The New American

Imagine you want to open a restaurant. You are certain of its success. Then the first customer enters and oooops you forgot about the food. Then you run out and buy food but yikes, you forgot to hire a cook. Then you hire a cook but uh-oh you have no money to pay them.

Welcome to Gold Rush Alaska, a series that tells the story of five down-on-their- luck Americans who have decided that their American dream lies in the Gold Rush of 2010. What, you haven’t heard about the biggest gold rush since 1897? Neither had I.

These men, unemployed and desperate, have traded in what little they have left for the dream of finding gold under the ground in a place called Porcupine Creek, Alaska. Their journey, that’s what the narrator calls it, starts in their hometown somewhere in Oregon. Jack and his son Todd lead this crew of weary Americans, with names like Dorsey and Harness, on a quest for the fortune and financal solvency. Sadly, they start this journey in a state of dire weariness.

Dorsey and his family are living with his in-laws. They are on food stamps, and Dorsey can’t even fix his chipped front tooth. Harness has a laundry list of medical problems, including spinal compressions, a bad ankle and a nasty little morphine addiction. He is also the mechanic on his team. Like most of the team, he’s overweight and out up shape. He plans on using his fortune to get surgery on his aching body.

Maybe it’s me but the men seem naïve. Jack, acting as the cheerleader for the miners, tells the men they are all millionaires. The men all grin and high five each other but none of them have enough money to fill up a tank of gas.

“Gosh I can’t believe I’m a millionaire.” says Thurber the safety foreman of the team.

To look at them, I can’t believe it either .The men all have beards and mustaches that make them look more like hillbillies selling moonshine than millionaires.

Todd and his father Jack have leased a claim. I guess gold-mining hasn’t changed that much since the big California Gold Rush. Their claim lies 2000 miles northeast of their homes in Oregon. Now instead of pick axes and horse-drawn wagons, these men are coming with monster trucks and a quarter of million dollars in excavation equipment that is so heavy they can’t even cross a state road that is essential to reaching their destination. Even this early on in the trip it seems as though the men did not anticipate any obstacles in reaching their goal. Surely when mapping out the trip someone would’ve noticed the weight limitations on local roads and the difficulty in getting their equipment to its site. Against a rising tide and raging current they managed to get the equipment across a river with three tributaries. The background music brings suspense to the moment and then you realize the producers have seized upon the most recent calamity to create high drama.

When the team of gold miners arrives at their camp the camera reveals three Winnebago like RVs that the miners will be using as their homes. They also build a meeting house and an indoor bathroom complete with toilet. Todd’s Porcupine Creek domicile appears to have a sectional sofa. These are men who refuse to forsake their comforts from home in their quest to retrieve their millions.

It is true that there is gold under the ground in Alaska but the more the men talk the more they reveal how little they know about the endeavor they are embarking upon. What originally looked like naïveté I now believe is pure stupidity. Tensions rise relatively quickly when the campsite is invaded by black bears and grizzly bears .The minors grab their guns even though it is illegal to shoot these bears unless you are in imminent danger. When one bear comes too close to the camp, it is discovered that someone left the box of graham crackers on the ground. A short fight ensues; the two parties threaten each other and then stomp off in different directions at the site. Then the camera cuts back to Jack the cheerleader saying “We’re on the gold now” and “I can smell it. I just can’t reach it yet.”

Everyone on the team looks to Jack and Todd for leadership. One assumes that they have studied gold-mining and understand any potential challenges that lay in their way but no they are blindsided again by even fairly obvious obstacles like a water supply which is necessary for any mining operation. The men attempt to dig a trench to create a water flow into the camp from an area river, but then somebody from the Park and Wildlife Commission of Alaska comes and tells them that what they have done is illegal and puts the Salmon at risk. The miners are stumped. They have to close up the trench.

These and numerous mechanical failures keep slowing the miners down. Interspersed are sound bites of Jack saying, “We’re on the gold now,” and “We just have to find the glory hole.”, I don’t know that Jack understands the sexual connotations of the word glory hole but every time he utters the words I cringe.

This recession patriot, that’s what the narrator calls them, don’t have enough money to even buy food for their families and after a short deliberation, they agree to send their families back to Oregon so their loved ones don’t starve. I guess the government doesn’t forward their food stamps to Porcupine Creek.

As spring gives way to summer, and summer to fall, the viewer learns that gold mining is more than just digging. I don’t think the miners realize that when they dragged all that equipment out there. They’ve got tons of stuff to dig with, unfortunately the key to successful gold-mining is something called a shaker. Shakers are like a giant sifter that sifts through all the dirt and rock and separate the gold from the earth. The shaker is the key piece of equipment necessary for successful mining, without it, it’s just big boys playing with big trucks in a big boy sandbox. Sadly for the miners, this vital piece of equipment was something they jury rigged from a local quarry. They had no idea until they got to their claim whether or not it would even work. As their luck would have it, it doesn’t work, breaks down, breaks itself apart, and then there’s the numerous engineering flaws that make it impossible to do its job. They repeatedly consult with professionals in the mining industry who continue to point out necessary modifications even after they’ve already welded and un-welded numerous parts of the shaker. When they finally do get their shaker functional, they’ve run out of fuel and don’t have enough money to buy anymore so once again mining comes to a halt. That evening the miners all gather for group meeting. Jack weighs the total amount of gold they have so far mined. Their big boy monster trucks have yielded them a mere three to half ounces which results in a debate on whether or not to cash it in so they have enough fuel to continue mining. The machinery takes an enormous amount of fuel to run as they continue to run out of fuel seemingly every few days.

Finally Todd decides that he is going to grovel for money from his sister, someone who Jack points out, Todd never treated very nice in the past. The whole scene is depressing and part of me hopes she says no.

The hole they are excavating begins to fill with water. Their pumps don’t work and as the water rises, Surprise, once again their dreams of gold have been stymied. Frustrated, Todd turns to the camera and says, “They’re all looking to me for the answers. I don’t know more than they do.”

By episode 5 I am rooting against the miners. Not because I am un-American. Every challenge the miners face illuminate the real problem with the American dream. Today’s dream is yesterday’s nightmare. No matter how hard you try, no matter how many times you fail, you can be sure in today’s America, you will be left with a pile of bills and a fist full of dirt.

The season ends with a winter blizzard that in a matter of minutes forces the miners to close down and operations are abandoned at the mine. The miners go home and find their real American dream, food stamps, unemployment insurance, and Medicade.

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