One of my most memorable jobs was in Alaska. I lived in a small village called Galena along the Yukon River in what is known as bush Alaska. The bush villages are not connected by the road system, meaning you must either fly into them, often landing on a dirt runway, or you arrive by boat in the summer, or via snow-go or snow-machine (known to everyone in the Lower-48 as a snowmobile) once the river freezes over.
When I was hired for
the job as Residence Hall Director for a boarding high school, sight unseen, via
a phone interview, I excitedly asked the principal on the other end of the line
how I would know who to look for when I arrived at the airport. I distinctly remember his response, “Don’t
worry about finding us. We will find
In order to get to my
final destination I flew from Baltimore to Anchorage and was then scheduled to
take a six-seat prop plane to Galena. In
Anchorage I collected my belongings and checked in for my Anchorage-Galena flight.
The difference between the major carriers like Alaska Airlines and the bush
planes are immediately obvious to new arrivals who noticeably wince the first
time they recognize that duct tape is used to hold the windows together.
Unaware of the nuances
associated with Alaskan travel I was taken aback at the Anchorage airport when
I was told I needed to step on the scale.
After significant confusion and objections on my part, the woman behind
the counter said, “We have to weigh you because we need to know exactly how
much weight the plane is carrying so we don’t overload it and cause it to
crash.” As if the mention of a crash once wasn’t daunting enough she mentioned
I needed to wear my winter coat on the flight.
“But, it’s August and 90 degrees out.” Shaking her head and rolling her
eyes disapprovingly at my ignorance she responded, “Yes, but this is Alaska, we
have lots of mountains and snow here. If
the plane crashes on a mountain you don’t want to freeze to death!” It took every fiber of my being to restrain
myself from telling her if the plane crashed I would like to request a much
swifter demise than freezing to death.
Obviously, I survived
my first Alaskan plane ride, and dozens more during my two years there. And the principal was right, when I arrived
in Galena, they found me right away. I
suspect my dazed and confused expression of relief at finding my feet back on
solid ground in the Galena “airport,” which was really a wooden shack about
eight feet by eight feet, may have given me away.
I remembered this story
recently as I was preparing for my flight to Botswana. I emailed my new department
chair with my flight itinerary and was assured I would be met at the airport
and taken to my new home. Without any
idea as to the location of my accommodations or a phone number to reach someone
in case I arrived and no one was there to meet me I asked him how I would know
who to look for when I arrived. His
response was familiar, “Don’t worry about finding us. We will find you.” Here’s hoping lightning strikes the same
Here's also hoping my escort brings doesn't bring a moped to pick me up: