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Crosswalk ‘coordinators’ have tough task in Alaska

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POSTED June 24, 2009 2:35 a.m.
“He plays college football. Lineman, so he’s the perfect kid for halibut fishing.”

It’s something any long-line captain would say when recruiting or reporting on crew members.

Big kids aren’t always better when it comes to summer jobs in Alaska, but it helps when repeatedly hoisting 150-pound fish over the rail during a 24-hour open.

I’ve never worked on a commercial fishing boat, that is, I’ve never been paid to catch fish or crab. Slangin’ ‘but sounded fun only in the subsistence or recreational context, not as a job. I did spent 40 hours a week raising salmon at a fish hatchery at an $8.50-per-hour pace. The work was tough, reeked of foulness but wasn’t that bad.

A few friends of mine worked as crew members on fishing boats as far north as Bristol Bay. Again, days were long and tough, but worth it.

But not all occupational opportunities in the 49th state involve fish, or igloo housekeeping like many expect, and there are plenty of jobs dangerous, crazy and messy enough to make me crave those filthy fish any day.

On an unseasonably warm Wednesday afternoon, kids in Ketchikan did the usual. Some jumped off the cruise ship docks into the salty ocean then sunned themselves on the docks to ward off hypothermia, amazing tourists not prepared for mercury in the 80s or kids jumping off the docks into the water.

Some cruise the main road, windows down, back and forth through the busy section of town with a summer population swollen to nearly 10,000 depending on how many cruise ships are moored.

After watching for five minutes, and remembering years worth of discombobulated visitors I gladly defer all responsibility to those willing to tell caffeinated 65-year olds just because they have three luxury cars back home, that won’t stop a rusty 85 Chevy from mowing them down if they scamper out into traffic.

Leave that to 21-year old Matt Kuiper and 2008 Ketchikan High School graduate Danielle Larson.

They are two of an army of, let’s call them, Field Pedo-logistics Coordinators for the Ketchikan Port Authority. Their principle task is to prevent J-walkers from impeding traffic or being hit which sadly does happen, though rarely.

When 2,000 cruise shippers disembark at similar times, downtown Ketchikan can become overwhelmed with frenetic energy that borders on chaotic. On a side note, I’ve been to Central Park, Boston Commons, Mission Beach, Disneyland and a ton of airports, but the cruise ship docks in Ketchikan, Alaska are by far the best for people watching.

Thick-accented New Yorkers act differently than Sox-wearing Bostonians which differ again from retired Floridians or “Bigger and Better” Texans. Punjabi-speaking tourists show different affinities for attractions than the Chinese, French, German or Japanese visitors.

Regardless of background or ethnicity, the main job of the FPC’s is to keep the boneheads from being boneheads.

I’ve seen fathers lead their families over the rope barrier to sprint across a blind corner 20 yards from a crosswalk. How do you reason with such people?

“Sometimes it’s exciting when you get to yell at people,” says Larson just as a visitor eyes making a run for it.

“Use the crosswalk, please.”

She’s pleasant.

As an Alaskan she knows the local economy depends on summer tourists, so she doesn’t get too angry at the J-walkers, but does miss the downtown Ketchikan of old.

Kuiper isn’t from Alaska. While attending college in his home state of Michigan, he met a Ketchikan resident that invited him up for the summer to work. It’s become an annual thing, and all jokes about flippin’ stop signs all day are quelled by the location. Alaska.

“I have a more rustic fun up here,” Kuiper says looking around as it pointing out the wilderness.

He does the muddy, six-hour hike up Deer Mountain the background peak in most of the downtown shots.

But before you go online to download an application and book a flight for next summer, a bit of warning.

Last summer, Ketchikan could only muster 20 or so days of sunshine during the entire April to October tourist season. Across the state, towns reported colder, more miserable temperatures than in recent memory.

Sure everyone is getting a little tan on a day like Wednesday, but reporting at 5 a.m. for 10 hours of standing in the rain and 45 degree temperatures, trying to get those tourists to stop climbing over the rope and into lumber hauling diesel trucks for three months might make some reconsider, especially me.

There was also that bomb threat that set homeland security abuzz, but on a typical day the biggest deviation from reasonable tranquility is a fall in the street. Motorists are kind and understanding, and when it’s sunny, pleasantries are amplified.

“On days like this, it’s the place to be,” Larson says smiling complete with a sun-reddened nose.

I agree, but I still wouldn’t want her job.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail aklund21@gmail.com.
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