Monday, May 25, 2009

An Event For The Ages

I am honestly speechless. No words can describe how happy I was on Saturday. Just know that I wandered around the Anchorage Convention Center in a trance-like state of euphoria, donning a constant grin and wondering if I'll ever be able to grow a real mustache. My whole body was warm with the enveloping joy you often feel as a child, but rarely as an adult.

The World Beard and Mustache Championships was a complete success for me. Part fashion show, part facial hair competition, it consisted of everything from lengthy mustaches to jaw-dropping beards. My concept of facial hair has been completely ripped apart and rebuilt into what now stands as the Pantheon of Face Hair. Inside are the Gods that I was lucky enough to witness:

Jack Passion's Natural Full Beard 'Big Red' - it was the real deal after much promotion by the LA Times

A Seattle man who styled his 'freestyle' mustache after a spoon and fork

Gunter Rosin's glorious Hungarian/Wild West mustache

And, my personal favorite, the full bodied, ear-high Imperial Partial Beard of the German, Karl-Heinz Hille

Click Here For More Pictures

Friday, May 22, 2009

One More Day

Tomorrow is a special day for my blog. It marks the culmination of my travels with facial hair, all wrapped up in a tidy little event custom tailored for yours truly. In case you forgot, Saturday May 23rd is The World Beard and Mustache Championships, which coincidentally is being hosted in Anchorage, AK this year. What luck! It's a biennial event (usually hosted in Europe) that appears to be right up my alley. I mean look at this guy:

THIS GUY IS IN ANCHORAGE RIGHT NOW! It's like a dream come true for me.

So tomorrow is the big day. Not sure what it'll bring, but I know what I'm going to bring: my camera and most likely a case of the giddies.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pigeon Woman

I’m in the process of renewing my passport which expires in July. Yesterday, I found a local photographer who does passport photos whom I will dub the pigeon woman from here on out. Her nickname is pigeon woman because she had a pet pigeon inside of her house/studio. Once we broached the subject of her pet pigeon, she informed me that it was a pigeon she'd rescued that had been attacked by an eagle and now had psychological problems making it fall to the ground like a rock whenever it tried to fly. She said that they [the pigeon’s problems] were improving, as evidenced by its ability to fly halfway across the room when I almost stepped on it accidentally.

We were chatting after she took my picture (she actually made me take three different ones: I wasn’t smiling enough in the first two. She brought up a good point that it’s always best to beam a smile in your passport photo so that you don’t look too shady to the border agents...not that I have anything to hide...not that I’m defensive about not having anything to hide) and when the pigeon came up she said, “Do you want to see him dance?” I said, confidently, yes.

What followed was an exchange between pigeon woman and pigeon that really needs some sort of audio capture, but I will attempt to transcribe. It went:

PW: Hmmm - gluck, gluck - Hmmm - gluck, gluck - Hmmm - gluck, gluck

P: (Quivering and moving around in little circles) Hmmm - gluck, gluck - Hmmm - gluck, gluck

PW: Hmmm - gluck, gluck - Hmmm - gluck, gluck - Hmmm - gluck, gluck

P: (Quivering and moving around in little circles) Hmmm - gluck, gluck - Hmmm - gluck, gluck

Then she looked up at me smiling. Apparently the Hmmm - gluck, gluck means the bird is happy. If it’s a gluck - Hmmm, then it’s angry. Don’t ask me how she knows that.

This experience may have cemented my preference for mom and pop businesses vs. your average box store. I could’ve gone to the UPS store to get my passport photo taken and saved 5 bucks, but I wouldn’t have seen the pigeon woman show.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Taxi Heaven!

Last week I was in Bethel, AK for work. For those of you unfamiliar with Bethel, it’s a smallish town (6,000+ people) at the mouth of the Kuskokwim River in Southwestern Alaska. The Kuskowkim is a large river that is a major transport route for the native villages that line its banks and Bethel is the largest of these towns. As such, it is the hub of transportation and government services in the area.

A much more interesting fact is that Bethel is the nation’s taxi capital! I had heard this before my trip and was a little skeptical, but I must admit that I am now a firm believer in the Bethel taxi-hype. They are EVERYWHERE. Bethel is relatively small, landlocked, off the Alaska road system, and next to a large river so you can imagine that not many people need to have full-time vehicles. And, regardless of what the median income data suggests, Bethel in my experience was not exactly a booming town. It is EXPENSIVE, at least double Anchorage prices (housing excluded) which equates to $6 a gallon gas and $10 for a family size bag of Dorritos. I bought a cheap loaf of sandwich bread, a small jar of peanut butter, a small jar or jelly and a gallon of water and paid $20. So you can imagine that your dollar doesn’t stretch very far here and I’m sure for most people that means not owning a car. So people take cabs everywhere, cabs that honk a lot (although not aggressively, just to let their customers know they’re ready to be picked up). You hear so much honking around town that there is a specific clause in the Bethel Municipal Code outlawing taxi honking at night:


5.30.170 Vehicle horn honking.

It is unlawful to honk the horn of a taxicab from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., Sunday through Thursday, and from 12:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., Friday and Saturday. [Ord. 01-02 § 3.]


They also have a section addressing the illegality of minors in possession of laser pointers. Great stuff! Gotta love how a small town can really get down to the nitty gritties of their municipal problems.

So besides the taxis and the pricey consumer goods, Bethel had a smidge of foreignness to it. Lots of loose dogs running around (mostly terriers which is preferential for a door-to-door guy like myself) and definitely some shack-ish homes. Not terribly run-down (good roofs, windows and insulation), just different than what you’d see in most US Cities, large or small. Also, being next to such a large river, sans dams, means flooding and large parts of the town (homes, sewer pipes, etc) are built up on 4-5 foot stilts to handle the “usual” flooding caused by annual ice jams (as the ice breaks up and flows down the river, it can get stuck and pile up forming a natural dam).

There also isn’t very much to do in Bethel, something that I was told before my trip by a coworker who resides there. Movie theater; uncheck. Bar; uncheck. Minigolf; uncheck. You get the point when minigolf isn't even available. Luckily for the women of Bethel they do have a Curves, so half of you can't say there's nothing to do.

Oh, Bethel is also a "damp" town meaning that they don't sell alcohol but you can import it for personal consumption from out of town. I don't think there are commercial importers, but I'm sure someone is doing some under the table bootlegging...I think history can at least tell us that.

I guess this answers that question

I have to go back next week to finish up work there and I'm interested to see what my second impression will be like. I can't say that I'm excited (I worked a LOT when I was there and was pretty tired from walking around all day for 8-9 hours straight and muttering the same line over and over again) but it will be an experience at least.