|Skagway AK 2009 |
by Christopher Prentiss Michel
used by permission but not necessarily as an endorsement this blog.
Employers often purchase or build housing or in some other way create places to live--from rustic to historical landmark hotels. I was, however, hired late in the season and all these opportunities were long before filled. My son, a seasoned summer worker, arranged for me to stay the month of May with the Presbyterian preacher; after that, I'd be on my own. So I've spent five weeks trying to find a place to lay my head. At fifty-eight years old, I find the challenge a, well...a challenge. Even with my son assuring me “Something will work out."
"He says you're looking for a five-star hotel."
I laughed. "And I want a chocolate mint on my pillow every night!"
"I have a cabin. In the back of my house. It's a half-star hotel."
We both laughed.
"It's not much to look at right now," she said. "We've been using it for storage and there's been a bad leak in the roof. A lot of water damage. I think there might even be mold in there. But if you'll give my husband some time to do some new dry walling--"
"I can paint!" I eagerly interrupted. "And I don't mind helping with the clean up." Little did I know.
Jim Jewell duly did the dry walling and I was told to go over and take a look--fully warned there would be no place to poop, cook, or keep clean. But she would get me a wee frig, a microwave, and a membership to the Recreation Center so I could shower.
I first saw the place five days ago. Here is what I saw:
What the pictures don't show is the smell of mold--or the detail of "clean up." I backed out and headed down to see my new friend Jess, manager of the gift shop at Jewell Gardens where we both work. We sat in her mezzanine office. “I don't think I can live there. My health,” I stammered, ever mindful of the precariousness of a faulty immune system and the fact that there is no doctor in this town, not even a pharmacy.
A few minutes later I again stood in the little cabin, this time with Jess, watching her pretty face. She looked around and finally said: “We can make this cute. I promise. It has potential. We can do this.”
I put my trust in her. And such is life here in Skagway. On her day off, she and Natalie, a server at the Gardens, plus my son Blake and his friend Ethan (my friend, too, another bus driver up here and a total cutie pie I’ve gotten quite attached to) all showed up and we went at the place—hauling out the stuff, bleaching down every square inch, painting the entire thing a pale buttercup yellow.
Blake pried off a window of plexiglass up by the bed, which had been stuck on tight with some kind of goo, then headed to the hardware store. He brought back hinges and weather stripping and made me a window that actually opens and closes, enabling much needed cross ventilation. The open/close window is critical. I need fresh air if I am to mitigate the mold, and now the bleach and paint fumes. He also brought back some screen mesh and nailed it up so the mosquitoes don’t come in—important here in Alaska and probably more critical than the fresh air!
|White House B and B|
Perfect strangers overhearing a conversation in the pub. Only in Skagway. But there’s more to the story. The next morning Jess and Natalie met Jim, Charlotte's husband, at the coffee shop.
"Hey, how's it going with the cabin?" he asked. "Getting the place cleaned up okay?"
Jim laughed and said, "Still, it is a bit like polishing a turd, isn't it?"
I still can't tell the story without cracking up. And so despite my scattered existence in this faraway place called Skagway, Alaska, I find myself at last beginning to feel at home in this narrow valley of river and rock, squeezed in between high mountains. Housing can be a bit like polishing a turd at times, yes, but there's no shortage of humor and friendship. If Skagway struggles with its housing, it doesn't suffer from lack of generous and warmhearted people--permanent and seasonal and all ready to step in--"something working out"--planting me firmly in the warm and nurturing soil of humanity at its best.