I spent this summer working for Little Tour Company, a small independent outfit here with a few small buses and a few small airplanes that gets folks into the Arctic during the summer tour season and beyond. (Beyond the tour season, that is. There's not much beyond the Arctic.) Little Tour Company deals mostly with the RV and otherwise Independent Traveler set, especially folks who want to cross the Arctic Circle without tearing up their own vehicles on the notorious Dalton Highway in the process. On a regular day, I would drive between 250 and 400 miles, and spend between twelve and sixteen hours with no more than twenty four (and often quite a few less) guests. That's a lot of time to hang out with and get to know to a small group of people. Over the course of the Season, I noticed a few things:
  • On any trip with over eighteen people, there is always at least one man with missing fingers.
  • If a man over 60 teases you when boarding the bus, he will try to anticipate your every need for the rest of the trip. After attempting to do your job for you all day, he will tip twice as much as everyone else.
  • Every second trip, on the last stop before returning to Fairbanks, an older man will call you aside to tell you how he was diagnosed with prostate cancer X months ago, and is so glad he was able to make this trip and was relieved that there is a toilet on the bus so that he hasn't had to worry about his now-small waste-capacity, which is really not what it used to be.
  • People who wear Christian T-shirts or slip in comments about their church ministry before the first stop always become visually agitated when you mention the last ice age and mankind's 11,000+ yr. presence in what-is-now-Alaska. They will shake your hand warmly at the end of the trip while wondering aloud what God has in store for you. They will never, ever tip.
  • There will always be at least one man with a commercial driver's license on board, watching your speed, lane placement and braking method. If you sidle up to him early on and mention the type of chassis, engine and retarder on board and throw in that you're on a first-name basis with the company mechanics, he will sleep like a baby through the rest of the trip.
  • Single women travelers have the best questions.
  • Cranky people are easily cheered by attention and interest. (Granted, that's pretty universal.) But moods are contagious, and cranky people do not good all-day bus-riders make.
  • Retired, Full-Time RVer couples have the best relationships.
  • Middle-aged married couples on a 2 week vacation have the worst.
  • If an aggressive, middle-aged man manages to find you before the tour starts and pressures you to put his family in the best seats on the bus, become best friends with the man and tell him you'll 'take special care' of his family even though the treatment you are giving them is exactly what you do for everyone, every time. Tell them why the seats they end up in are the best seats. He's probably not going to tip any more than anyone else, but if you don't you have a Very Long Day ahead of you.
  • ADHD kids bouncing off the ceiling are way more engaged and interested in the trip, the landscape and the story of the north than the quiet, perfectly-behaved bookish kids who sit in the back with their nose in LOTR.

[guide training in may ... i'm squished up next to the rock, far right, top row.]

It was a great summer in the sunny North Country, getting to know Coldfoot and Wiseman and learning every pothole and washboard on the first two hundred odd miles of the Haul Road. Guiding is, after all, a perfect outlet for my consummate nerdiness. A captive audience that's paying to hear about all the obscure northern books and studies I've spent the winter tearing through! And in one of the most remote and unexplored regions accessible by road! What bliss!

Now that I'm in the classroom all day (audience and subject not quite as engaged or engaging) and the prospects of getting out of town, even for a weekend, are slim (and now that I've officially lived in the same place for an entire year for the first time in seven) I'm getting a little antsy for that sweet open road. Peter's having a hard time reigning in my impulse to buy an old cargo-van, throw a mattress and some blankets in the back and get the hell out of dodge. After today's Fifth Grade Math Fiasco, I was ready to pack up and go, go, go.

After all, they always need cooks at the truckstop in Coldfoot.


beholdhowfree said...

This is totally hilarious.

kjr said...

are you really and truly back to blogging? i hope so. these observations are so great --- sounds like they may be generalizable to more than tour bus driving to the arctic.

got your messge, by the way. am on a crazy run of shifts at work - will try to return the call this week sometime.