Fish Sale Day

Friday was king salmon delivery day. I had the most orders ever, I think. One hundred and one king salmon. Dorothy, my 10 year old Sierra Leoneon niece, was to help me. Her first job.

I’d washed out the fish coolers, then headed to Jerry’s Meats, now the town’s lone fish processor for people’s personal fish, to collect a pile of their fish totes. I would return the totes filled with king salmon ordered by my customers with their instructions for filleting, smoking, or steaking their fish. It was a lesson learned over 20 years of doing this. I used to deliver to my customer’s homes, and then found out many of them took the fish to Jerrys. So, I just take them there now, saving me and my customers an extra trip. I used to take the fish in and have the attendant fill out the paperwork and weigh the fish for each of my customers. As Scott, the owner, and I grew to know each other, Scott allowed me to weigh the fish and fill out all the paperwork at Chris’s plant, so all I have to do when I arrive at his place is put the fish on a cart that is rolled into their cooler, which saves alot of labor time for them and is much more efficient for me.

Scott, the owner, looked very tired when I stopped by. Again. I’d asked him if it was okay to bring the fish in in the days preceding the delivery so this was not a surprise to him. He, like me, knows people depend on us to get their fish and get it processed. But Scott, like so many other businesses in town, simply cannot find workers – and one of his new workers was a no show that morning. The business owners – and their families – pick up the slack until they can’t. And then some, like my friend Marc, have to close their cafe on the weekends, because you can only do so much. Or Dick, a mentor to me like Chris since I started this business over 2 decades ago, can’t find enough workers to process people’s personal fish this year so he won’t be doing that for people – the first time in probably 30 or more years. A few years ago there were 3 fish processors who processed people’s personal fish. Now there’s just Jerrys.

Like many of my friends who are either retired or work for the government, we don’t really know about this product of the pandemic. Many just complain that “nobody wants to work” when they can’t get what they want. But many do want to work, And are working. All the kids old enough for employment in the scout troop that want jobs have them. Those of us not in the private sector full time, but who depend on it, have an obligation as good neighbors to be understanding, and if you don’t like how it is, then take the job that’s causing your problem.

Unlike her big brother Sam, Dorothy is all business. She’s only been in the US from West Africa since September, and so lots of things are still brand new to her. Like seeing the deciduous trees leaf out, and the bare bushes produce salmon berries. And the new birds returning for the summer. I try to point out things she’s seeing.

Her brother was only worried about how much money I was going to pay him, and he inevitably would start messing around at the processing plants where I was delivering fish. Dorothy didn’t ask about money at all. Her job is to write down the weights of each customer’s fish on their processing cards, which I’d pre-filled days before, and also write down the weight on my business sheet so I could bill them. This may seem like small assistance, but be assured it is not. When I do this alone, every time I put a fish on the scale with my gloved hands, I then have to unglove to write the weights down so as not to slime the paperwork. Having a diligent assistant, with good hand writing no less, is a dream come true.

We slogged our way through the long list of orders for Jerrys first. I sorted through king salmon iced in totes that came from Pelican, where Seth had bought them from salmon trollers. I’d look at the fish and look at the orders, and select fish that fit a customers order for size or number of fish, and there was no order to it. Dorothy dutifully and patiently found the customer’s cards from Jerrys and then wrote down the weights, and I kept a sharp eye out that she was also writing down the weights on the business sheet so I had a record to bill my customers. After an hour or two, we had the orders ready and delivered them to Jerrys.

They were not all that enthused to see more work coming in the door, as I knew they were already swamped. I felt like I was piling on, but hoped it would be okay. They were cordial as always to me, knowing I’d already cleared it with the boss. We then back tracked to the Breeze Inn store, where I bought a dozen donuts and a twelver of Rainer, and returned with it for the crew to show my appreciation. That went over well.

We returned to the plant to put together the home delivery orders. I’d brought my 4 big coolers, so we could divide the orders into out the road residents, valley residents, downtown residents and Douglas Island residents. I showed Dorothy how we needed to write the customer’s name on a piece of flagging tape, which I’d tie to the jar of each fish, and then layer the fish in the cooler so the fish on top would be the first delivery, and so forth. She did not need to be shown more than once, and started writing down the customer’s names on the tape while I weighed the fish and when I was done weighing the tape was ready to be tied in the fish’s jaw. We are a good team.

After another hour, we were on our way for delivery. This was a great journey for a new resident like Dorothy, as we traveled all over the Juneau road system, her new home town. I drove over 100 miles for today’s deliveries. People were to leave coolers out for me to put their fish in if they weren’t going to be home, and all but one had done so, and that person was home so she just got a bag for the fish.

We finished our last stop a few blocks from the Conteh’s apartment. I asked Dorothy if she wanted to get McDonalds (like we do at cross country ski practice this winter) or just go home if she was tired. McDonalds, it was. So we traveled to the drive through. I ordering my usual – an ice cream cone and a coffee – and Dorothy her usual- a quarter pounder with cheese and fries. When we got our food, there was no coffee. I asked the server, and she said there was no coffee ordered. I looked at the receipt, and see when I said “small coffee” the cashier heard “small fries”, so now I had ice cream and Dorothy had two orders of fries. When we understood what happened, Dorothy proclaimed  “This is my lucky day!”

I ate my ice cream cone on the way to the Contehs, and Dorothy didn’t touch her food – she liked to eat it at home. When we got to her apartment, I told her to open her bag, and I dropped two folded 50’s on the fries, and she wrapped the top of the bag tight again, not seeing the amount of money she earned. I’m not even sure if she thought she was going to get paid. As I suspected, she was very happy with her first day’s work and pay, according to her dad, and he was glad to hear a glowing report of his youngest daughter after years of many less than glowing reports of her older brother.

Speaking of her older brother, Sam is now over 6 feet tall, and has found his stride. I always knew he had the brains and skills to get somewhere. I just didn’t know when he’d get on the bus. Well, he has. He got himself a full time job a a shop downtown in the heart of the cruise ship district. He stocks shelves with tee shirts. His dad says he’s up early to shower and is ready for work, has a group of friends there, and his boss says he’s doing well. It’s been a long road, it seems, but this has made me as happy as about anything has since he got to town, and I’m genuinely proud of him. I gave him a ride home from hauling aluminum cans for scouts a few days ago, and I realized when I dropped him off that I had been talking to a young man now, and not a surly adolescent.

Today, I got a spinning rod together that would be a size for Dorothy. Unlike Sam, she has been willingly shadowing her Dad when he fishes from shore at various locations around town for returning king salmon. He caught 4 this morning with Dorothy at his side, and that makes at least seven fish for him in the past few days by my count. Now Dorothy will have a rod of a length that fits her 10 year old size to fish, too. I don’t know if the smaller rod will handle a big king salmon, but I loaded the small spinning reel with spider wire line that is about 30 lb test or more, just in case….