Several years ago my wife and I came across an exciting new form of recreation: home voyeurism. It can be done in just about any weather but probably best in summer when there's a surplus of daylight. And it doesn't cost anything other than gas for the car. I'm sure many others engage in this clandestine activity but won't admit it.
I suppose the innate curiosity spurring this behavior falls under the general heading "Seeing how the other half lives." Given that the average home price in the Anchorage-Eagle River area is reportedly about $300,000, we find it fascinating to encounter sprawling, multimillion-dollar homes that could easily swallow our 2,000-square-foot ranch dwelling five times, with room to spare.
Perhaps we're intrigued because we've lived in Alaska since the early 1950s and remember the cracker-box size of pre-statehood, pre-oil homes. You can still see many of them in downtown Anchorage near the Park Strip and in Nunaka Valley, as well as in Seward and Palmer.
Some of our favorite luxury home locations include Anchorage's upper Hillside, Potter, Westchester Lagoon, Campbell Lake and areas in South and West Anchorage near Turnagain Arm. However, Hillside's gated subdivisions, such as Prominence Point, cause frustration. We've thought about some kind of advanced, backscatter radar to penetrate the dense trees.
We also explore out toward Eagle River and beyond to locate the occasional $1 million-plus, 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot home. They're out there if you look hard.
Having owned about six homes and built two ourselves, we've always been interested in home construction and landscaping. My wife is hopelessly addicted to HGTV. If that channel went off the air, we'd probably have to put her into an induced coma until it returned.
Voyeurism by bike: During a brief time I lived in Houston, Texas, where I significantly refined the craft of home voyeurism. I lived in west Houston and wasn't that far from luxury mansions that were built from old oil money. Some were built from new oil money. A few come to mind -- River Oaks, the Woodlands, Bellaire.
I explored these amazing subdivisions on bicycle, and sometimes managed to gain access, even those that were gated and manned by security guards. At first, residents looked at me askance. But as time wore on and I became a familiar sight, they began waving. I noticed a significant uptick in friendliness when I started wearing nicer clothing and making sure my bicycle was clean.
These are the kinds of houses that occupy at least five acres, sit back far from the street, have marble sculptures out front and are surrounded by rock and concrete walls. I actually began to feel sorry for the people who could only afford cast-iron perimeter fencing.
Aside from sheer nosiness, I had an ulterior motive. I had recently seen the movie "Pay it Forward," in which a wealthy person hands an unsuspecting chap the keys to a Lexus with the admonition, "Pay it forward." Through some delusional reasoning I thought that by pure proximity to the affluent, something similar might happen to me. But all they would do is smile and wave.
Getting back to Anchorage, there is always an itch that my wife and I can't scratch on our periodic home tours. We can't figure out what kind of work people do to own these fabulous homes. They can't all work for oil companies. We are tempted to get one of those battery-operated megaphones and, as we drive past these 10,000-square-foot palaces, roll down the window and exclaim, "Who are you people and where do you work?"
I'll admit we're shamelessly nosy but we're not aggressive. I prefer for us to just pass through slowly, reverently, in a clean, well-polished car, dressed appropriately, and on occasion receive a returned wave. That's good enough.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.