Return to Alaska During Pandemic

 Usually I don’t write about myself or my own experiences in my blog. Instead I tend to make a comment on current events in order to have a personal view of history later. That seems a worthwhile venture when history writing is often done with archival material that was made from the insider, establishment perspective rather than that of ordinary citizens. It can be difficult to confirm that ordinary people are even aware of major events much less minor ones, or what they thought about them. So a brief summary of my own Feb to May 2020 Covid experience would be useful retrospectively.

 In February I was still employed at a dental lab as a dental lab technician. I had learned about pouring dental models, cutting out dies made from white and blue powder/stone and other lab procedures for a year and a half. The lab had a sharp sow-down when they choose not to sign a new contract with the V.A. because of numerous onerous conditions the government placed on the lab if they wanted to renew. That list of conditions was quite remarkable including one that everyone in the lab be certified (I wasn’t), that the lab deliver the product to the V.A. by a certain time every day, that the lab books be entirely open to the government and so forth. The lab would need to become a kind of transparent auxiliary to the government. At any rate by the end of February it was evident that my employment was ending with business off. I need to formulate an emergency plan of a sort.

 I am from Alaska yet I was working in Montana. It was too early to return to rural Alaska because it is still snowed in during March on the road and woods to the shed where I stay. I had cold weather reinjured my feet on a late October, 12 foot skiff journey on the inside passage in 2018 and did not want to aggravate the situation. Instead I considered a place to look for work at another dental lab and finally selected Oregon.

  I caught a bus I Montana to Oregon. The bus ride was interesting because a somewhat unusual guy got on the bus in Butte, delivered by the police to the station at 5 in the morning. He conversed with himself incessantly and when the bus arrived, boarded. He went to the back of the bus, I sat up front relieved.

 The fellow eventually caused a bus delay that made the bus miss connections in Portland. Apparently he said the bus smelled like niggers when he sat amidst a bunch of black people, and the situation went on for some miles. A black fellow sitting opposite me said that he nearly caused a riot on the bus. One passenger said “What do you expect, this is Montana”. When the bus stopped at Deer Lodge to meet police, who boarded the bus, the unruly passenger after 20 minutes of talking resisted being removed from the bus. Two policemen had to drag him out. The older fellow hooked his feet around the metal that hold the seats in place to make the police work harder. I thought the guy had some kind of dementia from observing him at the station, yet I am no psychologist.

 Oregon was just experiencing its first Covid cases when I arrived. Portland Oregon had no bus station. The bus dropped off passengers on a poorly lit sidewalk at night in a seedy part of town with numerous homeless camps and tents on sidewalks. Passengers were left to fend for themselves and wait hours for next buses without a place even to sit down. That probably was tough on some elderly women and men at least. The next bus for me was several hours away so I walked to Amtrak and caught an Amtrak bus to Salem where I missed the connection to the coast.

 Salem has an excellent bus station. Lots of homeless people live in the area. A cloud of marijuana smoke drifted to the station from under a bridge a couple hundred yards away; it must have been a marijuana bonfire.

  I caught a bus in the morning to Lincoln City and another to Newport. Tracking down the dental lab in Newport I found that it was gone and out of business like thousands of others in the U.S.A. Chinese dental labs are very quick and cheap and turnaround is fast with FedEx. Within a few years dentists will likely send scanned from a patient’s mouth digital information about teeth to China via internet instead of sending impressions that are then used to cast models used for making crowns. More U.S. dental labs will close. As it is some U.S. dentists open their own dental labs in China with Chinese partners to save over the price Americans need to charge with a higher cost of living in the U.S.A.

 I applied for unemployment from Montana on the Internet site and it was approved. Unfortunately travel was being restricted and borders closed. I felt an urgency to go north while I could since getting a job now wasn’t probable.

 The Alaska ferry boats do not do much presently because of state budget cuts. Alaskan politicians are elected because they are oil-heads and cannot ever diversify away from complete reliance on oil taxes to pay for state government. When the oil price drops politicians do not have as much to spend. It is a cake job when oil money is available though.

 The Marine Highway web site said that a ticket from Bellingham to Alaska for one passenger cost $742. Usually they are two or three hundred dollars…eventually ferry service was stopped. Then the Canadian border was closed. With dentistry and dental labs becoming closed I chose to book an Alaska Air ticket to S.E. Alaska, leaving from Sea-Tac hoping to slide through before air travel was stopped. With three weeks advance purchase the ticket was affordable. I had to wait in Washington State for three weeks camping, first in Aberdeen Washington where I did hear an eagle sounding like the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth as best I can describe it, although at a higher pitch, and then in Olympia. The state was merging in to total lock-down and shelter in place by then. Used clothing stores were closed though dollar stores remained open. As in Newport libraries were closed and most internet access shut down. When all places to buy used paperback books closed it was nearly time for me to leave Washington and go to Seattle-Tacoma Int Airport via public transit.

 Public bus service continued though the front doors of buses were taped off. Riding was free and passengers entered and left via the back door in order not to contaminate the driver or themselves in turn. I left a $150 dollar bike at a bus stop that I had brought from Oregon on a train from Salem to Olympia since it would fit on the plane and I was down to fewer than $50.

 Waiting overnight at the airport for the plane to leave around 6 in the morning let me catch up on the Internet and chess. I started playing chess about eight years ago online. At the airport I played 100 games of blitz and left the rating at 1310. With good internet connections I can play above 1400 for a few hundred games. I must say that it was a little weird playing blitz chess after a few weeks off. I wasn’t to certain of my openings and middle game and so messed things up somewhat with complications from early on. That actually led to wins against higher rated players that expected more by-the-book moves.

 At 5 am I bought the worst cup of coffee ever made at Starbucks at the end of concourse C. Next time I will bring instant coffee to the airport. They may discriminate against senior citizens and pour the saved dregs of each pot’s coffee from the day before to dump on some unsuspecting customer.

 There were so few passengers in the airport that it was a great experience besides Starbucks of course. My only concern about getting Covid 19 in the airport was at the Homeland security screen where a gaggle of unmasked agents were in to close of contact. From there it was all good.

 The aircraft had just nine passengers on it. Upon arrival at Wrangell a policeman without a mask asked me where I would quarantine and I said at a place several miles away beyond the road at a particular address. The temperature was 25 degrees and my pack was heavy. I began the walk to the shed.

 Snow was still on the road March 31st. That was a little worrying since I had no snowshoes and there were miles of up and downhill to cross. The snow was mostly frozen however and generally I walked on top of it. That situation would change later in the day.

   I am getting a little old for walks with a pack several miles through snow on a road then through logging slash further. The trip was slow. The day grew warm (34 F) and the snow become soft. My steps occasionally fell through the top leader down into the snow a distance. After a couple or three hours of that I approached the final downhill and uphill of the road portion and trudged on.

  Snow trudging brings one to focus narrowly on each step and if one will break through the frozen crust with a jolt or not. When I broke through I would sink in to the knee or more and find extraction and resuming to the next step challenging. When I reached the rotting old wood bridge at the bottom of the hill I was spent. I tried going uphill and each step was a failure. I decided then to begin discarding stuff from the pack to lighten the load (eventually days and weeks later I recovered all of the items I had discarded carefully in garbage bags.)

 First thing to go was the sleeping bag. In time as I struggled up the hill with every step falling through I discarded everything including my notebook computer, except for a couple of items in a small plastic bag.  Extra weight makes one break through snow easier so getting rid of it is a good idea. Snow lurks in cloud and shadows fading away in meaningless trickles in spring. The day was getting late; it took me 6 hours to walks half dozen miles to the shed. The final steps on the road were about 100% fall through with wet shoes packed in s’no rather than snyes. Walking ¾ mile through logging slash late afternoon was comparatively easy. It was downhill and frozen snow in shadows made it simpler to step over or around leftover wood materials piled all-akimbo here and there. A familiar bird appeared to sing a bit here and there as the tired trudge drew to completion before the rain began to fall.

  I left some food at the shed 19 months before when I had to leave early because of the cold reinjury. Simple stuff like rice and flower are helpful in lean times. When I walked in to town after quarantine for two weeks plus one waiting for snyes to melt on the road, I discovered on the Internet that Montana had reversed itself and denied my unemployment claim.

  I applied for social security in Oregon when Covid made it look like getting a new job would not occur for some time. When in Wrangell an email from social security said I had to call them and answer questions before I could be approved. Unfortunately the trac fone I bought at Wal-mart in Newport did not work at Wrangell. I believe it was some kind of Android 4G incompatibility issue with local service, maybe it wasn’t.

 I was broke with two government agencies acting like benefit the well off and f the poor. Government policies are made by comfortcrats that have no idea of the actual problems of broke people. Because I filed a tax return on time (in Feb 2020 and paid the tax due in full) I would not get the $1200 payment until maybe October. That completed the perfect storm of no-pay and broke on an island in Alaska. My inflatable wouldn’t hold air and the small outboard wouldn’t start. The heavy metal boat required good tide, current and weather to travel the miles to a dismal landing site closer to town.

 I found with some investigation that the I.R.S. doesn’t process tax returns with payments until June. So July would be the quickest time to get the Covid $1200 for a ticket so somewhere because I did not use direct deposit because I was not expecting a refund. The I.R.S. will not let one change one’s information or add direct deposit unless one has a credit card and phone in one’s name and I have neither. When the check is issued it will go to the address where I used to work.

 I am therefore thinking about trying to sell my 12’ skiff to buy food and purchase a plane ticket to someplace with a social security office if they ever reopen in order to expedite my application.

 Each walk in to town is a round trip of about 12-14 miles. No phone or way off the island. Government agencies that are useless for present purposes. No generator and not enough solar panels to charge a computer for writing a book of some kind. This is the start of an interesting working retirement I guess. I will need to get a job and find somewhere to build a shed I can access more easily than this one that I sold to people I worked for.

 That was my Covid era experience. I have read from the Bible of course, at the shed, fed a few birds I have known a few years, and read a pair of fiction novels as well as from Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’. The novels are worth mentioning.

 One is ‘The Girl Who played With Fire’ by the late Steig Larson. Larson wrote three good books about Sweden and then died. He brought the three novels to his publisher before he died in 2004. All that fame after he was gone. Better late than never…

 The other book is ‘The Cobra Event’ by Richard Preston. That book is a very informative primer on biological terrorism and recombinant D.N.A. and R.N.A. splicing to engineer a lethal virus. It was written during the Clinton administration and remains quite good.

 After reading it I have listened in vain for a description of how many bases the Covid virus has…7000?

  This particular island has taken adequate defense measures against virus transmission. The next larger island north has its cases though. Travelers such as fishermen and seafood processors can bring in the illness, as well as others permitted by the state government to journey about the state though with restrictions.

 I hope that governments take the time to become aware of the real value of putting travel quarantine’s internationally to prevent the next and possibly more deadly virus from going around the planet like wildfire. Quarantine’s are fire breaks and can serve well.

 The value of local agriculture should also be realized. Every home and town should be encouraged to support a garden rather than blocked by local ordinances. The city of Wrangell for example should create a ten acre garden plot to be used in emergencies for growing food locally, and in normal times could be used for recreation.





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