Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ferry AK->WA :: Thursday :: Tamarack

Thursday :: 19:22

Finally, on day four, I found my social self again. I finally let others initiate conversation with me and I managed to enjoy it. It isn’t that I haven’t talked to folks at all, it’s just now that I did that thing called “talking together on the ferry for a long time because you have no where else to go.”

And you know what? All the folks that initiated conversations were dudes. All of them! Dudes! I initiated conversations with two moms - but no ladies started ‘em up with me. Guys, on the other hand? Easy as eye contact. Heck, didn’t even have to make eye contact. And now I’m thinking what percentage of them also were so forward as to initiate physical contact.... my back was patted a lot during this trip.

My “social” day started with breakfast, I sat a table away from a man and pretty soon we were talking. He had a bounty of French toast and I was excited when he offered me two half slices. I had already had a sweet potato for breakfast, but it looked delicious. A small cup of peanut butter and a few drizzles of maple syrup later, we were engrossed in conversation. And it was about time. This man mirrored my position on the ferry - directly across from me. He was on a “ferry vacation.” His vacation was riding the ferry. Legit! His home is Federal Way. He has lived in Juneau before and has family there.

Another man I’ve been talking to most of the trip is the Man in the Halibut Cap. He’s probably in his 60s and helps keep the cafeteria clean and things running smoothly in the kitchen. He snook out a cup full of garlic for me when I was feeling sick to help my immune system. He was always slipping things into my hands - peanut butter and he tried to give me a free Rice Krispy treat. We talked about the joys of honey and he always just seemed to be there. He would joke with other old men (sorry guys - when you’re 60, you’re old) about taking care of “the pretty young girl” as he would rest his hand on my shoulder.

Later in the lounge, I met aother man as I sat at the piano and played. We hung out for a solid hour or so, jamming and talking. He had a daughter in New York that he hadn’t seen in five years. I couldn’t imagine that. You could tell he really missed her. After he left, I stuck around for a bit, playing, but when I tried to leave, two other men started up the conversation and I got sucked in.

Arturo, age 55, was from Texas. Craig, age 35, was from Montana but had been living in Sitka. Arturo is a massage therapist. Craig was the jock in high school and student body president, but now he’s a brewer. We talked about the progress of life and Alaska and then they had me play the piano some more. I tried to show Arturo how simple the piano can be - how many songs are simple and formulaic, but I’m not sure he got it.

But, really, all of these dudes! So many old men want to talk to me! Where are the old ladies? Don’t they think I’m nice.

They went upstairs to watch Clash of the Titans but I decided to go for a walk again.

Earlier I had strolled outside bare foot for a good ten minutes and then with my boots on for another twenty. Around and around the boat, being thrashed about at the front where the wind found itself displaced to the sides of the boats.

The conversations I initiated were with two rad moms. I sat on the observation deck, at the very front of the boat, with Linda and Scott, her song, for about an hour and a half during an open sea crossing. They’re on their way to California for a bit and then off to Australia for two months. Our discussion was about Australia, travels, the Simpsons, and Scott showed me some photographs. Scott has Downs’ Syndrome and was a complete ham in the most wonderful of I wish he was a tour guide in New Mexico. I’d go on the tour most certainly!


There’s a general camaraderie on this boat as we all have one thing in common - Alaska.

Alaska rarely just “happens” and there’s a common understanding that, “Alaska is awesome.” If you’re from Alaska? Awesome. If you traveled to Alaska? Rad. Because we all know there’s a story in there, somewhere.

Since the journey is for a couple day, folks want to know what you were doing in Alaska and where you’re going. This encourages a brief exchange of stories that gives a chance for some sort of bond to be created.

See - Alaska isn’t just another Iowa or Mississippi where, if you say you’re from there, folks don’t know what to say in return unless they have family here and then they can say, “I love family there!” and then the other person says, “Oh. Cool.” I don’t know how to describe it. Alaska is simply something else. I know in my mind, when I thought of Alaska, I thought, “Golly -- that’s a long ways away...” although really, it isn’t. Just around 40 hours from Bellingham, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska - although I would not recommend getting off prematurely and missing out on Haines.

Alaska is vast, expansive, and full of some pretty darn terrific folks!

On the ferry, we know that no one has anywhere to go. There is no place we have to be. When we share time with each other, in partiality its in the spirit of “we’re stuck here for the next 58 hours so lets become friends” and then you smile at each other each time you pass by each other which happens a lot. You will run into the same person an easy 25 times a day so you better get along. If there’s someone you want to avoid on the ferry, good luck - especially if they’re pushy and are always trying to start up a conversation. However, if a conversation does start up, it’s common knowledge that that conversation is allowed to go on for hours, easily, and sometimes started up again the next day. Where else do you have hour long conversations with strangers who aren’t drunk? Few places foster that.

Small communities form all around the boat. Each room has its own sense of character and feel to it. You start to learn who hangs out in what corners as territories are claimed. Where else can you go where you get inside a giant moving building and people decide to sleep on random places on the ground and camp out next to each other between rows of chairs. Imagine spending four nights sleeping in a movie theatre - it’s like that.

It’s probably one of the last places I’ll be for a long while where every other person, or more, knows exactly where Haines is and what to expect of it. They know its quirks. They know names to run by me. “Do you know....?” “Yeah!” “Have you been to...?” “Of course!” In Seattle, they’ll just give me blank stares and then laugh. “Haines? As in, Hanes underwear?” and I’ll scowl because I forgot that Haines does sound like the underwear brand. I’ve come to even find the letters H-A-I-N-E-S together to be quite endearing.

I could easily stay on this boat for a few more days. It really never gets old. The time whizzes past and I wish it would sort of slow down for me. It’s 19:51 and I get off this boat tomorrow at 9:00. That’s 13 hours - 7-8 of which ought to be spent sleeping. Five hours left with these folks? Five hours left and I have so much more left to do!

Ideas keep tossing in my head about things I can write about - although I just realized that I already have nine pages of point 12 font typed up. When did I do all of that?

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