Julia O'Malley

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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...
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. Earthquake stories around Anchorage are a little like a family wedding ring, passed down through a few generations now, the edges worn smooth by time. When you grow up hearing them, a certain kind of awareness settles...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. If you've fallen for this twisted, gritty city like I have, then you know what I mean. To get this place, you have to be wooed by stunning juxtapositions, by the contrast between modern and ancient,...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. The news, she wrote, is this:...Julia O'Malley
When I met Kelly Williams in the lobby at the Doyon Universal Services office building in South Anchorage last week, he was wearing a fedora and his expression was all business. A woman from an office ushered us in. There was a flurry of whispers. Employees asked their boss (whose birthday it was) to sit in a chair. Williams launched into a customized birthday song to the tune of "Do-Re-Mi" from "The Sound of Music." The boss blushed. The employees laughed. Williams snapped a picture and then he was gone. Singing telegram, delivered. Williams, 45, been delivering musical greetings in Anchorage since 2011. First he sang for friends. Then he posted his services on Craigslist and then began advertising on Facebook . Toward the end of last year, he offered a Groupon. Now he's busy every week...Julia O'Malley
Just when I think you know Anchorage, it changes. That's what I thought when I read a report last week from the state about Alaska's increasingly strong connection to Asia and the Pacific Islands. For the first time, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Asian and Pacific Islanders make up the city's largest minority group, just barely eclipsing Alaska Natives. (Natives continue to be the largest minority group statewide, making up roughly 17 percent of the population.) One in 10 Anchorage residents is now Asian or Pacific Islander. The Asian/Islander influence in Anchorage is obvious, but sometimes the most obvious things are most easily overlooked. On Fireweed Lane, in East Anchorage and Midtown especially, it's hard to find a strip mall without an Asian...Julia O'Malley
I called a bunch of Republican legislators last week trying to get specifics about plans for reforming the state's education system. I heard a lot of complaints. I heard about poor teachers you can't get rid of, about going back to "reading, writing and 'rithmetic," and about how much schools overspend on heat. Then I watched Gov. Sean Parnell's State of the State speech, in which he called for more charter schools and education vouchers. The more I heard, the more skeptical I became. There seems to be a sense that public schools are expensive and failing, and that funneling state money to even more expensive private schools will somehow fix that. I did not hear facts or considered plans. The Legislature has withheld funding for public schools for years, forcing layoffs statewide because...Julia O'Malley
You know how there are certain things that your mother insists you do, and no matter what your age, you refuse to do them, not because they are a bad idea, but because you don't want to be told what to do by your mother? Every time I break my iPhone, which has become an annual event, not because I am careless, but because Apple made a device you need to have near you all the time that isn't waterproof and is CONSTRUCTED OUT OF GLASS, (a fact that is no accident, but instead a business model)... OK, I'm getting off track. Anyway, every time I break my iPhone, my mother tells me not to go to the Apple Store. Instead, she says "I know a guy," and starts searching the contacts in her phone. He has a kiosk in the 5th Avenue Mall, she says. He can fix it, she says. And then I ignore her and go...Julia O'Malley
This just in: there's a new Twinkie in town. It's not a Twinkie, technically. It's a golden, cream-filled, oblong "Creme Cake." It might be called the anti-Twinkie, because it's designed to take a bite out of the Hostess classic's sales. It will likely be just a little bit cheaper. And, some people say, it tastes better. The anti-Twinkie is the work of Franz Bakery, the company that took over the Sunrise Bakery in Spenard last year after Sunrise's parent company, Hostess Brands, fell into bankruptcy. The snack cakes are baked at a facility in Seattle and should start appearing on Anchorage shelves this week. Also available: chocolate, cream-filled cupcakes with fudgey icing and a conspicuously familiar white swirl. The cakes are part of the company's new strategy in Alaska. Franz, (...Julia O'Malley
At Clark Middle School on Wednesdays and Fridays after the last bell rings, a racket spills out of the gym and bounces off every corner of the building. It's a sound you might describe as a ratatatat crowd-surfing on a sea of clackaclackas. Once in a while, it swells into a shock wave of booms. It's drumline, one of Clark's music programs. Ingredients include snare, quad and bass drums, and cymbals, all of them played loud as a stampede, and tween-age kids, boys mostly, their faces serious as stone. As far as I can tell, it is Anchorage's only drumline, middle school or otherwise. Being middle school, it has the advantage of also being adorable. The program is so popular that each drum has at least two students lined up to play it. Most of them are beginners but when you stand in the gym...Julia O'Malley