Getting off the plane up at site has a feeling of being at the edge of the world. No, this is not where civilization ends. It’s the end of the highway on this side of the province, but farther north than where it sits on a map of Alberta are the communities of High Level, Rainbow Lake, and a multitude of other settlements that seem to have only been visited by people born there, and people working the rigs in the area. I’ve never been to these places, and I’ve only heard about them from people who’ve passed through, or worked there in a coke-fueled haze during their rig working years. Regardless, if this is not the edge of the world, then it is certainly the end of the line, unless you cut through a few thousand kilometres of bush till you venture far enough to hit the Northwest Territories’ Great Slave Lake and the communities that surround it.
I’m back up north after a week off. I’m riding on the bus from the aerodrome to site, and I haven’t yet bought sunglasses that go with my new haircut, because to do so would admit to a complete vanity that I’m not comfortably living with (but am apparently comfortable writing about.) So I’m squinting at a bus full of workers and their backpacks; the herd of them with eyes all glued to phones as they text wives with heart emoticons next to their names, message buddies, while at least four of them phone people to buy something offered on craigslist.
There is a strange phenomenon that I have observed in my three years up north; nobody gets off buses like the people up here do. Everywhere else in the world, when a bus stop, everyone gets up to get off. However, in Northern Alberta, everyone stays sitting when the bus stops, and only moves when the person in front of them stands to get off.
When I first started up here, I didn’t know this rule, and I mistakenly got up and raced to the front of the bus to get off, because, well, that’s how you’re fucking supposed to get off of a bus. It wasn’t until everyone fixed me with that Alberta look of, “look at this dumbass,” that I noticed that something was different.
I did as the Romans did from then on. That line is a cliché. I conformed from then on, and waited for everyone ahead of me to slowly rise, before I even thought about standing up. It’s not a question of manners, calm, or of getting off the bus in some efficient manner. No, it’s simply that when the bus stops, and everyone gazes out the windows at dry brush fields that seems to sing under the oppressive sun with the melody of grasshoppers, of acres of dead grass, mounds of sulfur, and silica sand, nobody is at all in a big fucking hurry to get off. Because this is not a bus stop on the walk home, or on a city street while you’re out running errands. This is the end of the line, and when the bus pulls away, it’s seven days till you’re out.