“We are now boarding Alaska Airlines Flight 152,” announces the boarding agent. As the passengers bustle to the counter, she checks each passenger’s ticket and reads their last name out loud. “Oh, you must be from Koyuk,” she tells one of the students that I’m traveling with.
“Wow, how did you know that?” my student asks.
“Well, I’ve been working this flight for years now so I recognize the two types of people that are on it. First, you have itinerant workers who head out to Nome and the villages to repair things and provide services. Those folks, I usually see them about once a month as they head out, so it’s not too hard to learn who they are. Then, we’ve got folks heading back to their village. And over the years you just talk to people and learn which names go with which villages. Nothing too fancy, just getting to know some folks,” the kind woman replies.
Impressed, my student smiles at the boarding agent, says “Wow, that is neat!” and then heads on down the stairs that lead to the tarmac.
Stepping onto the plane, I feel like I have entered one large cocktail party. Instead of grimly finding their seats and jostling each other to get their bags put away, passengers are warmly greeting each other. “Ohhhh, hiiiiiii!” I hear one woman say to another, “What were you in town for? Ohhhh, visiting your grandmother at the hospital. Well, just know that you’re in our prayers.” Another passenger leans across the aisle to chat to a friend, “Your boys’ ball team sure did well in the tournament this weekend. I couldn’t believe how well your son played!”
I take my seat and begin a conversation with the woman next to me. Turns out she is from Elim, the village right next to Koyuk. We had just begun to talk about how this winter’s crab catch has been when all of a sudden, she turns around and exclaims, “John!” A bit of a legend around these parts, John taught and coached skiing in Koyuk for years and years. Last year, when I brought my students to our district ski meet, John was there running the races and my students enjoyed listening to his tales of coaching their parents! He seems to know everyone on the plane!
Eventually, the cocktail hour dies down as the plane taxis down the runway. As we rise above Anchorage I notice my students laughing as they wave out the window saying, “Goodbye Anchorage. See you later,” as if they were talking to a friend of theirs.
About thirty minutes into the flight I look out the window and gasp, Denali is the clearest that I have ever seen it on this flight. I may not have gotten to see the mountain without clouds in the summer, but I’m sure seeing it now!
Finally, we find ourselves landing in Nome and departing. As we enter into the “terminal” it feels like we have gone from a cocktail party to a full-blown dance party. The area is packed with people, all hugging hello, saying goodbye, catching up with friends that they unexpectedly ran into. At one point last year, I ran into my state mentor at the airport in Nome. When I asked her where she was flying to she said “nowhere” and then she remarked, “Well, sometimes I come here just to see people. You just know you’re going to run into someone you know!”
And who did we run into, but Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey and the first Jamaican to run the Iditarod (I wonder if Disney has bought the rights to his story yet…Cool Runnings 2?)
When you book a seat on Alaska Air’s Flight 152 you are in for much more than just the usual monotony that characterizes most commercial flights in this day and age.