Story last updated at 7/8/2009 - 11:36 am
Before the festivities began in Juneau on July 3, I called a friend in New York City. When I described our Fourth of July celebration to her, she exclaimed, "You realize how lucky you are, don't you?"
I admitted that I might be guilty of taking community events a bit for granted.
"New York has everything," my friend continued, "But we don't have that."
"That" was our parade, soap box derby, sandcastle building contest and community barbeques.
As I started thinking about it, I realized that to a good number of Americans, the Fourth of July is something to be celebrated with family and friends - not with the whole town. Sure, there are fireworks and parades across the country - but not every place celebrates as a community the way we do in Southeast.
As we watch parades in our towns, we recognize many - if not most - of the participants. Like in big cities, people on floats smile and wave and toss candy, but here they also call out to crowd members by names.
If you want to be an anonymous spectator, you best stay home. Your state representative might call out to you by name. Your friend might try to wrestle you into marching with her group. Your coworkers might give you guff for not donning a sweatshirt and marching with them in the 85-degree heat (yes, that was me, guilty as charged - but someone has to take photos, right?).
People often move to Alaska from the lower 48 to escape some aspect of big city life. If you're trying to get away from traffic and crowds, you've come to the right place (except possibly when trying to get over to Douglas after the Juneau 4th of July parade). But I think it's easy to mistake being away from a lot of people with having more privacy.
It took me a few months of living in Auke Bay harbor before it sunk in: Everyone in the houses and condos surrounding the harbor had binoculars or telescopes by their windows. We were being watched.
It doesn't help that we have yet to make curtains for our windows, and that the docks are a wonderful place to talk a walk on a warm summer day.
I've written before about working in full view of anyone who walks down Second Street, so you might think I'd be used to this kind of thing. But it's a bit disarming to feel eyes on me when I'm brushing my teeth or cooking dinner. It's not that these activities really need to be private, it's just that they usually are.
Our boat is relatively new, and since we started winterizing as soon as we bought the boat, this summer has been our first foray in piloting the boat. It's a bit embarrassing to go through the learning period with people watching.
I guess it's not the first time I've been through this. I learned to drive stick and to ride a motorcycle in this town, with plenty of witnesses to my stalling.
As red as my face felt this weekend when the docking wasn't going as smoothly as I'd have liked, after I cooled down I realized that many of those watching eyes were standing ready to lend a hand if need be.
Nobody pointed and laughed - in fact, nearly everyone asked if they could help.
And if we hadn't been in a learning situation and had actually been battling rough seas or trying to squeeze into a tight spot, you can be sure we would have welcomed the assistance.
So forget privacy. In the end, it's worth being stared at one day to know that a neighbor could help you out of trouble the next.
Katie Spielberger is the managing editor of the Capital City Weekly. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org