Sarah Brown

In the throes of air travel

Air travel is a key component of my job description. Literally. The description reads, “Expected to travel between 30% and 50% of time.” Given how much experience I’ve had, you think I would be better at it. Wrong. It’s a production to get me on an airplane, all of the extensive accommodations of Alaska Airlines aside. My appearance becomes the physical manifestation of my discomfort. I don my airplane pajamas (aka clothes that are at least three sizes too big). On go my eyeglasses, away goes the flat iron, in goes my night guard. And make-up? Don’t make me laugh. I then adopt my Very Special Air Travel Expression. It’s the sort of expression a corpse would have, if the person who once formed that corpse had died in an eternal state of exasperation. The light leaves my eyes, my jaw goes slack. I only alter this deadpan look to glare at all of my neighbors over the top of my glasses. Once at the airport, I typically throw my weight around. Not that I have the necessary money, power, or status to intimidate people. Rather, I literally swing my shoulder bags from side to side, yanking my suitcases through the air. Any aggressive movement will do. I want strangers to approach on penalty of death. All of this contributes to a distinctly nasty persona. When people see me hurtling through airports, they figure they know why I’m alone. If life were a movie plot, travelers would not be like me. Rather, attractive bubbly strangers would be seated next to each other on airplanes with alarming frequency. They would both be single and looking for love. They would bond instantaneously over shared heartbreaks/divorces/widowhoods/insert romantic tragedy here. In all my years of air travel, I have never seen this happen. Instead, men and women get drunk at airport bars and throw themselves at unwilling strangers. Take my recent late-night Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle. I was across the aisle from a young woman, who, like me, was wearing her airplane best. Dressed in a sweatshirt and pajama bottoms, her purple hair was in a topknot on her head. She was wearing scarlet-rimmed eyeglasses, and her acne was showing. Nevertheless, she was being pursued by a young sloper she’d just met in the bar. With the aid of some liquid courage, he adopted all the confidence of Thor, Son of Odon, and was shouting about how he wanted to sit next to her on our mutual flight. This plan did not excite her. She walked on to the plane, sat down, threw up into her airsick bag, and flagged down a predictably gracious Alaska Airlines flight attendant. “Um, there’s this guy. Like, he …” She trailed off as she tried to bring the flight attendant into focus. “I, like, met him in the bar. And now he’s, like, trying to sit next to me?” The flight attendant looked at her pityingly. “I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.” “Okay, ‘cause, like, I don’t want to sit next to him. He’s, like. Back. There.” She jutted her thumb over her shoulder, gesturing to the offending sloper, now sitting in his assigned seat. The flight attendant followed her thumb. “You know what? He’s asleep. I think you’re okay.” The three of us turned around and, sure enough, the man was down for the count, his face mashed up against the window. It’s not just men pursuing uninterested women on airplanes. Women also proactively live out their Hollywood “meet cute” fantasies. On a flight from Anchorage to Chicago, I spied on a middle-age woman sitting next to a similarly unprepossessing middle-aged man. Before my eyes, the woman became hopelessly infatuated with him, for no reason I could portend. She tried every feminine wile at her disposal to attract his attention. She giggled at him, whispered to him, and petted his arm continuously for the first thirty-five minutes of the flight. That’s when he couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up, told the flight attendant he was moving to another section, and forbade the woman from following him. If I were the woman, I would have taken the hint. However, I will never be she; I’m too busy throwing my luggage around. Rather than accept they would not share a future together beyond the constraints of this six-hour flight, the woman grabbed her bags, and made after him. The flight attendant body blocked her like every great bouncer would, and the woman was forcibly returned to her seat, waving madly at the man to come back. That’s why I don’t bother primping before flights; I’ve seen too many failed attempts by travelers to meet The One. But then came the day I found myself sitting next to an acceptably cute blonde bearded guy on a flight to Los Angeles. Alarm signals went off in my brain: “Don’t be weird! Don’t be weird!” Naturally, the minute I brought my own weirdness to my attention, I immediately began acting bizarre; I tucked my plastic water cup into the hook holding up my tray table. The cute guy next to me looked over at my water cup, now dangling helplessly from the seat in front of me, and frowned. “I’ve never seen anyone do that before.” I considered explaining that I wanted to place my cup out of my way, such that I could continue typing on my laptop. I couldn’t waste a moment’s time, after all, in plotting my takedown of the ultimate universe. And gosh, by the way, didn’t he want to accompany me on said takedown as my sidekick? Instead, I coughed and grunted back, “Whatever works.” My seatmate shrugged, and went back to texting other, better, girls on his phone. Alaska Airlines should really cast me in a commercial. I am, clearly, the young upwardly mobile model of 21st century womanhood to whom they desperately wish to appeal. Sarah Brown is a road warrior and connoisseur of the Alaska Airlines Economy class free snacks. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close" is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Plastic bag ban increases waste

Following suit with larger cities in the Lower 48, the Anchorage Assembly passed a disposable grocery store bag ban for the Municipality of Anchorage, originally effective March 1, 2019. The ban dictates retailers charge a 10-cent per bag fee for paper bags, up to a total of 50 cents per transaction. Plastic bags will no longer be available. Rather than put this proposition to a vote, the body passed the ordinance following a public hearing. The Assembly’s unilateral decision has not been without reaction. As of last week, the ban was delayed to Sept. 15, 2019, due to protest from local businesses. Further, Anchorage resident David Nees is circulating a petition to repeal the bag ban; the petition must have 10,000 signatures by mid-January. Aside from instituting what amounts to a regressive tax, and from forcing consumers to purchase reusable bags ahead of Sept. 15, the ban will likely not assist the Assembly with its purported goals — combatting climate change and environmental hazards. Assembly member Christopher Constant described plastic bags as a “voluminous” “waste stream,” for which “we have an opportunity to break the cycle.” Voluminous? As reported by National Geographic, plastic grocery store bags produce 70 percent fewer emissions, 80 percent less solid waste, 94 percent less waterborne waste, and consume 40 percent less energy than paper bag equivalents. Per a 2007 study published by the Australian government on the environmental impact of disposable bags, paper bags have a higher carbon footprint than plastic bags. Similar findings were also published in The Journal of Fiber Bioengineering and Informatics. Phys Org reports that, due to the higher environmental impacts of paper bags and heavier reusable bags, a paper bag must be reused 43 times in order to have the same environmental impact as a standard supermarket plastic bag. A cotton bag must be reused 7,100 times. These numbers only increase if a supermarket bag is reused as a trash bag or bin liner. Aside from seemingly incorrectly choosing paper over plastic, the Assembly’s bag ban does not consider more complex waste streams in its policy. Consider this: in 2012, professors from the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University published a paper following San Francisco’s plastic bag ban. The researchers documented a 46 percent increase in death due to foodborne illness, and a significant increase in emergency room visits due to E. Coli poisoning. The bacteria were traced back to reusable shopping bags; consumers were not washing their bags between grocery store visits. If everyone in Anchorage begins washing reusable bags, shouldn’t the Assembly have accounted for the extra water, chemicals, heat, and electricity consumed per Anchorage resident for the increased laundry loads? What about the environmental, chemical, and health impacts of sanitizing the bags with single-use wipes, such as Clorox disinfecting wipes? The Assembly is silent on all of these matters. The Assembly also assumes plastic bags go directly from the grocery store into the landfill. This is a questionable proposition. Following a plastic bag ban in Austin, Texas, in 2013, residents began purchasing heavier-grade plastic bags for use as garbage bags. Perversely, these bags were less biodegradable than those which the local government opted to ban. Per NBC News, “Turns out that Austin’s residents were buying (and discarding) trash can liners now that they weren’t getting plastic bags for free.” On a personal note, I was famous amongst friends for years for not owning a trash can. Rather, I hung grocery store bags from door handles in the bathrooms and kitchen. While visitors may have found me charmingly eccentric, I thought this only logical. Why spend extra money to purchase (and consume) other plastic trash bags? The grocery store bag ban will merely drive consumption of other plastics, chemicals, water and heat. I realize the Anchorage Assembly feels good about its stance against climate change. But at the expense of Anchorage residents? That doesn’t feel good at all. ^ Sarah Brown was born and raised in Fairbanks and is a graduate of West Valley High School. She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania) and her master’s degree from the University of Oxford (England). She can be reached at [email protected]

COMMENTARY: For women, Kavanaugh's confirmation is about more than Roe v. Wade

The word "women" appears in the Democratic Party platform 49 times. By comparison, the word "men" appears four times. Women and girls have three sections of the platform devoted entirely to them. These three sections discuss protecting women's rights (two sections) and ending violence against women (one section). If one were to consider only the DNC platform, women are victims in an unforgiving world. Whether it be to their rights or physical safety, women are under threat at every turn. The growing economic status of women, however, is largely ignored. According to Forbes, women now earn over half of all bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Seventy percent of women with children under the age of 18 work outside the home, and women serve as the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of these households. Women hold over half of all management and professional positions. And, perhaps most surprising given the Democrats' focus on guaranteed equal pay, women control over half of the nation's personal wealth. Women are, as the vernacular goes, #winning. This growing force includes unmarried women. Per Harvard University, unmarried women are buying homes at twice the rate of unmarried men, and unmarried women comprise more than a full third of real estate ownership growth since 1994. In addition to their growing educational, financial, and professional stature, women are also exercising their political voices; according to Rutgers University, women outvote men, both nominally and proportionally. From their platform, Democrats appear to be champions of women. So why are they infantilizing a group of people who are outperforming their male counterparts in a wide range of factors? We have now seen two weeks' worth of lobbying against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Many of the objections cite women's rights as a reason to deny this (or, indeed, any) conservative nomination. By making Roe v. Wade the lynchpin of these protests, however, Democrats ignore all the other issues important to women as breadwinners, heads of households, and business people. Women, both single and hitched, are a block of power and wealth. Such a group would surely want predictable laws on a wide range of issues — taxation, regulation, patents, defense, and free speech to name a few. By interpreting the laws as written, Brett Kavanaugh would provide stability in interpreting constitutional provisions. As seen, women are not shy about voting for both the people and policies they desire. Correspondingly, they should have faith that the laws put into place by those candidates for whom they vote will not be revamped at the whim of the Supreme Court. Otherwise, the court, as a wholly unelected body, can give ever-broadening powers to government based upon an elastic construction of constitutional interpretation. As a single woman under the age of 30, I fit the mold for these new, up-and-coming females. I have a house, a master’s degree, and many professional aspirations. I am also a constituent and supporter of Sen. Murkowski's. I hope she does the right thing. Sarah Brown was born and raised in Fairbanks and is a graduate of West Valley High School. She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania) and her master’s degree from the University of Oxford (England). She can be reached at [email protected]
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