49 Voices: Robert Johnson of Anchorage

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This week we’re hearing from Robert Johnson who’s lived in Alaska since the mid ‘80s.

Robert Johnson (Photo by Wesley Early, APRN - Anchorage)
Robert Johnson (Photo by Wesley Early, APRN – Anchorage)

JOHNSON: I was like 15 when we moved up here. Kinda had to drag me up here ‘cause I hated the idea. I was going on, “Alaska?! Oh my god! No! Nooo!” I tried to leave a couple of times. I did. I hated it. “As soon as I got out of high school, I’m gone.” I didn’t want to be in this northern, freezing cold. People say Hell doesn’t freeze over; annually right here. That’s what I thought. I just hated it. I wanted to go anywhere else. Anywhere else. Get me out. Get me free. I was a 19 to 20-year-old. Want to be free and go discover everything.

Drove out with my brother once. Drove out with a friend another time. Tried to go to school one time. Each time, about 6 months or so was all I could take. Each time I was out there it was a little more insane. Everybody’s uptight. Everybody’s all taking themselves way too seriously. That’s my opinion. I don’t know. The mountains. I missed the mountains. When I’m away I miss the mountains. I miss having that in the distance. Kinda, you can look at it and just sort of dream a little bit when you see it. The freedom.

In ’89, I ended up buying a piece of property way down in Copper Center. Had that ever since. It’s a nice place. It’s quiet. It’s way out in the middle of nowhere. Harsh winters. Harsh, harsh winters. But some of the most incredible summers you’ll ever see. I know a lot of people think everybody lives in igloos or everybody’s getting money from the State and everybody’s rich. There’s a lot of things that just aren’t real. It’s life like anywhere else. It’s life. People wake up. They put their clothes on. They make their breakfast. It’s not different.

But, there’s a mindset to Alaska of “I’ll do mine, you do yours.” Right now I live in my RV and it’s a fun thing for me. I like it. I get up. I warm the thing up in the morning. Feed the dog. Make coffee like anybody else. I do my thing. I’m not working right now, I’m on disability so I’ve got real limited funds. So I take things as easy as I can get ‘em. I don’t push too hard and don’t expect nothing.

Only in Alaska, you can open your door up and let your dog out, only to hear him barking like crazy and have him run right back in the door with a bear chasing him; can the river freeze from the bottom up, and you don’t want that to happen; can the septic tanks come up from out of the ground ‘cause there’s no snow on the ground and it’s 50 below outside. Make me think my own living here.

Only in Alaska can you really be free. There’s a last vestige of freedom in a few places in the state. That’s only in Alaska. You can’t find that anywhere else, like on this planet. I’ve thought about rolling around outside, driving down the freeways. Take my RV and get on the ferry and go visit family. 2,3 maybe 4 months out of the year and come back up. Be a snowbird. Take a nice, dry, warm winter. That sounds good. That sounds good to my feet. I don’t think I could ever leave this place. Even if it’s just Anchorage. I don’t think I could ever leave Alaska. There’s something in my blood after 31 years. It’s home, period.


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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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