By Melinda Munson

I only had a few days to prepare once I heard Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was coming to town. The first thing I did was start practicing his name. 

“How do you pronounce it?” I asked numerous friends.

Everyone said it slightly differently. I studied the NPR pronunciation (buddah-judge). Nervous that I would screw up, I settled on calling him Mr. Secretary.

The next big issue was what to wear. I knew his aide would be dressed in a sweater and jeans, so the pressure was off in that aspect. But which shoes to don? Xtratufs felt right for the drizzly weather. Mine are scuffed and have grass stains from the precious few times I’ve mowed the lawn. (We like to keep it long for the bees, plus our mower keeps breaking.) 

Should I purchase a new pair of Xtras, a nice set to save for dignitary interviews? It was a good excuse to buy a fresh set I’d been eyeing with the latest Salmon Sisters pattern.

“Nah, wear your old ones,” someone advised. “Show him authentic Alaska.”

Buttigieg did get to see authentic Alaska. But it wasn’t me, or my worn boots, that showed him. It was the weather and a broken ferry, all in the month of August. (Winter isn’t even here yet.)

Buttigieg was scheduled to fly into Haines on Aug. 16. From there, he was to take the Hubbard to Skagway, then board a Seaplanes flight home. Due to weather, he ferried to Haines. The Hubbard experienced mechanical failure, which meant Buttigieg never could have made it to Skagway to see the sign on the Red Onion’s window welcoming him and Senator Murkowski.

He didn’t get to speak with Billi Clem to hear that when ferries didn’t run in the winter, she missed her breast cancer check-ups. He didn’t hear from parents whose children couldn’t travel for sports and other school activities. He doesn’t know what it’s like to have a full ferry schedule in the summer, when Skagwegians are too busy serving tourists to leave town to visit the dentist, only to be stuck in Skagway when the season is complete, unable to care for body and spirit. 

The most vital person Skagway needed to visit was unable to make his way up the Lynn Canal. The irony isn’t lost on a single person in this town. Thank you Secretary Buddah-judge for trying.