just a little recognition of the ones that are special to me and letting them know that they are.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

My Friendly Neighborhood Credit Union

Jan. 28, 2011

 

I’ve been using the same credit union ever since I moved to Alaska 26 years ago. At the time, it was centrally located and catered mainly to the military or government employees. Since then, it has grown to be one of the largest federal credit unions in the country and the service has only gotten better.

The union seems to be on the front line when it comes to offering new services. The first biggie was back in the early ‘80s with direct deposit. From then on, my trips to the bank got fewer and fewer. I seldom write checks anymore, but they were one of the first to offer overdraft protection and free checking.

When they went to online banking, I knew I had complete control over my finances. I remember when you use to have to stand in line at the bank just to deposit your paycheck or make a car payment. Now, if I have to go inside I feel out of place. It’s almost like a new experience. It amazes me how small their lobbies have gotten and how few employees they need now.

I’ve applied for credit cards, car loans and personal loans without even leaving my house. If a real signature is required, they’ll send the paperwork in the mail. All you have to do is sign it and send it back. Their rates are on their website for all to see. You can compare them with other financial institutions without even leaving your chair.

OK, I admit that I’ve strayed a few times. Some of the big-name banks like Wells Fargo or Bank of America offer some things that seem to be awesome. But after being with them for a short time, I figure out their shortfalls. They usually have fewer locations and generally don’t offer free services like notary and such.

I have had a few short-lived problems with my credit union, though, but they were usually cleared up with a phone call. There have been so few I can’t even think of an example right now.

At their locations in some of the local big stores, they are open longer, open on some holidays and most weekends. Of course you have the website where you can check everything out 24/7/365. I’ve gone online and printed 1099 forms, old statements, and old checks that I’ve written, and I’ve even transferred money into my kids’ accounts online.

I’ll stick with my credit union. They seem to have my best interests in mind and they’re very convenient to work with.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

 

 

Football Just Isn’t Football Any More

Jan. 21, 2011

I just finished doing something my dad wished he had done, but never did: I watched the 1958 NFL Championship Game and it was in color. Sports people all over call it the greatest football game ever played.

When I was growing up you liked steamed crabs, the Baltimore Colts, the Baltimore Orioles and Johnny Unitas – better known as Johnny U or The Golden Arm. He had a flat-top haircut, I had a flat top haircut. His uniform number was 19, mine was 19. He was my idol.

Remember – back in 1958 there was no overtime. There had to be in this game so there could be a winner, but only because it was the playoffs. There was also no instant replay. The top salary was $10,000 and there were no guarantees. The Colts won in overtime 23-17.

As I got older, I went to many games. Johnny U was the master. He was a record-setting quarterback and the NFL's most valuable player in 1959, 1964 and 1967. His record of throwing a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games (between 1956 and 1960) remains unbeaten. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest.

But like most childhood heroes, time is their enemy. Following the 1972 season, the Colts would see the end of an era when Unitas was traded to the San Diego Chargers. However, he would not leave without one final great moment: Coming off the bench in his final game at Memorial Stadium to replace Marty Domres, Unitas hit Eddie Hinton on a 55-yard touchdown pass late in the 4th quarter to help beat the Buffalo Bills 35-7, as Memorial Stadium gave the legend a standing ovation while a small plane carried a banner reading "Unitas We Stand". I was there.

As you know, the Baltimore Colts no longer exist. The Indianapolis Colts do, thanks to former owner Robert Irsay, who in 1984 snuck them out of Baltimore in the middle of the night so fans wouldn't know. The move is reviled to this day in Baltimore as "Bob Irsay's Midnight Ride". Unitas was so outraged that he cut all ties to the relocated team (though his #19 jersey is still retired by the Indianapolis Colts). Other prominent old-time Colts followed his lead. He asked the Pro Football Hall of Fame on numerous occasions (including on Roy Firestone's "Up Close") to remove his display unless it was listed as belonging to the Baltimore Colts. The Hall of Fame has never complied with the request. That's when I stopped watching football, until tonight’s replay of the 1958 championship game.

Later on, Sports Illustrated voted Johnny U the greatest athlete in the NFL's first 50 years. Johnny U passed away on September 11, 2002 never acknowledging the Indy franchise.

For the game following his death, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning requested to wear a pair of black cleats as a tribute to Johnny's signature black boots. The league denied his request and threatened Manning with a $25,000 fine. He decided not to wear them. Ravens quarterback Chris Redman wore the cleats without asking permission and was fined only $5,000.

I watched this game tonight and thought of my father often. The game was narrated by Johnny U's fellow players, the New York Giants players, radio and TV commentators of the time and some of today's more famous players. If you want to see what football was, watch "The Greatest Game Ever" on ESPN.

 

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

Practicality Before Style

Jan. 14, 2011

I’m not one that buys a new car or truck every year. I buy what I want and then keep the maintenance up. When I was shopping for a new vehicle in 2007, I was stuck between a Jeep Cherokee or a Dodge Durango. I had driven a 1988 Dodge Ramcharger since it was new. I basically wanted the same thing, just updated. The Durango won out because Dodge (who owns Jeep) was in my price range, offered more incentives and had a larger cargo space.

You get what you pay for and you pay for what you get. In Alaska you can’t afford to be stranded on the side of the road, especially during winter. Vehicle breakdowns when you’re in the middle of Alaska when the temperatures are below freezing have cost people their lives. If you go off the main roads, you might not run into another soul for a long time.

Fuel economy is a good selling point with the price of gas going up. However, a vehicle also has to be practical. A Toyota Prius might be awesome on gas milage, but you can’t carry passengers and cargo comfortably. I also need ample cargo space for luggage or large kennels. If I drive out of town, I have a tote that has my winter gear in it. In it you’ll find insulated underwear and socks, hat, gloves, insulated Carhartt pants and coat, and a couple blankets. You have to be prepared for the weather if you break down.

There are also hidden compartments where I keep jumper cables, a tow strap and a few tools. You never know. I expect my vehicle to be reliable and maintain it to be, but not everyone does. If you’re broken down on the side of the road, I’m there to help. It could be a long time before AAA gets someone there.

For me, a car has to be all-wheel drive or at a minimum front wheel drive. Traction is a must. If you’re driving 60 mph on icy roads, you have to have good traction. You also don’t wait for the snow plow to go somewhere. You get up and go, no matter how deep it gets. You don’t buy the discount tires, you buy the best.

The comfort items aren’t that big for me. I need a decent radio with an iPod jack (what we used to call a cigarette lighter but now is a 12v power outlet), an engine block heater and rear window defroster. Everything else that comes standard is good enough for me. A remote start is nice on those cold mornings that you would like to jump into a warm vehicle, but not a necessity.

What I would like to have in my next vehicle, whenever that might be, is Bluetooth capability. For now I have the earpiece, which I lose on an annual basis. OnStar and satellite radio with reasonable rates would be nice also.

Reliability and practicality works for me.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

 

My Cell Phone Is a Blessing, Curse

Jan. 7, 2011

The one electronic gadget that has affected my life the most for both good and bad has been the cell phone. If you want to know how to get in touch with someone I know by either their home phone, work phone, cell phone, snail mail or e-mail, look on my cell phone. Oh, wait a minute, don’t forget Facebook or Twitter. You need to know their birthday, anniversary, spouse's name or nick-name? I got it.

I’m a Blackberry guy. I started with one of those huge bricks. I think they were made by Motorola. When the people I worked for gave it to me I looked at it and thought “What the heck do I need this for?” It came down to that they could get a hold of me whenever they wanted to. I left it in my truck most of the time so I didn’t have to carry it around. Next was the Nokia candy bar. That lasted a long time until they went away from analog.

Then along came the Blackberry Pearl. I could now sync my personal computer and my cell phone contact list. A Sim card? Who needs it? Before that you had to enter all of your contact information in manually every time you got a new phone, or your phone belched. Now, when I get a new phone, I plug it into my laptop and a few minutes later she’s all loaded up. I switched over to the Blackberry Bold, no problem. I upgraded to the Blackberry Torch, no problem. All my information, my calendar, task list, it was all there. I don’t ever turn mine off. It’s on 24/7/365.  As long as I’m awake, you can reach out and touch me.

I remember when I went to work for one company to do outside sales; they issued me a cell phone. I spent a lot of time entering a lot of contact information into it manually. A few years later I gave my two weeks' notice and they started to rub me the wrong way. My temper got the best of me and I handed them the phone and walked. What did I think of while I pulled out of the parking lot? What am I going to tell my wife? What am I going to do for a paycheck? Nope. All I could think of was all the information in that phone that I now didn’t have access to. Now you can sync them to your own personal computer and it’s not an issue. However, I never use a company cell phone anymore, always my own.

Sometimes being able to be reached anytime isn’t too great and sometimes it’s a blessing. I was riding my bicycle on the coastal trail and I got a call from Dillingham, Alaska, 331 miles away and no road connecting Dillingham to Anchorage. My oldest son was in an accident and was being flown on a medevac flight to Harborview Hospital in Seattle. Quick, get home, book flight and find out where Harborview Hospital is when I get there. If it wasn’t for that cell phone I wouldn’t have received that information for a couple more hours. That was about 10 years ago and my son is fine today and has four kids of his own now.

A cell phone can be frustrating too. Poor service areas, dead zones, software glitches, you name it. They’ve all raised my blood pressure from time to time. I use about 1,200 minutes a month. I could tell a lot more stories, good and bad. But, all and all the cell phone has really had an impact on my life, mainly all good.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

What Blizzard? Life Doesn't Freeze for a Bit of Cold

Jan. 3, 2011

There are seven of us from different parts of the country who write post for Voices of Mainstreet. If you read everyone’s post, it’s supposed to give you an idea of what people across the country are thinking about this week’s subject. Sometimes I feel that living in Alaska I’m out of touch with "Main Street America," or they are way out of touch with Alaska. Maybe it’s both.

Our first two questions from the editor are “With colder weather throughout the country, do you have a routine when you’re trapped indoors? And, "What do you do in the winter when you’re less able to go out and enjoy the outdoors?”

If I ever was trapped indoors in Alaska due to the weather, and anyone found out about it, I would have to move. My routine, along with everyone else, is “It’s another day.” Four inches, 8 inches or 12 inches of snow doesn’t matter. It might slow things down, but that’s as far as it goes. If you let a little snow keep you from going out, you’ll never go out.

Cold weather doesn’t keep you from going out either. Anchorage was named as a bicycle-friendly city earlier this year. People bike year-round. Hike, jog, ski, whatever -- dress for it and go do it. It’s winter from October to April. That’s seven months of the year when any kind of winter weather can happen and does. Who wants to stay inside for seven months? Not me.

The rest of the questions are “Are there special recipes you cook? Crafts you do? Books you like to read? Does it make you crazy or do you find it calming? Do you still brave the elements to get in workouts or just fun?”

Nothing stops day-to-day life. The newspaper, the mail and pizzas get delivered. People go shopping, to the gym, watch outdoor events such as dog mushing, go ice fishing, go to the zoo, you name it.

I volunteer at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage. We take care of wild birds that were sick, injured or orphaned and try to rehabilitate them and return them to the wild. Seventy-five percent of the center is outside. The well birds live outside year-round. The eagles, owls, ravens, you name it, live outside year-round. Those birds need to be fed and cared for no matter what the weather is. You don’t stay home because it’s snowing or cold out.

Today it warmed up to 18 degrees Fahrenheit in Anchorage, but in Prudhoe Bay it’s minus 39 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of minus 68 degrees Fahrenheit. You can bet the oil pipeline doesn’t close down and the trucks are still moving on the Haul Road. The Alaska State Troopers, fire departments, ambulances, garbage pickup, you name it, they’re all operating at 100%.

Life in Alaska doesn’t stop because of the snow or cold. You can count on that. But when it gets above 80 degrees in the summer, well, that’s another story.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

My Plan to Enjoy 2011

Dec. 23, 2010

I don’t make a lot of New Year’s resolutions. The last biggie I accomplished was to quit smoking. I made that resolution many times before it actually came true in 2000. I made several resolutions in 2010 and there’s one that as of yet hasn’t come true, but I’m always hoping. It’s a personal one that I won’t talk about here, but there is one reader that knows what I’m talking about. If it doesn’t come true by the end of 2010, I’ll recycle it for 2011.

I do have goals for 2011. One is to increase my personal savings. That was tough last year, but the economy seems to be taking a turn for the better. Let’s keep our fingers crossed on that one. I retired from the Air Force in 1994, but that’s not enough for me to be 100% retired, so I work four days a week doing sales. I would like to cut that back to three days a week in a couple years. Work is getting in the way of hobbies and traveling, but I do have to finance them somehow.

I’ll have to budget to get some more traveling in. My mom is getting up in years, so I need to make it back east to visit her more often. I also want to get more in-state traveling done. This is one large beautiful state, and it takes a bit to get around seeing as much as you can. A lot of places in Alaska you can only get to by plane or boat, so it can get expensive. I don’t have the financial or media backing that our more popular resident has.

I would like to add two more lenses to my camera bag. So budgeting in other areas should help with that. You often justify some unneeded purchases when you’re single. My usual excuse is, I worked for it, so I deserve it. The real question should be, do I really need it and will it slow down the purchase of what I really want. Photography is a fun hobby, but it can get expensive. I only buy the best when it comes to anything and camera gear is no different. I doubt I’ll ever be at the level of where it pays my expenses, so in the mean time, budget.

I think my system to make these goals come true will be to have self control. Stay focus and make what you want happen. Look for that light at the end of the tunnel and see what’s at the end, then go for it.

I hope everyone has a Happy New Year. Be ready though, because it’s going to be awesome!

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

Keeping it Local

Dec. 20, 2010

As the years have gone by and my family here in Alaska grows and grows, traveling to visit family in the lower 48 for the holidays has become less frequent. Sometimes it seems like it just doesn’t happen anymore. The time it takes, the headaches of checking luggage, going through security and dealing with the crowds – it’s just way too much for this old guy. According to travelmath.com, it’s 4,344 miles of driving from Anchorage to where my mom lives in Maryland. When I flew there this past summer, it took almost 12 hours and it cost about $700. Now to fly for the holidays to visit her, it would cost over $1400 plus the new extra fees. That’s kind of pricey for me, especially with still having to deal with Santa Claus in Alaska.

Another drawback is that I will only fly on an American-made aircraft. If Boeing didn’t design and build it, I’m not flying on it. I’ll spend the extra money or take the extra time to make that happen. I spent a 20 year career working on American-made aircraft and I know firsthand there are none better.

So with three kids who each have spouses, and four grandkids, my Christmas will be at home in Anchorage. I’ll spend the day cooking a ham and all the fixings. They’ll arrive after 3 p.m. to open presents and then have dinner. By then they will have visited with other family members who won’t be coming over here.

Even though Anchorage has an excellent public transportation system, it’ll have limited service for the holidays. Parking in the neighborhood will be a little tight, but we’ll make it work. Our snowfall for the year so far is on the mark, so no problem with having a white Christmas.

There’ll be no travelers coming in to visit for the holidays. It’s hard to expect someone to go through the same travel pains that you no longer will do yourself.

Sometime during that chaos and mounds of wrapping paper, I’ll call my mom and pass the phone around. She’ll have had her Christmas with my brothers and sisters and it’ll be getting close to her bed time. There’s a four hour time difference between her home and mine.

We have a lot to be thankful for. The new addition this year will be my son-in-law. He and my daughter just got married this past weekend. Last Christmas he couldn’t join us for the holidays because he was deployed to Afghanistan. This year he gets to enjoy our mayhem.

Christmas will be at home surrounded by my children and the family they have made. We’ll be eating good food and sharing all the presents that Santa left for us. I hope everyone’s Christmas is safe and as enjoyable as ours will be.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

Taxation With Little Representation

Dec. 13, 2010

I had a little trouble trying to write this week’s post. The questions were based on the Bush tax cuts. You know, what you thought about them, do you think they should be extended, and stuff like that. To tell you the truth, I’ve had little time to think about it.

Right now Alaska still has a senate race going on, if that’s what you want to call it. Let me bring you up to date. Lisa Murkowski (R) is in office, Tea Party-backed Joe Miller (R) runs against her in the primary and wins. Lisa decides she wants to fight to get her job back and runs a write-in campaign and wins by more than 10,000 votes. Joe files a legal challenge against the state that asserts Alaska law prohibits misspelled write-in ballots from being counted and bars the state from applying more lenient standards for write-in ballots than other ballots. He has also cited several irregularities, such as voters casting ballots without having showed identification, and some ballots allegedly having been filled out by the same person.

A federal judge last month stopped the certification of election results in response to Miller's first lawsuit on the condition that the candidate brings his legal challenge to state court. A decision declaring victory for the incumbent would be appealed by Miller to the state Supreme Court.

The judge presiding over the dispute in the Senate race is expected to rule on Friday, but any decision is likely to be appealed by Republican Joe Miller, who refuses to concede to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Senator Murkowski's current term ends on Jan. 3, two days before the Senate reconvenes for the new session. If this fight drags on, Alaska could be left with only one senator until the dispute is resolved. That means the next Senate would be a 99-member body as it returns to take up important issues like tax cuts. Murkowski could also lose her leadership positions if the new Senate convenes without her.

The Alaska GOP, which initially endorsed Miller, has called the race for Murkowski and has repeatedly urged Miller to "end his campaign in a dignified manner." Senator Murkowski has already declared herself the victor. Some of Miller’s highest profile supporters have either gone silent or moved on and urged him to do the same.

This needs to be settled and settled fast. If not, it could cost Alaska millions of dollars in federal tax cuts, earmarked funds, etc. Status of the Bush tax cuts? Alaska has bigger problems to consider right now.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

To Alaska, Eventually

Dec. 6, 2010

This year’s budget for holiday gifts is about the same as last year’s, but I’m being more cautious and making every penny count. I have three kids, their spouses, and four grandkids. I’ve also noticed that this year I’m also turning into my parents. I don’t know what the younger kids do or play with. I don’t know their games or who their favorite superheroes are. You have to get it right for the young ones and you have to get it right for all of them. Heaven help you if you hit it right for one and not the others. It might look like you have favorites. Well I do. I love them all and I make mom help me with a list.

One third of my shopping is done and three quarters of it has been done online. I lack the time or the patience to go to the malls and fight the crowds. I have found some pretty good deals and haven’t paid any shipping.

Shipping is important. It always costs more to send things to Alaska. When I first moved here, the only people that shipped to Alaska were Montgomery Ward’s and Sears. That was it for the big stores. You could order from their catalogs and have it sent to their store to go pick it up when it came in. No one else would touch shipping to Alaska. Some people told me on the phone that they only shipped to the United States. That’s where I thought I was. Now when someone says “free shipping” my first question is if that means Alaska too. If they say yes, I hold them to it. The big companies that have moved up here like Petco, Wal-Mart and Best Buy have learned that there is money in bush orders. That’s shipping to towns and villages in interior Alaska known as the bush, where there are no big stores, just the local general store.

How I’m treated when shopping tells me who I’ll shop with next year. I have my few local stores I always hit and then my favorite places online. The big guys have already done me well. Everything I’ve ordered has arrived within a week. Free shipping is usually five to nine days and they have been getting it here in seven or less. With my personal schedule as tight as it is, Santa sure can use a little help.
Make your list, make your shopping plan, local or online, and then get to it. All of my holiday shopping will be done by December 15th. Like I’ve said before, I’m a guy. That will be the soonest I’ve ever had my holiday shopping done. If I can do it with minimal stress, anyone can. Hey, that’s nine days away. I better get cracking!

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

Decorations Combine Past, Present

Nov. 29, 2010

I remember when I was growing up, it was always a holiday tradition to start decorating for Christmas after Thanksgiving, generally the first week of December. I remember my dad and I would be stretching out those strings of lights, checking for burned out or broken bulbs, wondering how some of the light strings got so tangled up sitting in a box for almost a year.

Some of those cardboard boxes we stored the decorations in had to be older than me. Dad always liked the beer or whiskey boxes. I don’t know why. You couldn’t see it from outer space, but it was the best looking display in the neighborhood. My dad was always so proud and I was always so happy to be helping out in a grown-up project. When I became a teenager, it became my project because he usually worked. He always gave a lot of good tips though. Forty years later, I can still see some of those displays in my memory.

After moving to Alaska, I found out it wise to have your exterior Christmas lights up before winter. You don’t have to turn them on right away, but it’s nice to be able to put them up when the temperature is tolerable and the gutters aren’t frozen over.

My next-door neighbor is always in the holiday spirit. She never takes her decorations down, but she only turns them on during the Christmas holiday. I’m not exactly sure when she determined what was the day to start turning them on.

Other neighbors decorate too. Some might only hang a wreath or a Santa Claus in the window, but they all seem to put something up. Christmas is on a tight budget this year, but I think the spirit account is full. I think the holiday spirit will pick up even more when we get more snow.

The focal point of my decorating though is the Christmas tree in the picture window. I’ve been using the same artificial tree for about eight years now. I love it and always get compliments on it. I’ve been slowly changing the decorations on it every year. The old ones I give to my kids to put on their tree at their houses. Those are ones that have accumulated over the years from Nana & Pop Pop, aunts, schools, Barbie, etc. It’s their memories of Christmas and growing up. The angel is starting to show some age, but I can’t give her up yet. Too many years of lifting one of the kids up so they could put her on top of the tree. Then for weeks after she gets to watch down on everyone as they enjoy the holidays. That might be the hardest one to replace if I ever do.

Growing up, my folks never had a lot of money, but they always had the Christmas lights on from the time it got dark and until we went to bed. I don’t know if dad ever worried about an increase in the electric bill. Now, with all of the improvements in technology, I don’t even notice if there is an increase in the electric bill.

Decorating for Christmas has got to be one of my favorite parts of the holiday. It brings back so many fond memories of Christmas past.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

The Fun Stops on Black Friday

Nov. 22, 2010

Join me on Black Friday; not for shopping, but for enjoying coffee and breakfast. It won’t be crowded and there are no worries when it comes to parking. It will be warm and quiet except for the TV and the bacon sizzling. OK, I actually don’t want you at my place, but you can have coffee and breakfast at your own home. I’m single and I’m a guy. I won’t be joining the crowds.

The commercialization of Christmas is taking all of the fun out of the holiday. The fun stops on Black Friday. How many news reports do we have to see of people bursting through the doors at Wal-Mart for the ultimate Christmas gift that they have to have, to say the holiday isn’t a bust? People are getting trampled and some killed so they can have the newest “got to have” video game set. How long can you stand in line to check out before you decide that it has been too long? If that's the holiday spirit, I'd rather be called Ebenezer Scrooge.

There also seems to be a race to see who can open up the soonest. We’re opening at 4AM for your shopping convenience. No you’re not! You won't see me there. You might see my daughter and her mom, and they'll tell you just how bad it was. We had to park what seemed like a mile away, the place was packed and the people were so rude. Did you really save that much? Were the sales that awesome? Happy Holidays!

I prefer to shop at our local stores as much as possible, and if they don't have what I want, I'll order it online and let the mailman bring it to my door. I'm very much into photography, and so are a lot of my friends. I would prefer to buy locally at Stewart's Photo then Best Buy any day. They have the product knowledge and experience. They have customer service with a real smile, not one that's forced upon you or should I say, on them. If at all possible, they will match prices or come very close, which is good enough for me. If they don't have what I want, then maybe I'll buy a gift card.

Maybe I'll go online to B&H Photo or Amazon.com on Cyber Monday. I can still sit at home, have my coffee and breakfast, be warm, watch the news and make my purchases without any stress, rude people or waste any gas while still in my pajamas. I can get all the shopping for my kids, family and friends done before I finish my toast. Sometimes shipping is a little high, but if you keep your eye open, you can get free or discounted shipping. If there’s a problem, let your credit card people dispute it for you. If you need to return something, REI, Sears and Fred Meyer’s and others might let you take it to your local store.

Cyber Monday might not be about an old fashioned Christmas, but I’ll come out of it alive. Happy Holidays!

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

Times Have Changed, But Recession Is Recession

Nov. 15, 2010

I've lived in the great state of Alaska for 25 years now and I've seen its ups and downs. Fortunately there have been more ups than downs. Generally when there are downs, they had started in the rest of the country first and then migrated to Alaska a year or so later. When a trend finally made its way here, it would kind of fizzle out. Times have changed some.

When I first moved to Alaska, my car was damaged in shipment. While it was being repaired, my new neighbor was kind enough to take us to go grocery shopping. During the ride there he looked at me and said "Say those words I seldom hear.” I thought he had been alone way too long, but I still said ‘What?’". He said "You know, like Wal-Mart, Target and like that". You see, there weren't many big stores up here at that time.

But like I said, the times have changed some. There are more and more large companies or corporations. For example, Wal-Mart/Sam's Club is now the #2 employer in the state in the private sector. When they react to what's happening in the rest of the country, they react in their stores in Alaska right away.

So when it's announced that we are in a recession, we Alaskans are saying "OK, now what". We're not having the layoffs like they do outside (in the lower 48), businesses aren't closing left and right, we haven't had a bank closed since the 1980s. What are we supposed to do? We don't know, so we are now on guard. We’re not buying anything we don't have to. We're not getting our cars repaired unless they are unsafe or break down. We are afraid to spend, so that's feeding this recession.

I admit that my spending habits have changed. My military pension isn't enough. My part-time job is paid on commission. With sales down everywhere, that means my pay is less. It's probably close to $7,000 or $8,000 lower than this time last year. That means you have to tighten your belt.

I know I'm not the only one either. Some of my neighbors are fully retired. Their income is fixed, but their expenses aren't. When they planned on retiring, they didn't plan on a recession. So their belt is a little tighter too.

Times are tough, but so are we. Things will get better. We have to hang in there so don't let things get you down. Go see what is going on in your town or your state. Go build a snowman, go do some photography, take up bird watching or do some volunteering at a organization that is helping those less fortunate than you. Sitting around dwelling on what's not going right will only bring you and everyone else down.

—Dave retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994. He now works part time as a salesman for a local auto parts supply to support his habit of photography, wild bird rehabilitation, viewing wildlife and exploring his hometown of Anchorage and Alaska. Check out his blog Around Anchorage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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