Fairbanks, Alaska “Aurora Borealis, Shining Down in Dallas”

So I get to the Taco Bell and it’s closed, but the sign says the drive-thru is open until 3am. I am without car, so I walk around back to where a line of pick-up trucks are waiting to order. I step up to the menu to figure out what I want. A group of stunned teenagers shouts to me from the car at the front of the line.

"Are you okay?" they ask.
"Yeah," I say.
"Where’s your car?"
"I don’t have one."
"How are you going to order without a car?"

I’m familiar with the policy of banning walk-ups from the drive-thru — some inane insurance thing.

"I’m going to see if someone in line will order for me," I say.
"Oh…that’s a good idea. Hey, why don’t you have a car?"
"I’m taking a walk."
"Where did you come from?"
"I live in Seattle."
"So why are you in Fairbanks?"
"I’m here to see the lights."
"Oh." One of them tilts his head out the window. "You can’t see them tonight."
"Right. That’s why I’m at Taco Bell."

This is my third night of waiting for the aurora borealis. I caught a glimpse of it last night. It was beautiful, but nothing I could photograph or conceivably dance in front of. I’m starting to worry that it would take a global extinction-level magnetic storm to produce such a circumstance.

But I persevere. And I eat Taco Bell.

I would trade all the food in France for a chalupa with two things of fire sauce.

I found a place to sit across the street, outside the Fred Meyer. This comes compliments of the 10 second timer delay.

I’m a few months from finishing the video, which means I will soon have to endure seeing myself on TV. I’m trying to eat a bit better, but I fall off the wagon…a lot.

For what it’s worth, I did walk a half hour to the Taco Bell. And as penance, I bought an apple from Fred Meyer.

Apples are the most bearable fruit I’ve found, but I’m not terribly fond of the taste or texture. It is a nice bonus, though, that I can toss it out the window when I’m through and it’s not a crime against the little woodland creatures.

Speaking of little woodland creatures, Fairbanks makes an impression on you from the moment you step off the plane. The people of Alaska want you to know their state can kick your ass.

My knowledge of the aurora borealis is pretty sketchy. I’d done a bit of research from home and it seemed like Fairbanks was the place to go. Confirmed, again, before I even made it to the baggage carousel.

There are a bunch of factors that affect the presence and visibility of the northern lights. Geomagnetic activity is the big one. That seems to go in cycles with a spike every week or two. Season is another one, and end of winter is a pretty good time for it. You want the moon to be as dim as possible — it was at its nadir two nights ago. Then there’s weather. A cloudy day can ruin the whole thing, and as we all know that’s a hard thing to predict more than a couple days out.

I picked these three nights to try to catch it, with an option of a fourth if I change some flights around. It looks like I’m going to have to do that, as I’ve got nothing to show for my time here and tomorrow appears to be the big one. The Alaska University geophysics department is giving it a rating of 4 out of 9. Last night and tonight were a 3. My first night here was a 1. A 5 or higher is a bona fide geomagnetic storm, and that doesn’t happen very often at all.

On my first day in Fairbanks, I woke up to the sound of snowmobiles buzzing past my window.

There was some sort of race happening on the river.

A security guy at the hotel called them a bunch of idiots. Two hundred people with snowmobiles on top of a frozen river in 46 degree weather.

Yeah, that sounds pretty dumb.

Despite their obvious adolescent appeal, I find snowmobiles to be loud, lazy, obnoxious, and wasteful. I wish conservatives were a little more interested in conservation.

Yes, Alaska is a red state, and you can feel it in the little details. The region has a reputation for free-thinking people, but not the "Be the change you want to see" kind of free-thinkers so much as the "Get off my land!" kind.

I kid Alaska. I get plenty of thoughtful, considerate emails from Alaskans and they come in all stripes, just like any place else. And it’s not like I’ve taken the time to converse with anyone. The Taco Bell encounter was the longest chat I’ve had since I got here. I’m pretty focused on my solo, nocturnal pursuits.

One thing that does interest me is dog sledding. Assuming the dogs are well cared for, that’s something I can get onboard with. There’s a lady who offers to take people out. I keep calling her every morning, but she’s not returning my calls. That could’ve been a fun time and a great dancing clip. Oh, well.

I’m told the Iditarod is going on right now. It doesn’t pass through Fairbanks, though. I read up on the event and learned this really interesting story about its origins.

I took a long walk around the town yesterday. There are ice sculptures everywhere.

I think there’s some sort of competition that goes on, and I’m guessing they spread the submissions around when it’s over. They’re all pretty melted by this point, but I still get a kick out of them.

My hotel is full of Japanese. Evidently they are crazy for the northern lights. There’s a belief that procreating underneath them will give the offspring good luck in life.

…pretty much every superstition I’ve ever heard out of Asia has to do with good luck. Light the candle for good luck. Rub the statue for good luck. Eat the genitals of the endangered animal for good luck. Come on, folks. Mix it up a little. Throw in an angel getting its wings or something.

I got back from Asia a couple weeks ago and have been loafing at home until this weekend. I have half-written posts from five different countries. Most of them I’ll never put up because I have so damn much to say that I’ll never get around to writing it.

Here’s a short synopsis:

Had a great time in South Korea and danced with a bunch of people in front of a 600 year old structure that burned down less than two weeks later. I also visited the DMZ, which was strange and fascinating.

The Hong Kong event was ruined by terrible weather and bad planning on my part. I didn’t do much there.

I did even less in the Philippines once I decided there was too much that I wanted to see and I’d have to come back some other time. I was fairly worn out by that point.

Got my second wind in Singapore, then met up with Melissa in Thailand.

I have about 300 pictures from Bhutan and a chronic condition where I can’t stop talking about it once I start. They paint giant penises on all the houses. They have a Minister of Happiness. The country demands effusiveness.

I stopped off in Israel on the way home to shoot a commercial for an Israeli travel agency. They carted me all over the place and made me dance.

I’ve got a couple more small trips this month, then I head off to the Middle East in April.