Alaskan Postcard No. 3: Watching
the human parade
Cruise ships leave the harbor at Ketchikan. / Photo
by Ginger Warburton
Editor's note: USU student Ginger Warburton writes
of an outsider's experience in Alaska exclusively for
the Hard News Cafe. This is the second in a series.
By Ginger Warburton
August 31, 2006 | As I wait in Greyline's 14-passenger
Freightliner for the passengers to finish their float
plane tour, I stare out the window at the cars, tourists
and workers as they pass by.
Cruise ship passengers are easy to spot by their attire,
walk and hair, blending into a bland sameness. They
are usually older wearing white, tans and light blues,
with white hair, and their eyes hold a vacant look as
they wander from one place to another. The workers are
also easily recognizable because of the hurried way
they move about, and mainly because I know most of them
or have seen them before. (There are only 14,000 people
on the island squished into a 32-mile-long by half-mile-wide
expanse.) Everyone bends over backwards (for the most
part) for ungrateful, oblivious, ignorant "beaters."
Beater is what we in the tourism industry and the locals
affectionately call the cruise ship passengers.
The term 'beater' comes from the ski bums that spend
their summers in Ketchikan working as kayak or climbing
guides. A 'beater' on the mountain is some rich tourist
that has come to stay for a week at the beautiful lodge
and have a wonderful stay in Utah or Colorado. Consequently,
this wonderful stay includes "beating" the
mountain or tearing up the snow as much as they possibly
can so the local crowd can curse them and shake their
The beaters that come to Ketchikan, Alaska, on a cruise
are a little different. They don't ruin the snow, but
they do try their best to make our jobs as miserable
as possible. Beaters are probably all wonderful husbands,
wives, friends, employees, or whatever they are in regular
life, but a bizarre thing seems to happen to each and
everyone of them the second they set foot on to the
cruise ship. They all, as one man put it, "seem
to shut off their brains." This, my friends, could
not be a more accurate description of the strange phenomenon
that takes place when a wonderful human becomes a "beater."
As you know, my job is to drive to the dock, pick up
these beaters and take them to whatever super-amazing
excursion they've spent way too much money on. So I
load up my Freightliner, powered by Mercedes, ask them
all to please wear their seat belts (which none of them
would've thought to put on by themselves) and tell them
my name is Ginger and if they have any questions to
please feel free to ask. I like to point out various
things of interest like the mill that milled the spruce
for Howard Hugh's Spruce Goose and oldest church in
Ketchikan, all the while waiting for the questions to
begin. I pretty much know which questions will get asked
and in what order they will ask them.
Q: What is the population?
A: 14,000, give or take 1,000 in the summers/winters.
Q: How much snow do you get? or What are the winters
like? (same question)
A: Folks, you are actually in a temperate rainforest
at the moment. This means the weather stays pretty much
the same year-round. The winter doesn't usually get
much colder than 40 degrees and not really very much
snow. There is, however, about 13 and a half feet of
rainfall every year. Yes, that's right, I said feet.
In 2005 Ketchikan had over 190 inches.
Q: What is the elevation here? (This is asked while
we driving with the ocean in clear view on the left
side of the road.)
A: Well, (I say as I dramatically look to the ocean)
it looks like we might be at about ten feet.
I continue with my points of interest, like the fact
that Ketchikan is actually on the Revilla Gegado Island
named after a Mexican Count. This in turn seems to evoke
Q: Are there any main roads into Ketchikan?
A: Actually, Ketchikan is on an island, so the only
way to get here is by ferry, boat or plane. (This is
said with a smile and much sincerity.)
Driving the streets of Ketchikan is a challenge for
this driver as the beaters wander aimlessly and without
regard to local traffic, signs and regulations, much
the same way they would on a vacation to Disneyland.