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Julia O'Malley

When I first walked through the Daily News office 19 years ago, I was 16 years old. What I remember most were personalities. Mike Doogan, metro columnist, paced, ornery and preoccupied. Sheila Toomey, court reporter, cradled a phone between ear and shoulder, laughing way too loud. Don Hunter, who covered City Hall, muttered at his computer. The desks were all paper piles and coffee rings.

Those were the "good old days" people talk about now. A few years out from the last Pulitzer and fresh from overtaking The Anchorage Times, the News had oversized ambition and money to chase it. There were reporters covering every beat, librarians and columnists, clerks typing in letters and managing obituaries. The Internet was beyond the horizon...

Julia O'Malley

First, eat the pho with your eyes, Tony Chheum told me. Your big round bowl should be volcanically hot, sending off curls of steam. Next to it, a pile of crisp bean sprouts, fresh basil, cilantro, jalapeno and a wedge of lime. Next to that, if you want, a small platter of thin-cut, extra rare beef.

He told me this in his restaurant, Phonatik, on Dimond. He was sitting across from me at a table in the VIP room, where the graffiti-style artwork on the walls matches his tattoos. I was there to talk about the Vietnamese noodle shops that have been colonizing Anchorage's strip malls over the last few years...

Julia O'Malley

Walk in these shoes and tell me what you'd do: You're a waitress at the Lucky Wishbone. And there's a homeless guy with an alcohol problem you see all the time. In fact, sometimes he panhandles in front of your restaurant and you have to chase him off.

Anyway, one day, the guy is panhandling and a customer, trying to do something nice, tells the guy that he won't give him any money but he will buy him lunch. The restaurant is packed. There is only one small table. You decide to seat the well-meaning customer and the very intoxicated homeless guy. You're a little nervous about it but you decide to give everybody the benefit of the doubt. You pour them some coffee...

Julia O'Malley

First in a series about the 1964 Alaska earthquake

When the ground stopped moving, 8-year-old Penny Mead and her little brother, Paul, were sitting on the hood of an old light green Plymouth station wagon out on the Cook Inlet mud flats. The earthquake had been so loud. Now it was quiet. Not far away, water lapped the shore...

Julia O'Malley

Inside the soon-to-open Natural Pantry last week, it felt familiar and exotic all at once, a little like being inside a fancy natural foods store in Seattle, except I'd never left Midtown.

Notice I didn't say it reminded me of Whole Foods, though you're probably already making that mental comparison. Whole Foods rumors have been haunting Natural Pantry's owners, Vikki and Rick Solberg, since they broke ground on the new store at 36th Avenue and A Street. The natural foods giant is not a part-owner. Anything else you've heard about Whole Foods and Natural Pantry is also not true...

Julia O'Malley

Dallas Seavey got the big check and the truck for winning this year's extra extreme Iditarod, but it was the musher who rolled in minutes behind him, Aliy Zirkle, whose story, full of twists and turns, won many hearts and many fans. I reached her on her cellphone Friday in a coffee shop in Nome. Here's some of what we talked about:

JULIA O'MALLEY: Can you give me a picture of what was in your head when you left White Mountain?...

Julia O'Malley

Just about a year ago, somebody burned down the Sugar Shack Espresso stand on Lake Otis Parkway. They threw a rock through the window, stole a roll of quarters and some energy drinks and then torched the place. Most of this was caught on surveillance video. It was in the news. Soon after that, a screen shot of the guy in the video, released by the Anchorage Fire Department, went viral. Lots of people recognized him.

"To make a long story short, we had like 25 or 30 leads within a matter of days," said Gary Loyd, the Sugar Shack's owner...

Julia O'Malley

In my family, stories about the 1964 earthquake always begin with the way it sounded. Like an army of graders coming down the street, Mom says. Like a Boeing 737 landing in the yard, says Aunt Barbara.

"You know how a bass drum vibrates in your chest?" Uncle Tommy, who was in Turnagain during the quake, said recently. "Like that. Except your whole body."

The sound lasted just long enough for the brain to register it and try to pinpoint where it was coming from. And then the ground began to roll. Like the earth was a giant blanket, Mom said, and somebody was shaking it out...

Julia O'Malley

I'll tell you what I thought when I saw a guy at the grocery store in a full-length fox-fur coat the other day. I thought: "Anchorage, Alaska, you are awesome." And then I exercised restraint by not taking a photograph of him and posting it on social media.

Maybe I should have posted, though, because a perfectly average professional man, say a real estate agent or an corporate IT guy, in full-length fur at Carrs-Safeway gets at something about this place that you only understand if you live here. That is: Anchorage keeps it real. Fur-coat-in-the-grocery-store real. And this is why I love it...

Julia O'Malley

A reader named Kari Miranda wrote me an email a few weeks ago that caught my attention in the first paragraph.

"Journalism, to me, (in my non-educated mind) is all about story-telling," she wrote. "Not just factual statements covering the local buzz, but the stories and lives behind the 'news.' " Her family had a story to tell, she said.

"My parents are deaf," she went on. "Yes, note the plural. Parent(s). Which means both of them. (Can you guess how many times I've been asked that in my life? Smiles...)."

Her father is a mail carrier. Her mother works with the deaf community and does vocational counseling. She has a sister and a brother. All of them are hearing. They were born and grew up in Anchorage. All of that, though, is the story behind the news...

Julia O'Malley

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