If you are flying to Whitehorse, this is where you'll probably be landing. It's also where I used to work. I can even spot the orange tail of an Air North plane at the hangar.
It may be getting darker but the sun is still setting at midnight.
As part of my job as a flight attendant for Air North, I got to fly to Fairbanks and spend Friday night in Dawson City. It's a tough job, I know.
On the way I had the opportunity to get some neat photographs during the ferry flights between Whitehorse, Fairbanks and Dawson City. (Ferry flights are flights with no passengers)
One of the pilots, Daniel, was kind enough to give me a lovely, mostly accurate tour of Dawson, having only been there a couple of times before himself. While we meandered the town, Corie, the other pilot, went for a jog up the "Dome," a five mile round trip up a 1700 foot hill with 360 degree views. I'm saving that for a trip when I have a few days, a few less pounds and a lot more stamina.
Dawson City is a long meandering town of 1400 people with old-fashioned store-fronts, historic buildings and quirky shops (and some good deals I'm told.) Some of the main streets are still dirt with clapboard sidewalks. If you took away the cars and the streetlights, you could believe you were in a small gold rush town in the 1898. Parts of the town remind me a bit of the show, Deadwood.
After touring the town we met up with some more Air North crew for dinner at El Dorado, then we checked out the sourtoe phenomenon at the Downtown Hotel. If you haven't heard of the sourtoe, it's a Dawson City tradition where you have a shot with a toe in it. Not a fake plastic toe, or toe-looking olive, an actual severed human toe. For $5 you get to take the shot with the toe in it and you have to let the toe touch your lips to get the sourtoe certificate. My brother did this years ago when he came to Dawson for work and delighted in grossing people out with the pictures.
For a while, there was no toe. The story I heard is that someone took the shot, drank the toe on purpose and slapped down the $500 fine. How many thousands of disappointed tourists were formed after that unfortunate incident, I can't even guess. Eventually a new bigger toe was donated and the toe swallowing fine is $2500. On Friday night, visitors flocked to the toe, eagerly lining up for their shot. I spoke to one gentleman who seemed a bit grossed out by the whole thing while his wife did the sourtoe ritual with an ear-to-ear grin.
I know what you're thinking... did I do the sourtoe? Not this time. But I'll be back, so who knows?
Usually when I'm picking a wine, I stare at the rack of selections mindlessly for a few minutes until I eventually pick something either cheap or on sale. Today, there was no mindless staring, no sale or cheap purchases. Today, two labels jumped out at me, the Latitude 50 white and the Painted Turtle shiraz. They stood out because I've seen them on Air North's Boeing 737 where I had my service training and my first two flights as a flight attendant.
I've already been stumped by a passenger asking how strong the coffee was. I had no idea, having never tried the Yukon roasted Midnight Sun coffee. (It's strong, by the way, but delicious.)
I have two night flights coming up next week, so it's time to do my wine research. I know, I am, like, the best employee, ever.
In our service manual, the Latitude 50 is described as "a blend of vinifera grape varieties specifically chosen for their unique characteristics." According to the label, this blend is unique to the microclimate in the area where Lake Okanagan meets a certain latitude... and that would be latitude 50.
The Painted Turtle shiraz, another B.C. wine, is described as full bodied and smooth. The label suggests sipping it with "bacon wrapped pork or cedar plank Pacific salmon." Now that just makes me hungry. Now I'm picturing salmon wrapped in bacon, ooh or scallops wrapped in bacon. I'm trying to drum up the same enthusiasm for tonight's salad. Hmmm.
I'm not the best wine connoisseur. My critique of wine usually consists of "I like it" or "I don't like it" and let's face it, after a few glasses I like pretty much everything. My husband, however, is British and comes from a long line of British and Scottish drinkers. Richard often detects a "hint of elderberry" or comments that a wine is "slightly oaky" in that delicious posh British accent. Usually I nod wisely while the information immediately falls out of my brain, but tonight I will be taking notes. That stuff will be pure gold.
Yesterday was graduation.
We dined on champagne, pizza and the famous Air North cookies, enjoyed a photo montage, and the shortest speeches ever by two of our instructors, Wini and Michael. I'm not complaining. I was a wedding photographer for seven year. I lOVE short speeches. And it was really cute to see them all nervous in front of us for a change.
We got to hand out our gift baskets we'd all contributed to. They seemed genuinely pleased. As Wini said, "If you are trying to bribe us to be our best class ever, you succeeded. But really, you didn't have to bribe us."
Then we proceeded to get our diplomas and flight bags, one by one, to traditional graduation music.
As people started drifting out, Susan to prepare for her line indoctrination, Jazmine to host bingo, everyone to their normal lives, it was bitter sweet. I'm proud we all made it through but I'm going to miss these guys. I've spent almost every day of the last month with them and now it may be months before we work together.
I'm going to miss Angelica's joy and humour, Sonic Sonja's incredible laugh and spirit and Eric's good nature and mystery. There's the strength and confidence of Jessica, the openness, vulnerability and sweetness of Jazmine, Susan's aura of cheerfulness and generosity and Erin's creativity and steadiness.
If you're reading this while simultaneously making gagging noises, I completely understand. I too, am compelled to imaginary fits of vomiting by excessive displays of gushing compliments. These comments, however, are quite true, and thus not vomit-worthy.
And then our instructors, two of which I now know read this. So I have to be nice. Just kidding! Well, yes they do read it, but I don't have to be nice. Let's see... They all have one thing in common, they all expect excellence, but they all have a good heart and a lot of empathy. I wouldn't have a bad thing to say about any of them, even if I was so inclined. In fact, I secretly want to be like them. Well, I guess not so secretly now.
I hope we will all stay in touch and hang out. I'd hate to meet all these great people and then drift apart. I'll probably be guilty of it myself, with a family, photography and other pulls in my life. Then again, I met my maid of honour, Clare, and my husband, Richard, in a similar situation on my first cruise ship, and we're still tight!
"Everyone here has had service experience, right?" asked our in-flight service trainer Roxanne on the B737 400.
It occurred to me she didn't mean serving people a wedding album, or a folder of images.
"I haven't," I piped up from the back, expecting to have a few other voices joining me. Nope. I'm the only one. Awesome.
Roxanne gave me some special attention and gently went over with me the finer details of serving drinks. Then I was "volunteered" to provide service to our group.
I was surprised by my nervous thumping heart as I pushed the trolley up the aisle with Angelica. It was like my body was aware I should be nervous while my head wasn't. It can't be that hard right?
Either it's hard or I'm a complete idiot. I'm giving it even odds.
Lets see, I didn't offer a napkin first, I plunked down Roxanne's can of Clamato juice without a glass or ice or an offer of lemon or tabasco, I gave Michael a stir stick in his straight Coke for no apparent reason, I took ten minutes to get three pieces of ice out with the tongs and I held a glass too close to the rim. And that was serving three people.
I'm pretty sure I made about seven or eight mistakes I will hopefully never make again. I sensed the suppressed eye roll of my trainers, having had many moment over the years suppressing that very same eye roll.
I've spent the last ten years as either a business owner or in a management position. It's been a long long time since anyone told me what to do. If I listen carefully, right now I can hear the gleeful laughter of all the interns, photography assistants and cruise ship photograpers of my past.
The experienced service professional around me were very encouraging. "You've served people in your house, right?" Yes. And well, I hope. "You'll be fine."
Michael left us with some general advice. "Smile, be friendly and try not to be awkward." Smile, I can do (although it's not pretty with a missing tooth). Be friendly, sure. Awkwardness though. Dude, I was born awkward. That should have been apparent from the interview krumping.
I've spent the early hours of this morning going over the comprehensive service manual Roxanne has made up. I may not have it yet, but I am going for most improved player. I refuse to be someone who lets down my fellow flight attendants.
I hope this is the heart I was hired for. I hope so. It's not my good looks, not my service training, not a short commute or a lack of dependants, certainly not my poise or social grace. It's got to be heart. I think I have that in spades.
So, if you are on an Air North flight in the next few weeks and a flight attendant awkwardly grins at you with a missing tooth and looks at you with eyes vaguely reminiscent of a deer in the headlights, and you order a spicy clamato juice, you can rest assured, there will be ice and a stir stick in your glass, you will be offered lemon and tabasco and it will be handed to you, graciously, from as far down on the glass as possible without risking spillage. And it will be done with heart.
Happy April Fool's Day!!
We saw a bit of the filming of this ad during our training on a Boeing 737. Nicely executed by a company called GBP Creative.
Yesterday I took my final exam for Air North flight attendant initial training, and I passed. I'm not quite there yet, I still have my service training, familiarization flight and line indoctrination before I'm officially a flight attendant. The line indoctrination sounds like something unpleasant the Borg or a cult might do, but it's a training flight where you have all the flight attendant duties while you are shadowed but a supervisor. Probably the Borg would do it too.
Today is service training. I really hope I learn how to pour coffee. I can't even drink coffee without spilling it on myself. If the service training is anything like safety training, I'll be a pro in no time. Maybe they'll even teach me to drink coffee.
You know you're a flight attendant trainee when...
You audibly say assessing and reassessing while reversing your car.
When your son tries to sit up on the dinner table you say REMAIN SEATED in a loud authoritative voice.
You've said something like, "So then I grabbed my Halon, while my ABP informed the PIC," and had to explain.
You dictate your actions aloud, as in "I am opening my door, I am now locking my door, I am now closing my door, confirmed, the door is locked."
People are surprised when they find out that after the first four weeks of flight attendant training you are absolutely no better at serving coffee or handing out mints (but you could put out a fire, administer first aid oxygen, evacuate an aircraft and about 11,000 other safety and emergency related actions.)
You've said "Don't touch my FAM," or "Be careful of my FAM" at least once.
Your neighbours are expecting flashing lights and sirens after hearing EMERGENCY, BEND OVER, STAY DOWN shouted from the next apartment for the last four days.
When you're with another flight attendant trainee you tend to show things together in sync.
You start abbreviating the names of random items.
You shout your name, "out, door 1L" when you leave a room.
We've had three solid weeks of very serious safety training, capped off with two days of first aid training last week. This week-end we've all been studying for our exam on the Hawker Siddeley 748 on Monday. Today we had a study group and practiced evacuations in preparation for emergency procedures training and evacuation drills this week.
Evacuations involve memorizing commands verbatim, developing the right authoritative and loud voice and endless practice. We need to know exactly what to do and exactly what to say in every conceivable evacuation scenario. I believe the goal is to get to the point where we won't have to think about what to say and do in an emergency, we will just do it.
By the way, if you are ever unfortunate enough to be in a plane crash, the best advice I can give you is listen to your flight attendant. We know this stuff inside out. By the time we graduate we will have passed a drill where we evacuate two types of aircraft in front of our instructors, which for me is the most terrifying scenario I can think of.
I've tried yelling emergency commands in my car, shouting: EMERGENCY, BEND OVER, STAY DOWN so many times that my three-year-old son has the command memorized.
Today in our study group, we had a chance to practice yelling commands at each other. We set up an unplanned land evacuation on a make-shift Hawker 748 today. The Hawker was actually Susan's kitchen, the seats were lawn chairs and the jump seat was a bar stool. We practiced two scenarios, one where both the aft exits were clear and one where the aft exits were blocked and the ABPs were unable to open the window exit. (ABP stands for able-bodied person.)
I've learned a lot about my co-workers today. I now know that if you hear Angelica, Susan, Jessica, Erin or Eric shout "BEND OVER," you bend over. We are a forceful group, let me tell you.
After several run-throughs, some of our more gregarious personalities made things a little more challenging with some erratic passenger behaviour. While we are very serious about safety and emergency procedures, it is nice to have a little fun every now and then. Plus, the challenge of successfully remembering evacuation commands while a "passenger" is repeatedly making loud tropical bird noises, is very good practice.
By the end of the study session my voice was starting to get hoarse from shouting so for now, it's back to studying the Hawker.
So my week-end so far has consisted of studying, some more studying, and then I took a short break and studied. Tomorrow though, I am heading into town... for a study group.
Monday's exam is on the Hawker Siddeley 748, of which Air North has four that I need to worry about, and it seems each one is very different from the other.
Fortunately for me, my husband is a teacher and has some great study tips. One tip he gave me was to re-organize the information so I could remember it better. So far I've been doing a lot of flash cards on the advice of my classmates, but I tend to get bored easily so today I decided to create my own 61 question test including every difficult question I could think of.
I'm feeling pretty confident but I suppose I will find out Monday if this technique works for me. For now, I think I'lll (can you guess?) study some more.
For some reason, we do not practise donning and inflating infant life vests on actual infants. I can't imagine why. Thank goodness for Herbert. Herbert is a stuffed bunny who has gamely allowed us to practise life-saving skills on him.
A few weeks ago I probably would not have thought a Hawker Siddeley 748 being towed out of a hangar was nearly as fascinating as it is now. Maybe it's because we are starting to get to know the "personalities" of the Hawker fleet at Air North, maybe it's because I've been walking past a Hawker in the hangar every day the last week or maybe it's because I'm turning into an aircraft geek, but honestly it was pretty cool.
I'm in my second week of training to be an FA. FA means flight attendant. (Aviation professionals are like teenagers texting, why waste time when you can abbreviate.) In my two weeks of FA training I've learned some other things that may surprise you.
1. The course is intense. Your flight attendant is not just a service professional, they've gone though extensive training in safety and emergency procedures. We're talking late nights, early mornings, a five-inch-thick manual of information to learn, study sessions, pressure, stress, drills and exams. In my case, tears have been involved two or three times. Okay, four times.
2. Flight attendant trainees get wet. Today we all inflated life vests and jumped in the pool. If we weren't close before, we are now.
3. Passenger comfort is not a flight attendant's first priority. In fact, safety is the highest priority for a flight attendant. Out of the five weeks of training, only two days are dedicated to service training, the rest basically split between classes, drills and exams related to safety and emergency equipment and procedures. Don't worry though, you'll still get great service.
4. Training is very hands on. We spend a good portion of our course on an actual airplane. (This is specific to Air North, many other airlines aren't able to do this.) We have given each other first aid oxygen. We have removed window emergency exits from two types of aircraft. We've all sat in the flight deck (cockpit). We will be putting out a live fire, learning first aid and jumping down an emergency slide.
5. Flight Attendants are all "A" students. You need to score 85% to pass exams. And there are seven exams. And there is a very thick book of drills to pass. Passing is by no means guaranteed. In fact, from what I've heard, many people do not make it through training.
I did not fully appreciate flight attendants before now. Not only do they get you your water, blankets and food (well, there's food on Air North anyway) but they are trained to deal with just about any situation that could arise.
All and all, it's not the interesting summer job I had pictured before I started. It's so much more than that. It's one of the hardest things I've ever done. I've discovered I want this job more and more every day even though most of it is miles outside my comfort zone.
No time to write - study, eat, sleep and train.... that's all I do. Passed another exam, studying for an exam on Friday, passed all my drills so far, jumping down an emergency slide in a pool tomorrow, can't remember what free time feels like, hope my instructor don't read this and realise that I'm not studying this exact second, hope my friends and family don't think I'm ignoring them, hope Oscar remembers his mummy.
Rich insisted we go for a family snowshoe today, and I'm very glad he did. I needed it. I've been so obsessed with studying for my flight attendant training, I've had trouble talking about anything else.
I'm pretty sure Rich knows the passenger safety briefing by heart from practise sessions. Oscar has been running around asking us if we want a pillow or a blanket after he spent a considerable amount of time pretending to be a passenger with an infant this morning. When I practised the same briefing with Rich later, he ran over and gave Rich his "baby" (a hot water bottle.)
I've been dreaming about safety procedures, stressing about exams and I actually had a mini breakdown while waiting for my test scores yesterday, sure I'd failed. The more the girls were nice to me, the more I blubbered. When we got back into the exam room, I sat and stared the back of my test until they finished whatever they were saying and we were allowed to check our mark. We need to score 85% percent to pass exams and thankfully I passed. The relief was palpable.
I don't even think I realized how much I wanted to be a flight attendant before I thought I'd screwed it all up by failing an exam.
Funnily enough, every question I got wrong was a number question. Thank goodness I'm not training to be an accountant.
After a few hours walking in the woods my thoughts drifted from safety procedures and the alphabet soup of aviation training (ABP, CAR, CASS, ICAO, ATAC, IATA, TC, IC, FA, FAM, CT, WX, COM, IR.OP, COB, SPAX and PIC to name a few) to blissful silence.
Ozzie and I took some time to lie in the snow and catch snowflakes with our tongues. Maggie raced around like she was on crack. Poor thing hasn't had a walk in a week. We came back and had a hot chocolate with marshmallows.
From now on, I'm going to continue to do my best in training, but I'm going to try to keep some perspective. The most important thing is my family. I'm going to take the stress and pressure for what it is, a learning experience and an absolutely wonderful weight loss tool.