Rainier personifies and stars in genuine Alaskan life, so complex and open that it leaves no room for criticism or repair.
He comes to meet us at the port of Valdez, on a workday that is more troublesome than the rest.
“Chinese's son of a bitch, vent shamelessly.” Just today, I had to put up with that”. "The boyfriend left him and now he looks like an out-of-control child who's been taken away from all the toys."
Gerry laughs quietly. He tries to calm her down: “It's okay dear. You don't have to go back there anymore today”. And they kiss for the fiftieth time.
We followed Rainier's jeep to a trailer parked in a trailer park near the local airport. Upon arrival, he informs us without ceremony: “It's here. I live in a villa with my husband.
Rainier, Gerry and Chris: Valdez's Fascinating Trio-Amoroso:
This trailer, I use it to be with Gerry.” "Feel free. I'll be right back. I have to go tell Chris they're already here. He is full of desire to meet you.”
Gerry is a distributor and salesperson for the Dr. Pepper brand of soft drinks, Chris is one of those responsible for the security of Alyesca Pipeline, the company that operates the pipeline that brings Alaskan oil from the distant Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Alaska.
Only Rainier and Valdez have in common. Gerry was once a co-worker at Pepe's bar, a greedy and ill-regarded Spaniard with shady deals that would shine in any Almodovar movie. Gerry is the current boyfriend. Chris is Rainier's unofficially separated husband and father to Forest, their daughter.
Conversation leads to conversation, the prosperity of Valdez, granted by the black gold of the Alaska Sea, comes to the fore. Rainier responds motivated to impress us.
“Well, if that arouses your curiosity, even more interesting you will find my ex-husband. He knows almost everything about Alaskan oil.”
We continue the meal on the trailer with enthusiasm until the good-natured Chris appears with dried salmon, pieces of moose and seal, these, soaked in their fat, in addition to different sweets of wild fruits, thus renewing the relationship in the way of the ancestors.
Inupiaq Roots and Chris's Anti-Eskimo Testimonies
We tasted the delicacies and admired some of their sculptures in baculum penile bones of seals, walruses and male sea lions (oosik in various native dialects).
Chris explains to us its unlikely Hellenic-Inupiaq origin and the ethnic logics of Alaska: as, as a rule, the Athabaskan ethnic group – dispersed throughout the south of the territory and over most of the country. Lower 48 – is the one that the “true” Alaskan Indians are most squeamish about.
As the term Eskimo makes no sense to either your Inupiaq ethnic group or any other. Then the conversation changes course. Chris has a twin brother, Joe, who is considered the Top Cop of Alaska, the subject of reports in major local publications.
Oil Prosperity Guaranteed by Alyeska Pipelines
He, in turn, has long worked for the Alyeska Pipelines Service Company, a company in the multimillion-dollar Alyeska consortium (big land, in the archaic Aleut dialect) formed by the companies that own the Trans-Alaska pipeline system that explore and market the oil of the 49th US state.
“One of the main conditions for the native authorities to authorize the construction of the conduit system on their lands was a certain quota of indigenous employees in the service. I am just one of many.
I reached a high position and earn well (he confesses to us that an average of $120.000 a year) but I have a responsibility to match.
The Latent Threat of Conduct at Alyeska Pipelines
The pipeline is 1300km long. When they're not frustrated owners, they're irrational, radical environmentalists or some kind of nutcase. There's always someone interested in damaging or sabotaging that pipe.” From what he adds, we learn that Yankee paranoia has spread to the farthest reaches of the nation and contributes to a permanent state of turmoil.
”On 11 September 2011, it was spread throughout Valdez that the terrorists were going to crash one of the last hijacked planes on the city's reservoirs or pipeline. It was agony live until everyone landed.”
At the time, the small town came out unscathed. In 1989, he was not so lucky. The calamity of that time came from the sea.
Three years earlier, the National Steel and Shipbuilding company of San Diego, California had built two twin ships with disparate histories. The USNS Mercy was adopted as a hospital ship by the Red Cross for the purpose of assisting humanitarian missions all over the world.
The Exxon Valdez would be scheduled to secure the transportation of crude between Alaska and California. As the name on the keel suggested, Valdez would be one of the two mandatory stops on the routes.
Upon completion of the crude oil exploration project off the north coast of Alaska, the conclusion was confirmed that the ice there would impede a smooth and safe flow of oil tankers, no matter how strong.
The alternative was to build a pipeline to cross all of Alaska from north to south and find, at a lower latitude, a port free of compact ice. Sheltered in one of the various fjords of the Prince William Sound, Valdez proved to be the chosen location to host this terminal and the current 18 tanks.
The economy of the city, like that of the state, accelerated at the pace of fuel transport carried out by an average of 3 to 5 tankers per week. He would become a victim of negligence.
Exxon Valdez's Announced Environmental Disaster
On March 23, at 9.12 pm, the Exxon Valdez set sail for a refinery in Long Beach. A port pilot guided him through the Valdez straits before returning the maneuvers to the captain.
This diverted the tanker from the normal shipping lane to avoid icebergs floating off the Columbia Glacier.
Shortly thereafter, he handed over the commands to two other crew members who were in charge of the bridge. It is said that, by mistake, the boat was put on autopilot. Soon after, the commander obtained a new authorization to reject the exit lane – still obstructed by floating ice – and remain in the entrance lane.
At 12.04 am on March 24, the Exxon Valdez was on an erroneous course and collided with Bligh Reef. The vessel's hull was simple rather than reinforced, and it did not hold up.
Much thanks to the late response of the Exxon company – which infuriated the local population and environmentalists in general – it spilled and spread through the fjords and canals of the Prince William Sound and over 2000km, a minimum of 41 million of the 200 million of liters on board, in what was considered the biggest ecological disaster recorded in Alaska.
Prince William Sound and Alaska Ecosystem Damage
The impact on nature proved brutal. Thousands of animals lost their lives: between 250.000 and 500.000 seabirds, more than 1000 otters, 300 seals, 250 ospreys and 22 orcas not to mention the billions of salmon and herring eggs then deposited in the waters and the plankton that was the base of the region's food chain.
Valdez, most of the towns in the Prince William Sound and Alaska in general suffered and saw the lives of its affected populations to varying degrees. A few years later, the area seemed to have recovered, at least on the surface as much crude oil remains as polluting underground sediment from the coast and seabed.
Rainier and Chris were co-workers, raising their newborn daughter Forest, and thriving.
Like Meares, one of several shipping companies that allow us to take the final fateful journey of Exxon Valdez to the sound of a narrative of tragedy and be dazzled by the “responsible” glacier Columbia, with others imposing glaciers and icebergs and competing natural wonders nearby.
Despite the lasting environmental scars, the recovery benefited the entire city. Soon, many thousands of liters of crude would pass through Valdez again.
And tourists like Henry Kissinger or King Olav V of Norway, the most famous participants of excursions who visited the curious or emblematic points of the conduct.
Alaska Indigenous Social and Economic Bi-Polarity
These are the looks in which Alaskan Indians grow up, who, as Rainier summarized, fall into two classes: those who manage to study and be employed by Alyesca Pipeline (like Chris).
And those who can't and indulge in alcohol, or at best, undergo the arduous life provided by fishing and fish processing companies like Peter Pan Seafoods that employ hundreds of Sugpiacs, Yupiks, Tananas, Haidas and the “ rivals” from the Lower 48, the Athabascans.
The Valdez and Prince William Sound region has fully recovered from the environmental trauma.
It attracts more visitors than ever, as soon as the summer starts, thousands of other seasonal workers join the permanent workers who, for three months, make the city's businesses work.
The Valdez Summer Refuge to Immigrants from all over the world
We find, in Valdez, Turks, Russians, Polynesians from Tonga e Samoa and, of course, younger or poorer Americans who migrate from Oregon, Washington, Montana, from the two Dakotas and even from Northern California, attracted by the big bucks, little or nothing taxed.
With all legal disputes over, the parent company, Exxon, paid more than 600 million euros in damages. Exxon Valdez, that one, was banned from returning to the vicinity.
After the repairs, it changed its name and areas of action several times.
In 2010, already in Asia, called Dong Fang Ocean and registered in Panama, it collided in the South China Sea with a Maltese freighter. Both ships were heavily damaged.
Last March, it was bought for scrap and, after a complex court battle, ended up on the muddy beaches of Gujarat (Indian region) to be dismantled in the surreal shipyard of Alang, already under the somewhat euphemistic name of Oriental Nicety.
Rainier and Chris' relationship also sailed through rough waters and ended up sinking under numerous marital hardships. It has been re-established in a mysterious and dynamic triptych version.
For the time being, he enjoys a calm that allows the two of them to coexist with Jerry.
It's up to time to decide the course of their lives in Alaska, like Valdez's lucrative but shaky future.