This is about as close as the author gets to the tourism industry during summer, but a trip downtown isn’t a bad thing. (Jeff Lund | For the Juneau Empire)

This is about as close as the author gets to the tourism industry during summer, but a trip downtown isn’t a bad thing. (Jeff Lund | For the Juneau Empire)

The curious, wild world of tourism in Southeast

Crowd control.

I took a deep breath and entered the wild world … of downtown on a four-ship day.

It’s a weird thing to hate the downtown traffic and crowds in general this time of year. After all, without it, where would the port towns of Southeast Alaska be? Logging is no longer socially acceptable to many, but one cannot live on perceived moral superiority alone. So, commerce moves to other areas specifically charter fishing and tourism.

Anyway, I wanted a closer look at how it all goes down. I didn’t have any trouble finding sources of information but the last thing I wanted to do was get in the way.

I posted up next to a former student (class of 2015) to observe. In front of us, a 2018 graduate was prepping to give a tour on an amphibious vehicle while a class of 2020 student was taking their tickets.

Two other former students (class of 2018) directed traffic as a trolley-looking bus backed up and situated itself next to the shuttles that you see at the curb in Seattle, decorated with hotel logos. Then there were the varsity busses, all queued up to take people to totem poles, fueled up jeeps, zip lines, fishing boats, wherever else sells local experiences.

It made me wonder, how much of the local experience I had experienced by those terms?

I asked about the wait time, because it appeared that a couple rigs could have left the docks. He said it had to do not only with people showing up late, but also making sure the business was prepared to receive another busload of folks.

Made sense.

When the amphibious vehicle was ready to leave, I left with it, deciding to meander through the crowds at my own pace. I heard a bunch of languages, saw bad hair pieces and lots of puffy jackets. Yeah, the puffy insulation jackets on a 70-degree day. Sure, 70 can be cool by some standards, but it’s not cold.

Anyway, I know it’s totally cliché to say, “everyone had their phones out” but they did, and good on them. Why wouldn’t you take out your cellphone to take photos on a cruise to Alaska? The modern cellphone takes exceptional photos compared to 10 or even five years ago. It’s crazy. Now, if you want a good photo, you might need a good camera, but most of the pictures one takes of places he or she has never been involve basic phone photography. So yeah, everyone had their phones out. If they hadn’t, I’d have been offended.

There was the tell-tale, glance down, glance up, of people using a map app to figure out where in the world it was they wanted to go. Then also the hunched neck of the addict sitting on a bench, face deep in whatever the algorithm was telling them was more interesting than stuff like reality.

There was also conflict.

“Why would you sit inside and drink beer rather than enjoy this town?”

I kept walking, but it was a good question. She relented before there was an answer.

“Ok, fine.”

She walked away.

I start thinking about all the germs being passed around town and all of a sudden the island didn’t seem isolated. It felt like one of those spots swallowed up by worst case scenario virus-spread models. I teach science fiction literature, so these things sometimes occur to me. I start out trying to get the kids engaged in the novels and end up pricing tin foil for a new hat for myself by the time graduation comes.

Anyway, it was fun but the next day I didn’t go near downtown.


• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.


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