Apr 8, 2008

FLIGHT OF THE BEAGLE

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – "It's like Orville and Wilbur building the first plane," dogsled superstar Jeff King declares earnestly. "Some ideas crash and burn."

As a member of the press, I'm welcomed into the chute, where mushers prepare for the Iditarod's ceremonial start. My brain's somewhere back in Rome, lounging on a sun-drenched balcony. My body's standing on snowpack in minus-thirteen-degree weather. Embittered, it's trying to crawl back into warm memories faster than a Chandler hero.

Seattle – that three-day hiatus – doesn't even register. No. Wait. I have a vague recollection of laundry and sullen housecats... Anyway, I try hard to focus on the present moment. A TV reporter is having similar issues. He zooms so close, the lens whacks my notebook. Again. And again. As if writing in thick Patagucci mittens weren't hard enough.

Through gritted teeth – what is the cameraman's damage?* – I ask. "So what didn't work?"

King laughs. "I tried playing the dogs music: classical, like Pachelbel, when they rested, and Marshall Tucker Band's Heard It In a Love Song, one of my favorites, when I fed them. I also experimented with different wild animal noises: squealing rabbits and a coyote in heat definitively wind them up."

The confused broadcaster gives the paper grain another glammy close-up: his camera grinding like a microscope. I resist the urge to wipe my nose on my cuff, then smear up his expensive glass. Time to move on, clearly. But King isn't quite done. "The logistics are the problem. I haven't perfected the equipment. Talk to 100 mushers and ask, 'do you sing to your dog?' And they'll tell you 'hell yes'.

"I know there's something to it."

I agree. And under other circumstances, I'd loiter and bandy around theories. Plants grow better, for example, near the speaker vibrations. And gym workouts are more intense to a raga soundtrack, I've read. But a media scrum is no place for chatter ... so I soundbite and move along.

And soon – in that classic reporter fashion – I'm utterly absorbed in the Next Big Topic. In this case: fashion of the Iditarod. Wolf-pelt hoods! Technicolor dreamcoats! Fur ruffs and cuffs and tiaras and bunny boots, which rightly belong on smurfs, but somehow don't seem out of place paired with firearms in Alaska.

"I'm mostly digging the crowd," I confide, all guilty.

"That's normal," Fiona laughs. "One puppy parade-pull resembles any other – and the race doesn't really start until tomorrow anyway, north in Willow. But did you see the marshall's wildcat hat?"

*Later I discover the cameraman has a (hopefully temporary) medical condition that's scuppering his vision. Kudos for continuing to work, dude. But – ahem – get your gear off mine, eh?

5 comments:

  1. That really is quite a hat...

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  2. Iditarod ... cool!

    Amanda, I want to see you in one of those lynx-pelt hats. I think it would be a good look for you.

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  3. DB: One only earns a hat like that by stalking and killing the critter, I reckon: barehanded ...

    Louche: will that be the new look for London dandies in 09, then?

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  4. I am beginning to fear for Jake's future, if you get a taste Alaskanesque gladrags.

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  5. Amanda - If the weather stays like this it just might be.

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