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Looking Inward: Clogs and Carhartts at the DMV

Emily Russell/ Sun Star Columnist

Feb. 25, 2014

Not until you spend your lunch hour, or make that three hours, at the Fairbanks Department of Motor Vehicles can you truly appreciate the chaos and diversity of the city that we call home.

As you may be able to guess, I recently did just that. I’ve been putting the errand off for quite some time, because, really, who wants to spend any time at all at the DMV? I’ve proudly held onto my New York drivers license since I was 16, which was not all that impressive to those I showed it when I was living in Massachusetts or Maine, but a New York license in Alaska? I’m a star, or at least a bit more interesting to bartenders or bouncers. The license is even “Enhanced,” meaning I can enter and exit Canada, where my father lives, without needing a passport. What more could a woman want? Well I suppose a PFD check for $1,000 every year would be nice.

When I arrived at the DMV, I was assigned number 303, a long way from 206, the number they were serving upon my arrival. Without a book to read or a friend to talk to, I began looking around the room. To be honest, the scene wasn’t much different than the DMV in my hometown in New York. Of course, people are always on edge at the DMV, but I suppose it’s the actual people here that are different at first impression. Men wear clogs, women wear steel toed rubber boots, everyone wears Carhartts and far too many people (mostly women) wear sweatpants. At first glance, it even seems that the demographics at the DMV are an accurate representation of the state of Alaska. White middle-aged parents occupy a large majority of the room with their sons or daughters, while Alaska Natives make up an estimated 15% of room, proportional to the demographics of the state.

All too often, a university is somewhat removed from the town it occupies. Diversity is lower, average income is higher, and life is a little less chaotic at a university. The college I attended in Maine was located in an old mill town with high drug rates, a large population of Somali refugees, and countless struggling businesses. Yet all of that diversity and disarray could easily be avoided and even ignored if you chose never to leave campus. Although it serves little actual purpose now, the section of campus that was built when the college was founded in 1855 still has an iron gate surrounding it. In Fairbanks, the location serves as the university’s gate, with the buildings and students settled happily on a hill overlooking the bustling city.

My trip to the DMV reminded me how little I leave campus and surround myself with the people that make this city and state what it is. While I was filling out the necessary paperwork, the woman behind the counter at the DMV informed me that I was required to “surrender” my New York license in order to receive my new Alaska license. I hesitated for a moment, but took a look around the room and was able to appreciate the chaos and diversity that is unique to this city and state. I quickly decided that if I plan to make a new life in Alaska, which I do, then I should embrace the place that I can now call home.

 

 

Emily Russell is a Northern Studies masters student who grew up in New York, attended boarding school in Massachusetts, and went to college in Maine. Her column incorporates stories from the Outside and combines them with inward looking personal reflections.

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