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I’ve been in a hurry to switch my residency from California to Alaska. Of course I want to be treated as a partial-year resident for tax purposes, as there are no state income taxes in Alaska. An added advantage is that after one year I will be eligible for the Permanent Fund dividend, which could be a couple of thousand dollars per year. But I also wanted to get the California plates off my car. It seems the reputation of Californians in general and San Franciscans in particular is just as bad here as it is in Oregon or anywhere else–maybe worse.

When we went to Anchorage a few days after my arrival to take Richard to the airport, we stopped in Trapper Creek to get my Alaska driver’s license and plates. The DMV there is a combination DMV and gift shop as well as provider of office services. The gift shop was small but nice, with some great wildlife cards and cookbooks specific to local fruit and game. I had plenty of time to peruse the merchandise, since several customers were ahead of me and the proprietor, Mary, served all functions.

This is our nearest DMV

A sixteen-year-old sat on a bar stool at the counter. Mary quizzed her on DMV test questions. The girl had already failed the test and this interchange wasn’t going to make a difference until she was eligible to test again, but Mary wanted her to learn how to think about the questions.

“What would be an example of less-than-ideal road conditions?” she asked the girl.

“I dunno,” the girl answered. In fairness, this kind of grilling in front of six or eight onlookers might not put me in a learning mindset, either.

“OK, think about a less-than-ideal condition for a Friday night date. What would that be? A big pimple just appeared on your chin, your hair isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. What else? Now, this isn’t about a date, but can you think about what a less-than-ideal road condition might be?”

Mary was working hard. The girl was, well…let’s just say she was uncomprehending.

After about five minutes and several aborted attempts, the hapless teen successfully identified snow as being less than ideal for driving. This painstaking process was repeated for the remaining five questions the girl had missed on her test. I was not next in line.

When I finally got the nod, I pulled out all the documentation I thought I needed. Mary gave me the bad news that I needed my social security card and the title, not the registration, of my car. Still, she administered the test and gave me my completed paperwork.

“Take this to any DMV within the next 12 months with your social security card and title and they’ll be able to help you,” she told me.

I tried again at the Fairbanks DMV a few weeks later. Gary had gone through the ordeal with me in Trapper Creek, so this time opted to wait with Ella in his truck. The DMV was an oasis of calm compared to any other DMV I’ve been in, with just a few young drivers and unfailingly polite military personnel ahead of me in a quiet, spacious room with a video display running wildlife footage. Still, it took me an hour to get to the counter. All the workers seemed happy and friendly, save one: an otherwise attractive woman in her forties with a peevish look on her face. I felt relieved when the monitor above her station called for number 196. I held number 197. But number 196, from neglect or wisdom, failed to surface. I got the grouchy lady.

She insisted on reconfirming everything Mary had signed off on, although I didn’t have to take the test again.

“Proof of address?” she asked.

I confidently pulled out my cell phone bill, which Mary had signed off on.

“P.O. boxes are not acceptable. I need proof of your physical address. Mail, a utility bill, a pay stub from your employer,” she said.

Once I convinced her that I am retired and living beyond the service area of the U.S. Post Office and the utility companies, she sent me to wait for a manager. While waiting, I remembered I had arranged delivery of fuel from a company that had e-mail. The manager agreed that an invoice with the delivery address would suffice. But I would have to get it faxed in and start over in the back of the queue.

I never did hear back from the fuel-delivery people, but Gary suggested I contact Alaska Satellite Internet, the folks who had arranged for the installation of our satellite dish. While he shopped for the wind turbine, I called them. April promised to find my invoice with the delivery address and fax it to the Fairbanks DMV.

The delivery address is just the milepost on the road near our cabin. It isn’t an address, really. It isn’t in the town or even the borough where our post office box is, and we’re not actually on the road; it’s just what we tell people so they know where to start looking for us. But now it’s my physical address, complete with erroneous town and zip code.

An hour later we went back. The first fax was cut off and didn’t show my address. The second fax, same thing. I found a copy of the invoice on my iPad, but they would only accept it if I forwarded it to the manager. I did, but their system didn’t like my system and delivery failed. I was bounced back to waiting mode again and again. Finally, I asked April to put the delivery address on the cover sheet, and at that point even the manager was sufficiently tired of me to accept it.

Five hours from the time I walked into the Fairbanks DMV, I was the proud holder of an Alaska driver’s license and new license plates, and a registered voter to boot. The photo wasn’t horrible, considering it had been a while since I washed my hair. Then I saw it: the woman had added five pounds to my weight. At least some things in life are free!

Last week I got my voter registration card. No fools, the folks at the Division of Elections understand I’m not in the same borough as my P.O. box. So they’ve assigned me a polling place at the farthest reaches of my borough, over five hours away. I can’t wait to see how long it takes to get that fixed!

Sights and Surprises

It is not unusual to see military jets overhead.  But I was surprised to hear something I don’t think I’ve heard since elementary school:  sonic booms.  One night there were four, then two the next night.  On the bright side, my wood stacks are still standing!

Northern Hawk Owl posing on a spruce on the hill just above our cabin

I didn’t see the Northern Hawk Owl that flew two feet over my head until Gary pointed it out where it had landed on the top of a spruce tree.

Dogs and dog mushers are in serious training mode now.

Look very carefully, and you'll see part of the dog team pulling an ATV

There is not enough snow yet for the dogs to pull sleds, so they pull ATV’s (all-terrain vehicles). This crew of about 16 smallish racing dogs was pulling two men in an ATV down the road near our cabin.  Judging from where we saw their truck (complete with kennel), they had a full day of it, about 60 miles round-trip.

Weather:  High 37, Low 28
Sunrise: 8:44 a.m.
Sunset:  6:38 p.m.