Thursday, July 26, 2007

International Road Trip: Final Entry

We arrived in Tok. Safely I might add. I woke up and was hit with a pang of sadness. Not so much because we were losing our ride, and, subsequently, certainty of our fate, but because it was time for goodbyes. Emmett is a really good guy. And we owed him everything. I kept wanting to do something to show him my appreciation, But money felt cheap, and buying him a meal seemed pointless since he was getting them for free otherwise… I really couldn’t think of much else besides assailing him with gratitude and a good handshake.

We unloaded our luggage and toted them over to the Grumpy Grizzly Café. Me and Burton went on inside and got a table for 4, Though we weren’t sure if Emmett would be joining us. We were pleased when he did. The food was hot and yummy. As we talked with Emmett we were suddenly distracted by an old man in a cowboy hat. He walked up to Emmett and said “ I would have figured you’d be dead.” to which Emmett replied “I thought I’d find you hanging.” He stood up and reached out for a handshake and they greeted each other, the man took a seat at the table next to ours and we were introduced ( I forget his name, now but I think it was Mike, therefore I will, from here on out, refer to him as Mike.) and it was explained to us that he was another driver of a Princess bus. When Mike asked “did you find some stragglers?” Emmett replied “these are my friends.” Somewhat bashfully, because it was evident that he had been caught breaking rules. But Mike was totally cool with it. He then proceeded to ask us if he had cursed the Alaska Highway. Emmett was only too eager to confirm it. It was uncanny how mike set up the scene in his mind… Emmett driving slowly around a windy road by a frozen lake, saying ‘He told me it was pretty scenery but he didn’t say ANYTHING about these ROADS’ (which was EXACTLY --to a T -- what had happened at one point in the trip.) after another 10 minutes of talking about their trips, Emmett said “Mike, tell them who you are…” to which he replied “nahh… they don’t want to know who I am”
“of course they do, This guy (jerking a thumb in my direction) is a musician”
“nah… I don’t think so.”

At this point I was keenly interested “who are you?” Emmett took the liberty of answering that…
“this is Ray Charles personal driver”
“REALLY?!” Was the resounding response from Burton, Glade and myself.
We met Ray Charles personal bus driver of over 20 years, up to the very last tour. It was pretty awesome to think that we were talking to a guy who talked to a guy who everyone knew. “you’re in the presence of a celebrity” Emmett said

We talked some more about some of everything, Mike talked about some guy who had been flying a helicopter back and forth over the US/Canada border all day. And how the customs officers had asked him if he’d seen another helicopter on a trailer, which he had. He asked us if we’d seen it, negative.

After breakfast we said our goodbyes to Emmett and he got back in his big bus and he and Mike set out to finish the rest of their long journey about 240 more miles (I think) to Fairbanks.

We, however were going south. We walked down to the big green sign that read “Anchorage 328 miles” (among others) and we picked up where we had left off (when we were picked up.) Thumbing it. This time it was a little colder. We started with a little better attitudes than last time, after all, we got a hot meal at the Grumpy Grizz, We had just made impossible time crossing the Yukon Territory. We had a lot of luck on our side and we ( at least I) felt pretty optimistic.

At first there was really no traffic. We didn’t even see our first big rig for a good half hour or more. And another thing, they were all taking the highway to Fairbanks, we were about 100 yards from the intersection and no one was really turning our way. That was okay though, it was really early… traffic was going to pick up.

After a while Glade went to use the bathroom at the gas station…he was gone for a half hour or so before he came back. Traffic started to pick up, but no one pick us up. I don’t think even got a second glance from the truckers passing our way. There were a few campers, probably more than there had been in Watson Lake, but they all just gave us a shrug as they passed.

There was a black SUV that kept crossing and recrossing the intersection, at one point it came our way, signaled and turned right in front of us, into a church driveway. A bunch of little kids all dressed In Sunday best. Evidently she was driving all over Tok collecting kids. A kind of shuttle service as best as I can tell. It was an Eskimo woman, probably in her late 30’s. she continued to drive around and turn in and out of the church driveway for the rest of the day, and eventually we stopped trying to get a ride from her.

I went to the gas station and used the bathroom. Looked around from something to munch on. Couldn’t find anything that wasn’t grossly overpriced. So I headed back to the spot. On the way I found a flap from a cardboard box. I took it over and we wrote Anchorage on it. It didn’t really help. Except that people slowed down to read it. Not that they were considering picking us up… they were just curious.

Then we saw it. A Holland-America bus (that’s who we work for). It was coming from the direction we had come. We all saw it, and as it approached the intersection we figured that it too would be going to Fairbanks. But then, it turned toward us! We jumped up and did our best to contain our excitement. It got closer and closer, we could see the driver now, and there were others in the bus too. I made pleading motions, Burton thumbed, glade.. I couldn’t see him from where I stood ( he was behind me.) but he was thumbing, I’m certain of it. I heard the engine stop accelerating and I thought ‘wow, here we go!’ but an instant later the engine was revved again, the woman bus driver was shifting. ( I would like to say here that she must have been totally incompetent because it doesn’t take that long to shift.) As she passed us we could see that there was not a single open seat, everyone was on their feet looking at us and (maybe this is just in my head) laughing at our hopelessness.

#^$* this! We were going on about 3 hours at this point and no luck. Glade went back to the gas station for a bit. I can’t remember if he got something to snack on or what. When he came back me and Burton had pretty much decided to take an invitation we had gotten from some jolly, devout catholic woman to come in to church. We were desperate, our reasoning was that if we went to church then someone would take pity on us and give us a ride to Anchorage. We left glade with the bags… I think he thought we were joking when we said we were going to church, hell… even Burton thought we were joking, then I started walking up the driveway. We looked back and Glade flipped us off. But he was smiling so we didn’t take it to heart. We walked in and sat in the back and listened to some verses of scripture and what not, some vane repetitions and so forth. A few people gave us a smile.
There was a middle-aged couple that was in charge of singing. They did a couple of special numbers, but mostly they just went to the front and sang louder than everyone else. They started communion and sent the donation basket around.

Glade came in and sat with us, which meant that all the stuff was sitting on the roadside by its self. So Burton went out to be with it. Shortly thereafter the services ended and one guy came back and introduced himself. He asked who we came with and we told him we were just passing through and trying to get to Anchorage. And that was that.

Okay so maybe that was a little wrong of us to try and solicit a ride from good church going people. But we were really sick of sitting out there and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
And the weather couldn’t have been better for it. The sermon that was given was about reaching out to those outside the church and having Christ-like love and selflessness and so forth. Guess the people didn’t really think it was a principle that they had to apply in their own lives. Because all we got were laughs from people leaving.

Burton went and talked to someone running a little ice cream stand across the street, she recommended that we go wait for the bus at the Grumpy Grizzly. We decided that might be worth looking into. It turns out there’s a sort of shuttle service that runs from Tok to Anchorage. The cost was 90 dollars (not doll hairs) each. We thought we might as well try to get a free ride until 2:30 when the bus came. So we waited and continued to try and hitch hike. Glade went to the gas station again and we saw him run up and cry out to us to hurry over. We grabbed our stuff and some of his and started running because it sounded like he said “The bus is leaving!” which totally sucks, because at this point its only like 12:40. So we get most of the way to the van that says something about being a shuttle service and the driver is getting in. and we’re getting desperate. I told glade to drop his stuff and run grab the driver. Which he did.

Turns out that that guy was making a different run, to Fairbanks. Whew!

We toted our stuff back over to the café and grabbed some lunch. We got sub sandwiches and I have to say that it was, hands down, the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten. We got some chocolate cake for dessert and waited for that shuttle.

The shuttle showed up around 2:10 and we went out to load our stuff, The driver was this Willie Neilson wannabe. Probably late 50’s. He took our money. (mine and burtons, glade went with the “don’t-pay-till-they-ask-y
ou” policy.) so we get on the road, just me, Burton and Glade, and some pregnant girl… and the driver.

We set out for Anchorage. The guy says we’ll probably get there around 10 PM. Pretty long drive, huh? He set the cruise control at 60 and let her go. I tried to sleep. But I was situated right over the rear axle and it was really bouncy. Not to mention the driver was oblivious of all the pot holes in that god-forsaken stretch of road. I would doze off and an instant later be launched from the seat by a huge bump in the road. At first it was just a little disheartening, but it soon became the worst experience this whole road trip had to offer. I got really frustrated and I would wake up cursing (not inaudibly). After an hour or so we stopped for a little rest. The driver went in to see if he could pick up any more passengers (this was a 12 passenger van… did I mention that?) and he sure enough found one. I got back from the bathroom and realized that the pregnant woman was taking a smoke break. Made me feel sick to my stomach. Loathsome. It was really all I could do to not rip her a new one. ****ing heartless bitch. Anyway. Our new passenger was everything you would expect to encounter on a greyhound bus. He smelled of old cake-y grease and dander. And he had a world class mountain man beard going on, complete with ratty unkempt clothing. I named him Prospector. I wish you could have seen him.

He even had the laugh and nervous disposition. He would talk low and quiet and fast. And then burst out with his cackle. I tried sleeping some more but it wasn’t to be. I shook my fist at the heavens and sat up straight. Glade was in full blown conversation with the prospector. We made a few more stops. Each time I tried to get a good photo, but I was sitting in the seat behind him and all I could get of him was when he turned his head to talk to glade or look out the window. I made eye contact with Glade and said “Can you get me a scenic picture?” he caught on and didn’t miss a beat. He tried to be inconspicuous, but it was pretty tough. And he didn’t really get anything salvageable.

We stopped again at a gas station and I got a picture with a Totem Pole. Then I had a great idea. The prospector was already back in the car and raring’ to go. So as I approached the van I got my camera ready and held it up and, rather loudly said “ oh yeah, look at that… that’s a great picture” and this caught The Prospectors attention and he turned to look at me, or rather, right at the camera! I got the picture. You better believe I got that picture. it’s a little dark but its there. SO YOU DO GET TO SEE HIM! You can go look now if you’d like… go ahead! Its in my International Road trip album.

From there… there’s really not a lot to tell. We drove a lot more. And when we got to Anchorage we dropped off the smoker bitch, then we took the prospector to some remote curb. And the driver took us to the international Hostel of Anchorage or something.

We got a room and put all of our stuff in there. We decided to walk down to the train yard and get a good look at the train cars we would be working on. But we didn’t see them. We didn’t know where to look.

Glade split, me an Burt decided to get a look at some places where we might want to live. Burton had gotten some addresses from his siblings who had worked on the train in years previous. As we walked down H street glade caught up with us. We walked around a little and when we had gotten totally turned around, and realized that we wouldn’t be able to find the real addresses before curfew at the hostel… we decided to head back in. we all slept in beds for the first time since Burtons uncles house. Back in Idaho.

The End.

P.S. But it wasn’t like we slept like rocks or anything… the beds weren’t that great. I guess you could say we slept like rocks that were sleeping on rocks.

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