Over to You

WANT MY ‘REAL’ ADDRESS?

PEGGY BILLINGSLEY July 26 2004
Over to You

WANT MY ‘REAL’ ADDRESS?

PEGGY BILLINGSLEY July 26 2004

WANT MY ‘REAL’ ADDRESS?

If you must know, it’s 13 Mushers Row. Good luck finding it on the map.

Over to You

PEGGY BILLINGSLEY

I HAVE NO HOUSE NUMBER or street name. But that doesn’t make me homeless—just unconventional. I do, in fact, have a place to store my stuff and lay my head. I even have a mailing address—a post office box number. And most of all, I have a certain degree of satisfaction in not being part of the status quo.

Two years ago I moved from Kearney, Ont., to Old Crow, Yukon, a community of about 300 beside the Porcupine River above the Arctic Circle. Life 800 km northwest of Whitehorse is different. You can only get to Old Crow by plane and the runway is dirt,

as are the streets. The lives of the people, though modern in many ways, are still governed by nature’s rhythms—salmon fishing in the summer, berry picking in August, and muskrat trapping in the spring.

It’s a friendly place where everyone knows everyone else. Ask where somebody lives and the answer will invariably be something along the lines of, “He’s in the brown house with the crooked porch, next to my dad.” This system works pretty well—as long as you don’t need a “real” address. The first time my partner Kai and I ordered an item online from a computer supply store, we requested it be sent via courier. No problem, easy as a click of the mouse—or so we thought. The phone call confirming our order was where things began to fall apart.

“We see that you have a box number listed,” stated a nice young woman. “We’ll need a street name and house number to process your order.”

“We don’t have street names here,” replied Kai. “It’s a fly-in community. The lady at the post office will know who we are.”

“You don’t have street names?” the customer representative responded. “What do you mean? You have streets, don’t you?” “Yes, we have streets, but none of them are named,” Kai said. “If it helps, we live on the street near the landing strip.”

“No street names, right,” said the nowexasperated woman. “Well, what about a house number?”

“We have one but I’m not sure what it is. Hang on, my partner will check,” Kai said.

“OK, it’s 895, but that doesn’t matter because we pick our mail up at the post office anyways. The house numbers are pretty random; my neighbour’s is 500-something.” “Well, I need some sort of real address,” the rep retorted. “The courier doesn’t deliver without an address.”

By this point, I had overheard enough. “Tell her it’s not as if the courier guy is going to show up at our door,” I said through gritted teeth. “The package will make it to Whitehorse and then it will sit in the town

mailbag until there’s room on the plane to bring it to us.”

But then I blurted, “Tell her our address is 13 Mushers Row.”

“Thank you,” she replied, suddenly cheerful again now that her life had become far less complicated. “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

And so 13 Mushers Row was born. And even though I moved again recently, it’s still the address I provide to anyone who insists they need a street name and house number— as if those two pieces of information validate my existence.

I now live in the Northwest Territories, beside Blachford Lake, about 120 km from Yellowknife. Here, I don’t even have a house number—and there’s no street. It’s simply in the middle of paradise (although some would say nowhere). My new home is a 4-by-5-m plywood-and-tarp tent frame that actually belongs to my employer, a wilderness lodge where guests can fish in summer and watch the northern lights in winter. I share this rustic domicile with a dilapidated, “airtight” wood stove and 22 sled dogs.

I am not a part of the human race that runs off to work each morning on vehicle-clogged highways, grabs power lunches or power naps, takes yoga or works out in the gym. My days are governed by the seasons and are filled with work that makes me happy and healthy.

Still, every once in a while I can feel myself slipping through some bureaucratic crack. That’s where I found myself when it came time to fill out the paperwork to change my health card. Everything was fine until I hit the statement that indicated a box number would not be accepted.

But my address is a box number. So in the spirit of making do, that’s what I filled in on the form. I was tempted to write 13 Mushers Row, but I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with a faceless individual at the ministry of health and social services who could make this either a simple process—or my life a living hell.

Still, just to be safe, I had my employer write a letter, on company paper, stating why my address is a box number and confirming that I am a real, honest-to-goodness, taxpaying citizen of the Northwest Territories.

That was four weeks ago. I’m still waiting. The plane comes in next week with mail— maybe there will be a brand new health card on it for me. 1^

Peggy Billingsley lives near Blachford Lake, N.W.T. To comment: overtoyou@macleans.ca.