Its Christmas Eve day and the sun is shining here in Haines, Alaska. Its six degrees F. outside, with a good foot of fresh snow on the ground. It has been a busy past few months, and I want to thank all of you that purchased my book, Where Eagles Gather.
The whole project has been amazing, and a great learning experience. It was quite exciting to hold my book in my hands when I received four advance copies in late September. I had only looked at the book on a computer screen prior to that moment. I couldn’t wait to pick up the entire shipment. Since I was self-publishing and self-distributing, I was in charge of picking up the books myself once they cleared customs.
In early October, I flew to Seattle where I had a mission. I needed to buy a vehicle for our tour business, and I had to pick up the three thousand books once they cleared customs. I found a cute little bus that had been used for a nursery school. It was in good shape but it had those ugly brown seats and the kids had torn them up. I found an upholstery shop and hesaid he could redo the seats. I asked him if he could do a rush job since I might have to pick up 3,000 books soon. He said he would try.
My whole itinerary had to be flexible, because once the books cleared customs, I only had three days to pick them up or I would be charged storage fees. But no one knew exactly when the books would clear customs. I thought I would head down to Bend, Oregon to visit a few friends before I picked up the books, but then I got the word that the books had arrived early and I should be ready to pick them up in a few days. So I postponed my trip and then I came down with a nasty stomach bug. Well, I thought it was a stomach bug but it didn’t go away. Five straight days of diarrhea, ….. and I wasn’t getting any better
The word came that I had to go pick up the books on Friday. I called the upholstery guy and the job was done, I picked up the bus and drove to Kent, WA. I was amazed at what I found there. Warehouse after warehouse and trucks coming and going from all directions. I finally found the address where I was to pick up the books and went into the office and filled out the paperwork. In the middle of filling out the paperwork, I got the urge to go to the bathroom……I mean a strong urge. I dashed around the corner and the lady yelled, “Stop! This is a secure area. You can’t go behind the counter.” I looked up with a pitiful expression, and asked…”where can I go?” She said, “go out the door, take a right, up the stairs, through the door, and its on your right.”
I dashed out, took care of business and returned. She said, “OK, you’re clear, go around the corner and ring the buzzer.“
I rang the buzzer and a hip twenty something dude with a trim beard opened the door, looked at my paperwork and looked at my bus. “You have four pallets of boxes. We normally just load the pallets into big trucks with our forklift. What is your plan?”
I hadn’t really given this part of the journey much thought. I do remember my project manager, Elizabeth Cromwell, telling me that authors often underestimate the size of their shipment. I had 3,000 books. That equates to one hundred twenty two forty-five pound boxes! There was no way to load them on the bus with the forklift. He dropped the pallets in front of the bus and started to head back inside.
I said….”Hey, can you help me load these on to the bus? You see, I’m sorta weak (I didn’t tell him from the my stomach condition), and that’s a lot of boxes. I’ll give you a free book. Look, its beautiful, Alaska stuff……you want to check it out?”
“No sorry I can’t help. This is a secure area and besides there’s a can on the way.” (I learned that a “can” is warehouse lingo for one of those giant shipping containers that come off the trucks).
“Can I borrow a knife?” I asked.
He loaned me his knife and I cut the plastic off the pallets, stared at the huge number of boxes, and then dashed to the bathroom. I scratched my head and decided I better have a system. I would load from the middle of the bus to the front of the bus first, as there were some nice steps at the front of the bus. This worked fine but the bus began to fill up quickly. I went back to the bathroom, returned, and then started to load from the back of the bus to the middle. But there were no steps at the back of the bus, and so I had to jump up and down and then carry the forty-five lb. boxes to the middle of the bus, then jump back down, and do it all over again.
I went back to the bathroom and returned to get back to it. I started to sweat…..it was hot, almost seventy degrees……I started thinking about the one week raft trip I had been on a few weeks before and how cool it had been, we even had a light snow one night. Then I thought about how I had been drinking out the river, and here it was three weeks later and I had been sick for a week. And giardia, an intestinal parasite that can be found on wilderness rivers, has a two-week incubation period.
I figured that’s what was making me sick and decided to go to the clinic the following day. I jumped back in the back of the bus, loaded a few more boxes and nearly passed out. I was 3,000 lbs. into a 5,000 lb. job!
I went back to the bathroom, and decided to take a break and call my wife, Edie. She listened and was very concerned…..”You don’t sound good.” She said. “I don’t feel good”, I said. It wasn’t much of a conversation….
“I’ll try to get you some help” she said.
“Good luck.” I said. It was a Friday afternoon in Kent WA, south of Seattle. Traffic would be snarled up in all directions. I hadn’t asked anyone for help in advance. “It won’t be that bad” I had told myself…..
I put down the phone and looked at the job at hand. I decided I needed steps up to the back of the bus. All I had were boxes of books, so I built a staircase of books up the back of the bus. I found some sheepskin seat covers I’d bought from the upholstery guy and I covered the boxes with the sheepskin so that I wouldn’t damage the books. Then I went back to the bathroom. The guys in the warehouse were beginning to notice me…I thought I heard one of them say…..”is that guy in the bathroom again?” I didn’t care. I was just glad it was vacant every time I needed it and that the door was unlocked.
I went back to the bus with determination. I was hungry and thirsty, but I just wanted to get done. A guy in a huge black truck drove up and asked me….”do you know where stall number 20179 is?”
“Sorry, I don’t work here”, I said weakly.
I thought to myself…..do I look like I work here? I have a tiny school bus and I’m hand-loading boxes in the middle of an industrial truck zone. Why is that everywhere I go people ask me directions?
I guess its has something to do with having worked a long career as a professional guide. I must have that “guide look.” I look like I know where I am, what I’m doing and where I’m going. I look like I’m ready and able to give other people directions.
Boy I wish there was someone around I could give directions to help me load these boxes…….I thought. I was spacing out. It was getting later. I had to get back at it.
And I did. I just did it. I loaded the other 40 boxes on the bus, got in, headed to the freeway and got stuck in a traffic jam for two hours. Boy I sure miss Alaska, I remember thinking…….
This image is taken on the Chilkat Pass, a wonderland of mountains, rivers, valleys and wildlife only a short drive from our house in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. I share it with you with my best wishes for you this holiday season. Enjoy!