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Differentiation

Sean wants to eat chicken and waffles above the Arctic Circle, so we set out walking toward Osaka in the dark. This is Barrow. February 10. The sun won’t rise until around 11, and we have a wealth of hours in which to wander before anyone is scheduled to look for us.

The previous day, we’d taken the morning Alaska Air flight that shuttles from Anchorage to Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay (northern terminus of the 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline System) and then into Barrow. The plane would return to Fairbanks and fly on to Anchorage, then turn around to make the run again, dropping and collecting oil- and coal-field workers, university professors, scientists, tourists, and members of the community.

Passengers on our flight knew each other—if not by name, then by type. “Those guys from Prudhoe Bay are coming off three-week shifts,” said the Iñupiaq woman sitting next to me. “They’ll be drunk and rowdy by the time they get to Anchorage.” There were families on the plane, but this didn’t matter to those oil guys, she said. “How’s your mother?” she asked the young man in the row to our left, starting a conversation that didn’t include me. I turned to the window and tried to make sense of the tundra well enough to identify the pipeline.