Within the first hour aboard the M/V Matanuska from Juneau to Wrangell, my fourth ferry of the summer and the second on the way back “Outside” after three months in Alaska, I saw a familiar face.
“Weren’t you on the Kennicott in May? In the gift shop?”
“Yeah, and I’m working in the gift shop here, too.”
On the cross-gulf trip from Bellingham to Kodiak, I’d bought a bumper sticker and a jacket from Landra. There may have been a bag and a book, too. That’s what happens when you spend just shy of a week on a ferry. You shop, read, eat dinner at 6, nap several times a day, make fast friends of people you’d never come across any other way, and, after the first 30 whale sightings, hesitate before hopping up when the purser announces a humpback off the port side of the ship.
After all, somebody probably just ordered another pitcher in the bar. Or started telling a good (or not so good) joke. Those things are important, too.
During the five-and-a-half day ferry trip that kicked off my summer layover in Alaska, everybody on the ship ended up, if not friends, at least familiar with each other. And with the family of excellent misfits that sprung up in the ship’s bar on that first night, there was frequent bantering about the people who purposely avoided your gaze when you passed them in the ship’s hallways and bits of insider info gathered from the crew members.
And the crew members became family, too. They were the wise older cousins who understood how life on the ship worked.
So when I saw Landra walking toward me on the Matanuska’s deck and, later in the cafeteria, the Kennicott’s pizza and sandwich lady, some of the antsy I was feeling about leaving Alaska eased up a bit. Though I’ve been on many Alaska Marine Highway ferries over the last 10 years, they’d always felt like a novelty, like a fun way to get from one adventure to the next. This summer, they became so much more.