A Taste of the Yukon Part 1 of 2

It’s interesting how city bus drivers can reflect the personality of their town. In one large city I saw a driver pull away as a woman fell while about to board the bus; in another, I saw a passenger fall flat on her face after skidding in the slippery aisle and a driver who didn’t even notice.

That was a city where every individual was in a hurry, carefully minding his or her own business. Whitehorse’s courteous drivers are the complete opposite. They notice everything.

I’ve lived here for a year and a half now and have come to know all of them well. Although I don’t know their names and they probably don’t know mine, we’re friends.

My favourite is a jovial young man who prefers driving the old buses, most of which disappeared since the Canada Winter Games were held here. Those older buses are the very ones other drivers tell me they try to avoid, but this young man manages to overlook their shape, size, seats and steps because he finds them easier to drive.

Perhaps they have extra personality – like he has.

All my life I wanted to see Canada’s North … even as a child. Friends who had moved to the Yukon or Alaska in their 20s were still there 50 years later.

What was so addictive about that part of the world?

I almost made it once, but marriage got in the way, then it was career and children. The yearning never left me though and I went on reading Robert Service poetry and books about happenings North of 60.

One summer, shortly before retirement, I went on the famous Tatshenshini river-rafting trip. Overwhelmed by the Yukon’s beauty, I vowed I would return at the first opportunity. Shortly afterwards, I created an opportunity by running an ad for a house exchange and, as a result, spent one month acquainting myself with Whitehorse and its citizens.

I loved everything about it, especially the way it reminded me of the town where I grew up.

That B.C. town is a big city, now, but when I went to school the population was less than 15,000. You couldn’t walk more than a block without seeing someone you knew, and everyone kept an eye on everyone else – not because you were a busybody, but because there was a group feeling and a sense of responsibility.

While doing the house exchange, I made frequent use of the city transit system. At that time it was obvious to locals that I was a Cheechako, not one of them.

One day I was returning from the grocery store and about to ring the bell when the driver’s loud voice called out, “Are you from Victoria?” Everyone on the bus turned to see who this foreigner was.

“How on earth did you know?” I asked, amazed at her intuitive powers.

“Well, my friend Brenda lives just down the block, there, and I noticed that you always get off at this stop. She’s doing a house exchange with someone from Victoria, so I figured that must be you.”

I was both amused and delighted at the interest the driver and other local people took in learning about newcomers.

When I finally sold my house in Victoria and moved to Whitehorse, it was a big step. The only person I knew there was my son, a teacher, but he was away when I arrived in my new home.

It was October 2007 and forecasts were telling me that winter up here was going to be coming a lot sooner than in southern B.C., so one of my first steps was to fill up the oil tank. The driver of Bus #2 that day was the same woman who once realized that I was from Victoria.

There were only one or two other passengers, so she struck up a conversation with me. By the time we were approaching Main Street, I knew almost everything about her, including her likes, dislikes and the size of her house. If the trip to town had been more than 15 minutes, I’m sure she would have supplied me with enough information to write a story.

When we were downtown and it was my turn to speak, I mentioned that I was going downtown to find a source of furnace oil. She immediately began recommending the company she used, comparing its costs and services with other companies.

“You’ll need a reference,” she said, “so you can give them my name.”

She jotted it down for me when we reached Ogilvie, the street where the various buses converge. Sure enough, the oil company did want a reference and I gave the name of the only person I had met so far.

They nodded and grinned when they saw who it was.

There are six different bus routes here: all six of them arrive at Ogilvie at the same time and, after a 10-minute wait, they all depart at the same time, so if any of them are running behind schedule there can be complications for people transferring.

The bus drivers are all very dedicated and if they feel one of their passengers might miss a connection they call the other drivers on their cellphones and ask them to wait.

I frequently hear colourful descriptions …

“Woman with red hat and two big grocery bags, arriving on #2.”

“A lively kid with runners and a baseball cap, for #4”

“An older guy with a beard and a backpack, needs #1 … going to the hospital.”

It’s reassuring to know that the driver is actually looking out for you as you run to that second bus.”

(Continued next week.)

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