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Published: September 6th 2010
Goat prints...or sheep??...on top of the Healy ridgeline. Along with the ever elusive ground squirrel.
The air is growing colder. In under ten days the trees have started to change their clothes. The mountainsides are changing from an even green, to mottled reds and yellows. Every morning I awake to the whispers of fall winds.
The amount of passengers for the Alaska Railroad company is dwindling due to the end-of-season. In the morning, after I have finished dressing in my required attire of kaki pants, black shoes, and black jacket, I check the computer’s list of passengers. Every day Joe, Christina and I have less and less tickets to print, which equates to less and less stress for the rest of us.
The daily schedule is always the same here at the depot. I work in a box, a box with giant windows on all three sides. The front opens towards woods and the parking lot. The tracks run behind us, and beyond that the airfield for the Kantishna Roadhouse. The planes taking off rattle our doors and pause our conversations.
I work with six other employees on alternating schedules of five days on, two days off, with the days off chosen by those with the most seniority. We all work together, more
Blueberries and Rice
One of my economical habits--fresh picked blueberries cooked with rice. Mmm....blue rice...I felt like I was eating mashed smurfs.
days with some than others. Four of my coworkers are baggage handlers, in charge of the cleaning and managing of luggage. Joe, Christina and myself are under the title of “Passenger Services Agents,” with ticketing and information as part of our job duties.
We have two trains a day. The 12:15 train is always Southbound to Anchorage, and our 3:45 train Northbound to Fairbanks. Ticket prices vary, depending on the time of the season and various discounts for locals, AAA members, and military. We all shuffle into work around 9:30, doors open at 10:00, and we wait for the rush that usually comes at around eleven. Sometimes our box is so full, all our clothing stands in the giftshop are pushed against the wall.
The Alaska Railroad is a “ticketless” system, meaning that passengers are to arrive at least an hour before the train is set to arrive, to show ID and receive tickets we have waiting. The tickets are yellow, printed out the night before, with the car and seating assignment at the bottom. We staple parties together and line them in a small box alphabetically.
When the passengers arrive for tickets, they usually all arrive
I didn't think Alaska could get any prettier, and then it did!
at once, having been shuttled together on a bus from whomever hotel they had booked with. They rush in, blinking in confusion, reading our directive signs, and line up for us in front of the counter. “Are you here to check in?” I ask (always my first question, being that we have people in line for other reasons) and begin my set spiel of instructions for where the car and seating will be. “May I help whoevers next?” Several times we had so many passengers waiting to receive tickets, my voice was hoarse by the time we were done. The line has stretched all the way out the door and around the corner.
Then, at 12:15 when the train arrives, the conductor and brakeman, either George, Eugene, Ted, Rob, Ken, or Lynn, depending on who is working for the day, enter for hobnobbing and the usual cookie or two from the bag we leave in the break room. After they leave, it is like the world is still. The depot is empty, the train is gone with its people, and the quiet of Denali folds over the depot once again.
The afternoon does not begin to get busy
Truck and Moose
My baby (background) mama moose's baby (foreground). I hid in the bushes for this shot. I was so afraid of getting attacked my momma moose!
again until around 2:30, when we repeat our morning schedule. However, there are, by rule, generally less passengers heading to Fairbanks than Anchorage, so our train has never been full, nor has it ever been as hectic as our mornings.
We love early trains. Early trains mean that the train will actually leave on time, letting us enjoy a slow afternoon of finishing tasks. Undoubtedly, someone will take a nap, or we will crowd around Chris and his laptop to watch a movie. The rich yellow glow of wooden logs that make up the depot’s structure is cozy, soothing. Bill walked by me the other day and said loudly after a long sigh "the end to another ridiculously easy day." Such is life at the depot.
After work, most of us leave the depot as soon as the hand clicks to six, and we all race off for an evening of dinner, hikes, friends, or a nap, depending on how our day has been. At the beginning of the season, work was more stressful due to the amount of on-the-job-training, which resulted in me taking at least a two hour nap every day after work. Who wouldn't want
Believe it or not, I am actually way more scared of moose than bears!
a long nap after eight hours of being constantly cheerful. Working with people can be ridiculously draining, as fun as it is, there is burn-out.
Our rotating schedules give me Wednesday and Thursday off. Up until a few weeks ago, I was hightailing it back to Fairbanks every Tuesday after work. Then I realized how exhausted I was after working eight hours and then adding two-and-a-half more hours of driving. I got more done by leaving the next day and hitting up my PO Box on the way home, to name just one of my "to dos." I really hate driving at night. My dad hates it too. I can remember him complaining about night driving when we were on roads trips when I was young. I didn't understand it then, but I do now.
Night driving sucks. People forget to turn off their brights and end up blinding you, even without the brights on I still see spots afterwords. Moose frequent the road AND as I was driving back down to Denali two weeks ago I saw a semi almost drive off the road in front of me. He kept swerving slightly, then pulled all the way
I wished, whished WISHED I had had a macro lens for these guys. The poor soil and unprotected open area kept these guys small.
into the other lane. I thought he was turning, but then he suddenly swooped back in front of me and pulled over on the side. I watched him in my lights until I went over the hill. Scary.
Tot: 1.365s; Tpl: 0.106s; cc: 14; qc: 61; dbt: 0.0354s; 1; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 3;
; mem: 1.4mb