- Posted June 20, 2011 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Your best or worst summer jobs
From Heels to Hip Boots
My brother is a fishermen who has been spending summers in Alaska for the last eight years, coming home to Michigan with stories of catching things like eels and sharks and seeing bears in town. I heard stories of going to the bar after a long days work with the boys, the most beautiful mountains in America, and a true Alaskan adventure in the Last Frontier. He said Alaska, especially small-town Seward, is like no place on earth. I started to feel like my summer job as a barista was not as great as I thought so I signed up for a summer as a J Dock girl.
Daily tasks as a J Dock girl include bagging bait for fishermen, weighing in the catch of the day from anglers, and digging around a 30 degree below freezer for seafood. No matter how many times you wash your clothes, they still smell like fish. Rookies who make the mistake of bringing cute clothes find out that it takes about two weeks to cover everything in fish slime. Tourists come in with hundreds of pounds of fish that need to be filleted, cleaned, vacuum packed, and stacked very neatly in the freezer. These hundreds of pounds are often split five or more ways into different overnight fed ex shipments, layaway accounts, and pickup orders. It is not uncommon for me to separate species of fish with five or six men hovering over me to make sure my weigh-ins are right, as I heave totes up to 80lb of fish on and off the scale. Did I mention I am standing outside in the 40-50 degree weather with wind off of Resurrection Bay howling and usually getting rained on? It rains almost everyday, so I pretty much live in my rain gear and iconic ExtraTuff boots.
All of my friends “back home” are out on the lake, getting a sun tan, having bonfires, and playing on softball leagues while I freeze my tail off and deal with tourists who have been out fishing for 12 hours, often recovering from being seasick. Weekends off? That must be some sort of joke-- in Seward everyone works full time; meaning at least one job, every single day unless there is a gail storm. (This story is just about being a J Dock girl, I won’t even get into my second job; life as a waitress at Thorn’s Showcase Lounge- a lounge that hasn’t changed since the 60’s and is the darkest, smokiest hole in the wall I have ever seen.) My brother and I live with a local couple in their attic. My brother is 6’8” and I am a full 6’ and we both cannot stand up in our rooms. We race down the narrow set of stairs half bent over to beat the other to use the washing machine and bathroom first.
The fish slime, grumpy tourists, and long days may sound like enough to easily classify being a J Dock girl into the worst summer job ever. Although digging in the freezer sucks and by the end of July you are so sick halibut, salmon, and ling cod you could scream, summers in Seward are by far my favorite. What started as a “once in a lifetime” summer experience has turned into three years of adventure and hard work. By adventure I mean (almost) running into a bear behind my house when I was putting my bike away last summer and being warned of a moose with babies while going out on a run in town.
One of my favorite musicians is Alaskan singer and songwriter Hobo Jim, who plays at the Yukon bar in Seward every Sunday night. The Yukon is covered with dollar bills inscribed with names and messages from all around the world. Hobo Jim sings of calling in owls for entertainment, fishing for chickens (small halibut), and the Iditarod race. A Seward must-do is closing the bar called the Pit (they sell awesome t-shirts that say I got Pitfaced), which is located four miles outside of town and is the only place open past 2am. There is a taxi called “Mad Jack’s” covered with bronze duck heads. The driver, Jack, drives around giving $5 rides and blowing his duck call. Seward, a town of around 2,500, swells to more than 30,000 over the 4th of July, home to one of the countries oldest foot races-- a race up and down the town’s mountain, Mount Marathon. The fastest time on record is 47 minutes, the pictures in the paper the next day show people covered in gravel, dirt, and blood-- truly hardcore. One of the best things about being in Alaska for the summer is the amount of daylight. There are times when the only time it
I’ve seen dogs in the bar, hitch-hiked, and deposited a check by walking through the drive-thru at the bank. When I lived in Chicago I would go to coffee shops, wine bars, and museums. In Seward I bear hunt and eat fresh fish almost every day. The morning after I saw the bear outside my house, I spent the day picking up pieces of food and paper that covered the lawn from the bear scavenging through the trash. The best work perks of are days out on the ocean spent fishing and glacier viewing,
I have summited Mount Marathon and write for the local paper. Last summer I won the best costume contest at the toga party hosted by the Yukon. My toga was made from barbie curtains that I bought for two dollars from the local thrift store, Ray’s Reusables, run out of a trailer. What I have found is that the people and the energy around Seward is what makes it so great. I have found that people seem to get the energy from the mountains peering down, the vast bay filled with tree covered remote islands, and the endless amount of wildlife. Alaskans know what real hospitality is and truly appreciate a sunny day.