Something about having grown up in the country makes it possible for me and my sister to sit reading or staring out the window for hours on end. In fact, except for a small amount of work I brought with me, all I have done is read books and look out at the trees and the clouds and the water. At night when you go out on deck, you can't see anything except the water below; there are no lights on shore and no stars in the sky. The other people on the ferry seem to occupy themselves with playing cards, reading magazines, shooting video footage of the Inside Passage, chasing their children around, talking to the crew or talking to us. We met a guy who used to live on Perry Island with his wife as the only other island occupant who told us stories about pods of Orca whales coming to visit him and taking a boat out 35 miles just to get to the store. We met a lot of people who were having their way to or from Alaska paid by the Army.
Alaska has a lot in common with Vermont in that it attracts do-it-yourselfers who like to get away from folks. It's also filled with poor people. Both states have approximately the same population, only Alaska is several hundred times larger. Alaska also doesn't attract many retired liberal arts professors and has a very different kind of politics. Similar to Vermont, the Alaskans I saw on the ferry who were my age were mostly married with children and driving pickup trucks. Unlike Vermonters, they were also complaining about tree spikers [there's no real serious logging happening in Vermont] and making snide comments about hippies in Eugene. The common refrain is that you move to Alaska because you love the wilderness and then have to get jobs in which you destroy it -- logging, pipeline work, various development jobs -- in order to sustain yourself there.
The ferry jobs seem to be a happy medium. You get a good career, get to travel somewhat and don't feel like you're wrecking the place. We met some of the ferry crew on our week here. One guy was the AB -- for able bodied -- who seemed to choose working on the ferry as the "brain dead" job to take where he didn't have to think too hard. He has the half-open eyes of the serious stoner. He drives the boat sometimes and has a six to midnight shift and another six to noon shift. He also gets woken up at every port -- some of which we hit in the middle of the night. The purser [who is referred to on some signs with regrettable abbreviations as the Sr. Ass. Purser] has some sort of degree in hospitality and I think is responsible for choosing all these horrible movies. The lady in the gift shop looks like she has been there since time immemorial and got the job because she's the captain's mom. Even the guy in the cafeteria who cleans the trays up was here on my last trip.
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