In case you just got here: Part 1 and Part 2
Whitehorse. I sing your song loud and I’ll sing it again. When you’ve been weeks driving and sitting along side the Alaska Highway sometimes you just need the comfort of a smiling face in the middle of nowhere. Whitehorse is a town that knows what to do with a weary traveler make no mistake. I was pretty close darn close to busted as I limped my poor, tired bus into town on a Sunday night. I liked the feel of things though, Whitehorse is a good looking town, inviting, has that pioneer spirit to it and the raging Yukon River to boot. The only joint that was open was the bar at the Town and Country inn. I well could have used a cold beer and a warm place to get my bearings.
Well, she’s held together this far. How many times have Volkswagen drivers had that same thought 4,000 plus miles from home? The alternator assembly was still in one piece is what I was driving at. A little over seven hundred miles, stressful miles, now from the jerry rigging event in Pink Mountain. Cash was on the short side I was thinking as the bartender served up a pint of Yukon Gold, fabulous stuff. I figured it might be best to see if I can’t land some work and at least break even while I check out the town a bit. I quietly drank my beer and rejuvenated from the long, cold, taxing miles behind me. As the bar staff next door finished work for the evening they started to pile into the otherwise dead Town and Country and within the next two hours of hustling and bustling I had landed myself a gig as the bouncer at the Lizard bar next weekend, ten tax free dollars an hour and cash tip outs. It’s a far cry from and engineers salary, but sounded altogether excellent. Before the evening was over I offered some of my new found acquaintances a ride home and they offered me a warm place to stay for a couple days in return. Not to shabby for my first night out in the Yukon.
I got up the next morning with three days to kill before I started my newfound employment and adventured to check out the town. I parked my bus at a metered spot downtown purposefully on accident neglecting to pay the parking meter. I learned later through observation that the meter maids in Whitehorse just simply do not write parking tickets to anyone driving a ’71 Volkswagen bus with New Mexico plates. What they do is look at the meter, walk around and look at the plate, shake their heads and move along. Call it stereotypical, but I’ll take a free ride on parking when I can get one. The truth be told, I never actually fed a meter in Whitehorse the entire time I was there. I’m a bad man. I hit downtown on foot and I was completely taken aback, within the first block of my stroll three people had said good morning to me. Where am I? Whoa, the quiet town from the night before was reborn into a booming mountain town full of scarf clad, smiling people who seemed happy with their lives and well enough so to share that happiness and contentedness with others. It was the Canada of the lower 48’s dreams, smiling, happy Canadians everywhere. And if that weren’t enough, it also appeared that all of the beautiful women of the Yukon had been exiled to Whitehorse. Fancy that.
After the tally of the morning’s events with the locals, the fact that I had an evening gig lined up already, and the reality that I hadn’t much left in my wallet I figured I spend the next three days checking out the place while seeing if I couldn’t land an additional day job that would get me through the winter. And I did, I spent the next three days walking every street of every block within two miles of downtown’s epicenter inquiring with businesses concerning opportunities for employment. By the time my first shift started at the Lizard Thursday night I had two concrete offers of employment, one of which had an offer letter in tow. I also had a few maybes. It was looking promising that I could stay the winter in this lovely Yukon town. It is also noteworthy that I had stopped in to pay a visit to the Canadian customs, in the course of my walks, to see what would be required in order to obtain a work permit. They informed me just to get an offer letter and come back, not a problem. I figured I’d just concentrate on working my bouncer shift for the weekend and deal with the bureaucratic nonsense on Monday. They made it seem easy enough.
I’m a bouncer in the Yukon. That’s really the only thing that ran through my head as I showed up for work Thursday night. I’m trying to move away from writing this blog exclusively for people who know me and as much for the increasing number of like minded folks from all over the world who seem to be stumbling this way. But if you do know me, I know your either laughing uncontrollably or at least resisting the urge to. I’m about 6’ 2”, 170 lbs and while I’m no small fellow, I’m probably not a formidable physical adversary either. I am, however, pretty quick with the tongue and snappy with the wit, but really, here I am a bouncer in what they tell me is the roughest bar in the Yukon. If I had to leave it up to my keen intuition to decide, I would probably say that the bar down the street where the guy got hacked up with the machete on Saturday night was the roughest bar, but who’s to say. Apparently that was just standard retribution on the bloke who ratted out the local drug king pen and could have happened anywhere. I learned two very important things during my bouncing career. First, it’s not the bigger and the stronger guy who wins. It’s the sober guy. It doesn’t matter how big and strong you are. If you’re drunk enough to be kicked out of a bar you are also slow, clumsy and ultimately not very bright, at least at the time. The second thing I learned is that drunken people are obnoxious. This was the first time I had ever been in a hoppin’ bar sober come 1 am and what a ridiculous ordeal, people vomiting, dropping beer bottles that smash on the dance floor, minors trying to sneak in, people fighting with their best friends of the moment past, estranged lovers yelling at their significant others through the windows, and on, and on, and on. It was an interesting look at the underbelly of the Yukon and it was money that I desperately needed, but really, what a mess. The admirable part was the loose camaraderie of the staff in keeping the chaos at a manageable level. You become friends with your coworkers easily. They look after you. At the completion of my first shift the other new bouncer and I were subject to a tradition I was unaware of and apparently pertain to all bar staff. What they do is take the remnants of all the spent liquor bottles from the evening and mix them into shots that the green horns drink. It’s really foul stuff, churns your stomach, but afterwards you’re a part of the team for better or worse. In the end I stayed another week hoping to settle myself in Whitehorse and bounced for two weekends at the lizard, but ultimately it’s not as easy to get a work permit as one would hope and I had to travel on.
A quick note on working in Canada from my post Driving to Alaska – 10 Things to Think About: The bureaucratic red tape of obtaining a work permit once you’re actually in Canada is almost impossible to navigate. You would have to first find an employer that was willing to hire you. They would then have to conduct a labor market opinion poll to assure that there are no Canadians available and qualified to fill the position. All of the paper work then needs to be submitted to customs for processing and if all goes well this could be completed in as little as five weeks.
Read: head for the border. Well, reluctantly, that’s what I did. It was late September and in five weeks it was going to be very cold. All in all I spent two weeks and a day in Whitehorse. I spent less nights camping in my Volkswagen than I did on the couches of the kind folks of Whitehorse that were willing to take a weary traveler in from the cold. Whitehorse, much like Pink Mountain took me as one of their own. The hospitality and good nature of the people is as striking as its mountain scenery. For a bus driver it seems that there will always be a summer population of VW ramblin’ folks hanging around to provide for instant community. Even in the fall I still found a handful of this batch. If you can, stop, hang out, sit by the Yukon, whistle a while, and enjoy Whitehorse. For my part, it’s back on the road almost six weeks from mile 0…
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eric kellner says
thanks for traipsing and writing!
my bus went to Denali in the early 90s.
Though before I bought it for 100.$
I begin to think more about Denali and less about the big rebuild. I’m nearly trudged through that. Alcan sounds like good adventure!
Thanks for the droppin’ in Eric – Denali is a beautiful part of town, camped there for an evening with a french hitchhiker I picked up outside of Anchorage on my way to Fairbanks. I hope to get back there this Summer.