Pretending to Know the Palins

Pretending to Know the Palins September 20, 2011

When I flew to Alaska to help Bristol Palin write her memoirs, I had to keep it quiet.  Our contracts hadn’t been signed, and discretion was warranted.  So, I packed my warmest clothes for what I thought would be a one-week stay.

During my travels, I never offered information to the people I invariably encountered.  The guy next to me on our very long flight, asked what was taking me to so far north.

“Just work,” I responded.

“So are you going to see Sarah Palin?” he asked, laughing.

“No,” I responded truthfully.  In fact, I wasn’t sure if I was going to have access to Bristol’s famous mom.  It was Bristol’s book, after all.

When I rented my car, the cashier asked the purpose of my trip.

“Work,” I said.

“What do you do?”

I hesitated, causing the rental guy to look at me quizzically.  “Don’t tell me,” he said.  “You’re stalking Sarah Palin.”

“Isn’t there anything in Alaska other than the Palin family?” I asked.

He looked me up and down, and noticed my Macintosh laptop.  “I can just tell when people like you show up, they’re trying to get close to the Governor.”  He continued, “Normally, they carry large cameras too.  One reporter bragged that he could take a picture of her from clear across a football field.”

As I signed the contract for the car, he lowered his voice and gave me tips about where I might see the famous family.  (This was in Anchorage, which is about an hour from Wasilla.  But he still offered vague advice about her possible haunts.)  In other words, he was just pretending to have “inside information” because he loved the former governor so much and wanted to be “connected.”

I drove off in my Ford rental car to the location.  I figured I’d be staying at Bristol’s apartment somewhere, however my GPS took me straight up the driveway of Todd and Sarah’s house. I lived right there over the next month and got to know them, their extended family, and friends.  We cheered Todd as he competed in the Iron Dog race, watched Piper play in her basketball games, lounged in front of reruns of The Office, took road trips, and ate moose hotdogs.  I watched in amusement as Gov. Palin – the most controversial and famous politician in the nation – pumped her own gas, greeted the cashier cheerfully, and fussed over Trigg.

The Palins were hospitable, kind, open, and helpful… even though I was there to assist in telling a story that was painful but ultimately redemptive. Todd and Sarah responded with genuine warmth, concern, and kindness as we dredged up the details of events I’m sure they’d rather forget.

But every time I went out into the town, strangers tried to tell me stories – even though I tried to appear as disinterested as possible.  Apparently my general appearance screamed “flatlander” —  the rubber boots, the laptop, the constant chattering of my teeth.  (They seem to consider anyone from the lower 48 a flatlander.)  But even after I had a discount card for Carrs and an Alaska Grown shirt, a server at an Italian restaurant told me he could tell me that I was not from around there.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because you paid with an American Express,” he said definitively.  “That’s a sure sign.”  He then also pretended to know the Palins.  “It’s too bad you’re here this week, because she’s in the states now,” he said with as much authority as a secretary consulting her boss’s calendar, though I’d just left Gov. Palin at her Alaskan home minutes before.

After a month, I heard lots of stories from people I met around town, those so eager to be connected to the Palins they pretended to have a connection.  Everyone claimed to be related to them, know them, or have dealings with them.  And even though I was trying desperately not to look like I cared about these stories, the anecdotes came anyway.  Some were good, some were bad, few seemed even remotely reliable.

I write this because the guy who bought the house next door to the Palin family has finally published his book, which is based on the gossip he gathered from around the small town. The New York Times reports that Joe McGinniss used his time in Alaska “to chase caustic, unsubstantiated gossip about the Palins, often from unnamed sources like ‘one resident’ and ‘a friend.’” Imagine how much dirt he would be able to get, as a person desperate to get to know the “real Sarah Palin?”  Especially since there’s apparently a cottage industry in Alaska dedicated to pretending to know the Palins.

I returned home to Tennessee after staying a month…  I was happy to see my family and not so happy to receive a $500 fee at the short term airport parking lot.  But I was thankful that the real Palins – the ones who treated me like one of the family for such a long visit – bore little resemblance to the Palins the random strangers tried to tell me about.  I’m also thankful they bear no resemblance to the people Joe McGinniss is trying to tell people about.

I might be a flatlander, but even I can tell that.



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  • I have no doubt that what you experinced is just as you tell it. People do like to try to be a part of something, that makes them feel special, proud even. I beleive that to their guest they are warm and hospitable. I believe like when you date, or when you have company you do put your best foot forward. I also know from my own personale experiences that people can lead dual lives. You can be one way in front of the public, your work, your family, and still lead another life of drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. Thousands of people lead these double lives and no one eer suspects because they are the picture perfect husband, wife, kids, aunts, uncles, co worker, what have you. Just consider for one moment that they put their best foot forward for you. That you guys did share some warm moments. However consider there can be other moments too that you were never a witness to.

  • jill newsom

    Thank you so much for writing this short story about the Palins. I am a fan of Sarah Palin and wish that she would choose to run for President. But she has to look at the bigger picture and think of her family. Either way, I will still continue to back her.

    I feel the reason people dislike her so much is because of her raw candid transparency, which is exactly what I love!

    Thanks for this breath of fresh air!

  • jen

    It’s difficult to be fake 24/7 for a month. Someone’s general life philosophy and attitude can be seen even if they’re attempting to hide a “double life.” Nancy’s also an extremely practiced and experienced reader of character, and I have no doubt she would have seen through a charade, if indeed there was one.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Nancy.

  • Kudos to you for getting to know the Palins so well. So well you can’t spell the name of the child that Sarah fussed over. Would that child be Trig, note the one g, who has been presented as Sarah’s son since 4-18-08 OR would that be Tripp, the supposed son of the woman you were ghostwriting the book for. If this is any example of the accuracy of the information that you were provided there’s little wonder at the reason that Bristol’s book is filled with hogwash and vitriol aimed at Levi Johnston.

    By the way, just how much did the Palins pay you for witing this fairy tale piece about living with them?

  • Oh, also, too, Joe McGinniss didn’t buy the house next door he only rented it. Did that information about him buying it come from the Palins?

  • Pete

    Apparently you haven’t read the book by Joe McGinniss and decided to rely on The New York Times review in an attempt to discredit the author based on inaccurate information. Joe McGinniss has been an investigative journalist for 40 years. His book contains over 75 named sources and every story he used was confirmed by no less than three different sources. He has given numerous interviews on the topic of this book, if you had watched an interview you would know he didn’t include any unsubstantiated gossip about the Palins in his book and he said about 90% of the stories he ruled out because they were considered unsubstantiated gossip. You were paid by the Palin family to write Bristol’s book so your opinion of the family is totally biased!!! You received a large sum of money to write a book that reflected positively Bristol and her family, so it’s unethical for you to write about your experience. Unless of course they requested your services for this assignment. Did you get paid again?

  • fuster

    It’s very good to hear that the Palin’s aren’t really as one might expect after consideration of their public records and remarks.

  • fuster

    “Is it because you’re a homosexual?” Bristol Palin asked. “And that’s why you hate her?”

    Read more:

  • Can’t see why it’s unethical offer an opinion of a person or person with whom you’ve worked.