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By LICHA KELLEY-KING
I am planning to spend a month on a volunteer vacation in India in February 2020. Instead of starting a GoFundMe page, asking friends and strangers to pay for it, I did a crazy thing and got a part-time job for the summer. Insane to take responsibility for my own plans, right? Anyway, I have been driving a small van for HAP since May. I do not have the courage to drive those big buses through our tiny streets and the tinnier goat paths to the various venues so the smaller van had to be my vehicle. (Even then, I had an ugly mishap with a sign early in the season requiring additional training but I don’t need to get into that here.)
It has been my pleasure and joy to meet people from all over the world and the United States as I drove them to their excursions. I got to tell them all about Ketchikan and southeast Alaska! I studied facts and did a little history lesson during these drives to educate Americans about their 49th state which they knew very little about. I had the pleasure of escorting people from every walk of life through our town, telling them that Ketchikan is the jewel of the state and meaning it. I invited them to come back to our town to go fishing, come to the Blueberry festival, listen to jazz on Creek Street, watch “Fish Pirate’s Daughter” and eat salmon. It has been more fun that I could have imagined.
There are hundreds of people who live here all year long that work in the summer for tour operators. Additionally, I got to work with a bunch of young people, middle aged people and people even older than me who came to Ketchikan for an adventurous summer job in the tourism industry. HAP, Alaska Coach Tours, Cape Fox’s venues, George Inlet Lodge, the multiple facets of the Rainforest Sanctuary and so many others employed folks that often work 10-12 hours per day, answering some pretty dopey questions (what sea level is this?), standing in the rain and always with a smile on their faces. Most of these kids are putting themselves through college with this summer job. This is a retirement job for many of the older people. For some it is an escape and for some an adventure, for some a dream of a lifetime. Some will come back year after year. Some will decide to move here and stay. For some Ketchikan will be just a memory and story to tell but never to return.
I have been especially impressed with the young people I have encountered working for the summer. Many have done volunteer projects and have endeared themselves to others in town. I have had some great conversations that give me hope for the future with these young people taking over.
I will miss the frenetic craziness of the docks as 13,000 people descend on our town. At the end of the season, as the ships leave, the tour venues close down and the seasonal workers pack up to leave, I will be a little sad. I hope when they go home and resume their lives, they remember Ketchikan as fondly as I will think of them. I hope you have opened your hearts to these people who help our economy for a few short months every year. I hope they have experienced kindness and love in our community. And I hope they come back.
Licha Kelley-King writes that she is a 30-year resident of Ketchikan trying to make this part of the world happier.