Summer Season In Alaska: Second Impressions

Seward small boat harbour
I've been in Alaska for just over a week and the weather continues to be unusually warm. In fact, yesterday Seward experienced it's hottest day since July 1999, with a temperature of 88°F. This is great except for one minor issue: there is no air conditioning anywhere in Alaska. None.

Amidst the heat wave, I've begun work at the front desk of the Glacier Tours* company. Our tours go out into the Kenai Fjords National Park (pronounced 'keen-eye fyords'), which is accessible only by water (with the exception of Exit Glacier, which is accessible by road). My job involves checking-in passengers and directing them to their boats and assisting people who wander into the office. As part of my training, I was sent out on an 8 hour boat tour and got to see Aialik Glacier (pronounced 'eye-alik' glacier), one of the largest tidewater glaciers in the park. It was the best paid work day I've had since that time I was paid to fly to Rome to pick up a roll of film (a story for another time).

Two or three times a week, a cruise ship will dock in the Seward harbour and those days are usually the busiest as hundreds of people stream off of those beasts and onto land. The cruise ship passengers seem to be a mixed bag of those that are eager to explore the world and those that find the act of disembarking to be a huge inconvenience and they spend their time anxious to return to their cabins and all-you-can-eat buffets.

Cruise Ship in Seward Harbour
My roommates, Montana and Idaho, work as deckhands on our boats and go out into Resurrection Bay and the National Park every day. Some would argue that the deckhands have the better jobs, since they are paid to spend all day out on the water, whale watching and sightseeing. However, they do have to deal with a multitude of things that we, on land, don't have to, including passenger seasickness. No deckhand has not had the pleasure of cleaning up a stranger's puke. In addition, they are in charge of cleaning the toilets on board and they still speak with horror of the day that one of the toilets backed up and began to spew out a fountain of waste. I guess I'm happy in the office.

In general, the people I work with are smart and enthusiastic. I suspect that this has a lot to do with the fact that most are up here through deliberate effort. They didn't take these jobs because they had to. Rather, they went out of their way to be able to spend the summer in Alaska and the result is a generally appreciative mood exuded by everyone. Some of the people I've met so far include;

Ocean splash as ice calves from Aialik Glacier 
Montana and Idaho - both in their early twenties and experienced travellers; this is not the first season working in Seward for either of them. They are close friends and I am the third wheel that has been forced into their lives. Via a visit to the infamous Yukon Bar on karaoke night (my post on Seward Night Life is coming soon), I've discovered that Idaho is a wonderful singer. On the same occasion  I discovered that she is the only wonderful singer in this town. Montana is a brunette, Idaho is a redhead and I am a blond. Our room is a rainbow of hair colour.

Tennessee and Gab - a couple from Tennessee. He is one of our drivers and Gab works the front desk with me. They are the type of people who know how to do everything and can be trusted for the latest information regarding what's happening around town. Through their contacts, they have somehow fully furnished their room at the bunkhouse and transformed it into a sweet pad, while the rest of us continue to store our belongings mostly on the floor.

Humpback whale head peaks out of the water
Champ - hailing from New York, Champ lives in the other bunkhouse so I don't see him as often as I'd like. Champ refuses to tell anyone his age, proclaiming that he prefers an air of mystery, but often making disheartened comments that suggest he is struggling to let go of his youth. I have heard rumours that he can have angry outbursts, particularly in the morning. He has taken a job with us as a back up to his current employment at the local hardware store and he wears his pants way too high on his waist.

Fabio - so nicknamed because of his Fabio-esque appearance, including long, flowing blond hair. He is a bible studies major, so it's unclear if he uses his Fabio status for evil. Yesterday, as he was tying up a boat, a random dog ran out onto the dock, bit his hand, then simply ran off again. So are the days of Fabio's life.

Captain Sparrow - We have several boat Captains living at the bunkhouse. One of them, Captain Sparrow, confessed to me in the kitchen that he is also a poet, but when he recently attempted to weave his latest poem into a presentation he had made for company trainees, it was not well received. I suspect this was a case of 'wrong crowd' rather than a case of 'bad poetry', but I won't know until I have read one of the alleged poems.

In the distance - military style tent living
Unrelated to my work, but interesting nonetheless, are the fisheries in town. One of our drivers, Rod, took me down to see the tent-city accommodation provided for the employees of one of these companies. Fishery jobs are considered the least desirable of the seasonal jobs here, since they pay minimum wage, work long hours and new employees always begin on the 'slime line', which I believe involves repetitious removal of the blood line that runs down the spines of fish. Rod explained that in prior years, the majority of these positions were filled by foreign workers, but after the Hershey's chocolate incident, the J-1 visa allowing foreign workers to travel into the US for summer work has changed. As such, the fisheries needed to find another pool of desperate workers from which to fill the undesirable gaps. The good news is that they found them. The bad news is that they appear to have found them in the just-released-from-prison pool. Or so Ron told me, before turning to me and adding, for some inexplicable reason, "no offense".

*name changed


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