Category Archives: Work

Probably no audience left

I know I know, it has been all too long since I wrote. But you have to understand, time here is short and there is no motivation left to do anything anymore. I leave on Monday, the temperature has plummeted and satellite times are miniscule for me now since it sets an hour after I start work and comes up just before bed time. So it’s not because I don’t love you, it’s just that there’s not that much to say.

The end of the season is a long part of this experience. It’s been dragging on since first flight which was on Jan. 24. When the first wave of friends left us, we all lost focus and decided that being here any longer was stupid. Of course, at that point, there was 10 days till the next big wave of us left so moods plummeted, alcohol consumpiton went way up and organized activities dissapeared. It didn’t help at all that at that time, when many of us started planning travels in earnest, that the company decided to finally tell us that though they advertised no-fee travel to places like Australia and Hawaii after we got off the ice, a small subset of us wouldn’t get that perk because they bought us tickets with restrictions that made changing tickets cost a lot more. Oh, and though Raytheon didn’t read the fine print on the tickets and DID advertise the prices to us, we’d be responsible for the extra costs.

Needless to say I spent a week fighting with the office in Denver where they live in a little bubble with no conception of how little we make and the fact that the reason we are all here is travel, not devotion to them. It was a fruitless battle though and since I already had paid for the dive vacation in Australia, I have been forced to pay twice what I expected to get there. good thing I got a good deal on the dive package.

Anyway, now it’s on to New Zealand on Monday where it is 100 degrees warmer than it is here and raining. God that sounds nice to me. Actual moisture in the air and on my skin. My plan is to spend a week in Christchurch taking long showers that I don’t shut off in the middle (we only get two two-minute showers here a week) walking in the botanical gardens smelling things (no moisture means no smells in the air here) and having a choice of what I eat and where I eat it. From there I will fly to Cairns, Australia where I get on a boat and scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef for a week. Then back to CHC for two days and then I fly home on March 1 to start planning a wedding in earnest. I can’t wait for all of it.

But I have to and so do you. I doubt I’ll post again before I leave. Between work (which is busy at the end of the week, thank god) and packing and short satellite windows, it just won’t happen. But I’ll take pictures on the planes on the way out and write of life from warm, wet New Zealand when I get there. Until then, thanks for staying with me and wish me luck for the next few days. I need all the encouragement I can get to keep me from just giving up on work and watching movies till Monday.

The New Year is here

Howdy and happy new year to you all! I hope 2007 is finding you warm, healthy, not too hung over and ready for lots of good things to come.

New Year’s at the South Pole was an excellent time and will definitely get it’s own entry, hopefully tomorrow, just in time for all of you to come back to work and not want to do anything but look at pictures from our party. I really just wanted to take the few minutes I have here before I go into work to say Happy New Year and all that. I know my posting has slowed down these past couple of weeks, but it’s been unavoiadable. Even here at the pole, the holidays mean things get nuts and time runs short. Between short weeks (only 5 days long!), extra work, and ever-less convenient satellite times (currently it’s up from 11:30 p.m. till 11 a.m.) finding time to post is hard. But this week, although a short one, should be a bit less hectic (I hope. I’ve been working too hard lately on a massive food move and my body can’t take much more, I need more time in front of the computer) and will give me some time to catch you up on the holiday excitement.

For now, happy new year.

No matter where you are, work is work

I had my first shitty work experience yesterday.

I spent the whole day in the Dome putting away giant boxes of food that had been stored outside for the winter since they weren’t needed. Now, since there are so many more people on station, alot of food has to be brought “inside” to the dome (It’s unheated and 50 below, but at least accesible there). There were 12 of them that got put away and 4 more are still there awaiting my attention. Plus, there are 5 more on the way. I had the help of one person and it was cold. It wasn’t shitty though. I knew I had to do it, I was well prepared and Curtis and I just went down there and did it. By the end, I was tired and cold, but I did a lot of good and that felt really good at the end of the day, except for the fact that I had numb toes. Very numb. So numb that when I got done around 430, I took off my boots and socks and had to just old my toes to warm them up. When the feeling came back, I got the burning sensation for the frist time. That was bad, real bad, but not the bad work experience. All of this is just to set the scene.

So, now I could feel my toes again and my boots were off. I was wearing my comfy kitchen shoes and had half an hour more of work. I found my boss, talked to him for a second and decided to knoock off early and go stretch my poor tired body. After that, I felt much better and wandered into the galley to look at dinner. My plan was to eat, sit and talk for awhile and then go home to shower and watch a movie.

But wait! Michelle the DA (dining attendent) came to me with a harried look on her face and I could tell she was about to tell me she needed me to get something. I tell her, before she even does, just to write it down on the list, as I’ve told her a million times before (she seems never to have had a kitchen job and is NOT good at it for a variety of reasons, one being she can’t think for herself and another being that she doesn’t look for things and another being that she can’t handle stress). Well, she says it’s an emergency; she’s just used the last of the milk powder.

Now I’m annoyed. Why would they let the milk powder run out? This is a big deal and I do have to go get it. So I slam out of the galley, annoyed, and look it up. I come back for my boots and Michelle tries to stop me and hug me to say sorry and I pull away saying “Michelle, don’t. Not right now.” She walks off and I say “I know it’s not your fault, just not now.”
Then, on my out, I stop her and ask how much milk powder they need to get through till Monday when an order comes in (I don’t make milk so I don’t know) and she says “I don’t know man, I’m just a DA” in this snotty fucking voice. Which is the official end of my rope. I clump all the way down to the dome, find 5 bags of milk powder, sled them all the way to the elevator, which people are not allowed to ride in, climb the stairs and go to put the milk away. And what do I find? go ahead, guess.

That’s right, a bag of milk powder. I almost cried.

This morning, I found Michelle to talk to her for a few minutes and make sure we were cool. After all, we have to work together for the whole season. I made sure to stop her before her shift so she wouldn’t be distracted or stressed. I made sure to frame my words in a way that made them non-accusatory, and I spoke calmly and kindly. I told her that it wasn’t her I was mad at, and that askingher to leave me be when she tried to hug me had nothing to do with her. She said we were ok. I asked if she had anything to say to me and as she started to ask me if she is supposed to keep track of things like milk, flour and sugar (where those last two came form is beyond me), she started to cry and ran off.

I swear, I know she’s having problems with the fact that she didn’t really get much training in this position (none of us did) and that she is uber-busy (we all are), but for crying out loud. If we have four months of this…..

And I thought I was escaping stupid work shit by coming here.

Crap that was a lot of work

If Pole is the Antarctica I was expecting, today was the job I was expecting, and more. Without a doubt and without exception, today was the hardest days work I have ever put in in my whole life.

Mondays are food delivery days here on station meaning that we get all the food for the next week’s menu and all the back stock staple food we need to have on hand, just in case. Today, we received and put away 9 Tri-Walls worth of food (a Tri-wall is a cardboard box about 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide) and one Tri-wall of fresh vegetables (freshies) which can not, under any circumstances, be allowed to freeze.

Receiving all this food is not a simple process. In the states, if you were getting a delivery in a restaurant or galley that serves 200 people three times a day, it would be a simple matter of inspecting each delivery from each vendor, singing for it, and putting it all away. Chances are that your restaurant, no matter how small would be at street level and the driver would probably cart in all your food and may even put it away for you.

Nothing in Antarctica is that easy and everything at the South Pole is doubly hard because of the design of the new station which, among other annoying design factors, includes an incomprehensible lack of storage in a place where temperatures rarely, if ever, rise above zero. This means that not only does everything (except, one prays, the freshies) show up frozen, but that to receive it, one gets to spend a lot of time outside in -40 degree weather.

Using the loader in the dome

The food comes over from the Dome where the station’s buildings used to be but is now largely empty. It gets picked (by me and a few other people) on Fridays. Then on Mondays, people in the materials department bring it over to the station on forklifts attached to bulldozers in order to make it up the snow ramps and over drifts. They drop it at the foot of the station’s main entrance — called Destination Zulu — where I raise it up the outside of the building to the second floor deck outside the galley on a lift (remember the incomprehensible station design issues? Why is there no ramp into the station which is built on stilts and why is the galley on the second floor?). From there, I work feverishly with two General Assistants (GA’s are the grunt labor here) to empty each Tri-wall into the hallway and lower the lift back to the ground to do again.

Ryan Frozen

Today, being my first food delivery, I expected things to work less than smoothly. Today, being the first food delivery of the season, I expected it to be bigger than normal. Right on both counts.

First, because it is the beginning of the season, the lifts are in high demand and we only got to use ours for a couple of hours. Also, because this is the beginning of the season, we only got the snow drift in front of the dome entrance plowed out yesterday. So we didn’t have enough Tri-walls on Friday to pack all the food. We had to finish that job this morning. Then, because the forks had to go to meet planes coming in, and we had not very much food in the galley after the winter, and because the winter Sous Chef (who is leaving soon, yes, but still is a boss) was freaking out a bit and because no one communicates with other departments all that well, we ended up having to ask the entire station to volunteer to unpack the Tri-walls on the ground and form a human chain to the second floor to get all the food upstairs. Approximately 7,000 pounds of food handed, person to person, up three flights of stairs (remember the building is on stilts).

Oy.

Then, when that was done, it was up to me and Ryan and Ryan (the two GAs) to figure out where to put it all. Among other things, we got 8 boxes of Tater Tots, 8 of French Fries, 4 of mixed vegie stir fry, 100 pounds of two different kinds of flour, 150 pounds of potato flakes (50 of which exploded at the end of the day in the elevator that we had to use for the very last load), and two giant boxes of dehydrated onion flakes. Did I mention the 140 pounds of Pork, the 80 Pounds of Chicken and the 110 of Strip Loin?

put it away

But we did it. It was amazing. Everyone, for the most part, kept a smile on their faces and worked as hard as possible for as long as it took. At least 75 people volunteered to hand food up the stairs to each other and we even got all the freshies in before a single cherry tomato froze. It was a completely amazing and wonderful site to see.

As hard as it can be to away from home at times (and today it was), and as hard an environment in which we live, this place is an amazing community of people, none of whom knew each other before coming here. And yet, we all pull for and help each other in amazing ways each and every day.

Truly amazing.

Daily Life at the pole

Today is my first day off since I got here and it feels good to have the break. Although it’s only been four days, I need it. As cool as it is to be here, it’s been quite a shock since my two weeks off at McMurdo actually starting work was hard. But of course it is the reason I am here.

Work is no joke around here, especially for me. I am the Materialsperson for the Galley which means that I make sure all the food that is stored on base makes it to the kitchen so that it can be cooked and eaten. Basically, I am keeping track of inventory of food for about 200 people. It’s not something you want to fuck up.

So far I feel like I am getting the hang of it, but it’s hard to tell until my first order comes in, which should be tomorrow provided the piles of snow in front of the dome (where the food is stored) is cleared away in time. Once the food gets here, we’ll see how much I over or underordered for the items I keep track of, and how smoothly I am able to manage the putting-away process. I know no one is iexpecting it to be perfect tomorrow — after all, we still have to pack a lot of the food that is coming upstairs because they couldn’t get the tri-walls inside the dome because of the snow — but not having enough food on hand would be really bad and make it so I have to work a lot harder to make up for it. And since everyone knows who is responisble for getting the food inside, well, it could get sketchy here.

domeOverall though, I like my job. Friday was food pull where 5 of us go into the Dome (an amazing place, pictures soon) and pull all the food we’re going to need in the station for the next week. It takes about four hours and although the dome is covered, it’s got holes in the roof for light and no heat. It was basically outside all morning, lifitng heavy boxes and sweating like a pig in -40 degrees. It’s a weird feeling wanting to take your jacket off ad knowing that if you do, you’re liable to get frostbite in minutes. Needless to say, I didn’t take my jacket off.

The day before that was spent getting theorder together. For a break, I went and cleaned one of the areas for which I am responsible: the back food-storage deck. Also outside, this is where we store the week’s supply of frozen goods like vegetables and pie crusts. One of my jobs is sweeping the snow off the deck which accumulates thanks to the constant wind down here. I don’t think that ad been done for most of the winter though, so this first time was a lot of shoveling and digging. Buried under the snow were some treasures including Orange Sherbert and these lovely items which a winter chef was planning on mailing to someone in Mactown as a joke.

surprise-find.JPG