Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Don’t worry about finding us. We will find you.

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 you.”

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 phrase twice.

Here's also hoping my escort brings doesn't bring a moped to pick me up:

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