Category Archives: Play

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.

Holiday Weekend

It’s Christmas Day and I am feeling better than I have in a long time, both physically and emotionally. About 10 days ago I was diagnosed with strep throat after coming down with the worst sore throat I’ve ver had. I was confined to my room for 24 plus hours and while the opportunity to have nothing to do sounds good, when all one is left with is a 6×9 room, it’s more like being in jail than I’d like to imagine. Being sick and stuck in my room for so long did nothing to help my teetering emotional state and I spent the beginning of last week in a deep, deep funk, again.

Writing an article for the Antarctic Sun about getting engaged while on the ice woke me up to what was going on and how to get myself out of the hole I’d been slipping into. Basically, I think I was close to the edge of true depression and taking myself into the abyss by sequestering myself in a rut-filled life of work and going home to read and watch movies. But my writing dispelled the flase comfort I was finding in doing that and trying to ignore where I am and I realized that I needed to force myself back into the life going on around me. I had to stop only pining for what I find so impressive back home, and allow myself to be impressed by this place again. It was surprisingly easy to bring myself back from the brink.

I volunteered in the galley twice this week to help prep vegetables and decorate cookies for Christmas dinner which were my first forays back into life here. Then came this weekend which I had been partially dreading and looking forward to. Two days off is definitely a treat at this point, but it can also be a trap of sorts, with little to occupy my brain, I find on days off that I long more for home than on work days. But working my way out of my funk started paying off fast, as I’ve said, and by Saturday evening, I was ready to party and play with my friends.
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Everyone else had had a rough week too, rougher than mine because it was full of inaccurate accusations and stupid bullshit, and so we found ourselves in a priavtely created lounge for a pre-func drink, or three. When the cause of their week’s stress walked in, we all walked out and headed for Summer Camp Lounge, scene of our infamous and wonderful Toga Party and still home to the stripper pole. The plan was to unwind by watching The Big Lebowski and drinking white russians (The Dude’s drink). But alcohol was already flowing freely and the movie never happened. Instead, Emerys and I borrowed a snow mobile and took it out to ARO where he works and which happens to be in the clean air sector. There, we went upwind of everything on station (the point of ARO) and gathered some of the cleanest snow on Earth to mix in our drinks. You have not experienced a great drink until you’ve chilled it with snow unpolluted my man’s emissions. It’s a different kind of cold.
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Sunday, Christmas Eve, dawned bright and cold, which was nothing different for here, but nice nonetheless. After a lazy afternoon watching The Big Lebowski (no white russians though) the crew of us that had gotten mohawks the week before ambled off home to get dressed and ready for dinner. The results were spectacular. This being Christmas and all, and since we had volunteered to serve wine to the second dinner seating, we knew we had to do something special. We scoured the Skua sites and the arts and crafts room and most of us came up with some amazing costumes. Coupled with Sarah’s boa donations, we were a hit that, from all acounts, added an extra-special touch to an already special and excellent dinner.

(For the record, dinner was Beef Wellington (veggie wellington for me), roasted veggies (freshies), Crab Legs, Asparagus, Salad and three kinds of dessert (Chocolate Cake that came close to rivalling my mother’s, Pumpkin Pie and Cheesecake smothered in fresh raspberry sauce)).

The evening was quiet and relaxed, for my friends and me, though there was a raging party in the bar that I checked in on and was able to get much gossip info out of thanks to my sober state.

But it’s yesterday, Christmas Day, which was the crowning glory. Tradition here dictates that Christmas Day is the Race Around the World at 10 AM and about 100 of us got ourselves around the 2-mile course somehow. I ran, clocking in at 23:05, and it was easily the hardest two miles I ever ran. Breathing hard, frosted face, deep snow…. It’s as much as an accomplishment as any 10K back home…. But I did it. Afterwards, I sat in the galley, chatting with friends, organizing pictures and felt wonderfully unrushed. It’s a feeling I haven’t had in months and one I relish. From there, a few of us went off to nap in front of two movies before dinner. I capped the night off by winning the week’s edition of pub trivia, thanks in a large part to roger’s voluminous knowledge of history. Beers for everyone!

I hope wherever you are reading this, the day brings you as much joy as it brought me.

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Snow Stakes!

No, Snow Stakes is not some silly sports competition we put on down here to entertain ourselves in the midst of this vast, white plateau, though it does take some pretty hefty endurance. Snow Stakes is a series of trips the Metorlogical (Met) department makes during the first week or so of December every year to measure the accumulation of snow on the Polar Plateau. They make six trips over a week (depending on the weather, they may spread the trips out over as long as 10 days) along six lines of stakes radiating out from the geographic pole. Each line has 40 stakes in it and each stake is seperated from the ones next to it by half a kilometer making each line 20 KM long. Along the way, each stake’s height and angle to the ground is measured and recorded and repairs are made as necessary (sometimes the flags marking the stake or the route need to be yanked up out of the ice or replaced altogether. Sometimes the stake itself needs to have an extension put on it because snow has basically buried it over its lifetime). The point, obviously, is to determine how much snow is accumulating on each of the lines and to track that over a number of years. They’ve been doing it since 1994 and so have 14 years of data.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, unlike McMurdo where there are trips every weekend called Boondoggles which allow non-scientist residents to get off station and explore the surrounding area, the Snow Stakes trip is one of the few opportunites at Pole to actually leave the station behind. This year, the Met team decided to open up the limited spots to the Galley staff first, as a thanks for all our hard work and because many of us never even get to go outside except to walk home each night. Obviously, I jumped at the opportunity and got to go along for the ride last Sunday.

For sure, the best part of the trip is the fact that around about KM 15, the station’s buildings and structures are out of sight and you and the five other people with you are completely alone out there. There is no one around for miles and miles and except for the survival supplies and the Piston Bully (our vehicle, pictures in the album), there’s not much to keep you alive. It was a great feeling to be away from this place for the first time in more than a month but more than that, it was really wonderful to see and feel up close the intense isolation in which we live.

I don’t have many stories from the trip. It was really just 5.5 hours out in back in an uncomfortable vehicle in which the exhaust seeps into the back seating area and I got kind of nauseous. We stopped every 2 minutes or so on the way out and then barrelled back in because we were all tired and sun bleached. We measured the height of 40 stakes, took a ton of pictures and each got a chance to drive the Bully (though we weren’t supposed to so, shhhhh). Three of us even rode on top of the Bully for a few stakes, but again, shhhhhhh). At the end, we made snow angels and I recorded a short movie to illustrate the solitude and to capture the neat sound one makes walking on miles of ice. But honestly, not much happened, so instead of boring you with facts about snow accumulation (about 20cm a year on average which is 30 percent more than in the 1960s and may be evidence of global warming), I’m just going to show you some of the pictures I took and some of the videos including one from the end of the line where the sound of the ice under my feet is really neat. Hopefully they will illustrate the stark beauty of this landscape and the idea that it’s kind of like being at sea. The horizon streteches out to the ends of the Earth, the surface rocks and rolls and it is really just as peaceful. Like the ocean, it’s calming to me because of its openness.

Thanksgiving IS it

Leading up to the long Thanksgiving weekend (remember, here two days is a long weekend), there’d been a lot of talk by folks who have been here before about how Thanksgiving is the first time people really do let loose here. Judging by the lack of excitement on Friday night, when Sarah and I were pretty sure it would start, I wasn’t too hopeful for Saturday’s dinner and post-dinner “extravaganzas.”

Let’s start at the beginning though. Friday night is the night I work in the station store for the hour it is open (6 Pm to 7 Pm). The crew is me and my friend from home, Matt. For those of you who know Matt, you can imagine the one-upmanship that is going on behind the counter. Pretty girls, old, grizzled tradesmen, they all get it equally (though differently) from both of us and it’s almost like a mini pre-func in there. Well, this last Friday was gonna be a huge day and we actually had to stay open half an hour late because of the line out the door. When it was all said and done, we sold close to $3000 worth of goods, most of it made up of the new shipment of alcohol that came in that day.

You’d think some of it would have been drunk and parties would have raged that night.

By the time 8 rolled around, I was good and ready to leave the station and head out to summer camp where folks were drinking in the lounge and watching Dazed and Confused. A good enough time, I thought, considering the main theme in that movie is the first day of summer circa 1978. That should get us appropriately riled. The movie ended, the whiskey was passed around and then someone put in an episode of The Simpsons.

Uh-huh, I thought. No way, no how is this gonna get a party started. Sarah (my fellow troublemaker here) and I considered our options and decided some music was needed. IPod came out and more people showed up. Still though, no dancing, no kissing. What gives? Personally, I think it was the light. In a place with 24 hour sunlight, it’s hard for people to get used to the time of day and definitely hard for them to feel comfortable cutting loose and being crazy, even when drunk.

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When the swing shift carps showed up for their weekly Safety Meeting (why they have it in there is beyond me), I gave up and went to bed.

Saturday at the station was quiet. A normal lazy Sunday-type day. I got to brunch late after a long and wonderful phone call with ‘Lex and no one was around. Some of the guys from the night before were watching Pulp Fiction and I figured that I could do worse with a Saturday afternoon. It really was nice to laze about on a Saturday and to know that the next day was a day off to. Gosh, we all should always have two days off… Oh, wait, in the real world, you do. What the fuck AM I doing here anyway?

As the afternoon dragged, I went home for my twice-weekly shower and to change for dinner. When I got back to the New Station, I was suddenly thrust into an uncomfortable work party with everyone looking spic and span, glowing from their showers, painted with makeup and wearing oddly clean clothes. Apparently, one of the people I’ve known since Denver didn’t even recognize me when I walked by.

Great. This is gonna get us all to cut loose? Hardly.

After an uncomfortable half hour in the hallway where the Apps were served, we all filed into dinner to see a Galley transformed. Christmas lights and candles on the tables. Tablecloths and even music playing. The sun was actually blocked out and man was it nice. We all sat, the free wine started to flow and things started to look up.

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The meal was really amazing. Fresh, roasted veggies, the obligatory cranberry sauce, marshmallow sweet potatoes, stuffing and three kinds of turkey (roasted, smoked and deep fried). Three pies for dessert and did I mention the free wine?

When we were hustled out after an hour or so so that third seating could have their meal, a lot of us went down to the B1 Lounge to start the party. This lounge is where the games live and the more drunk of us soon, and inadvisably, picked up the Ping Pong paddles for some full-contact Ping-Pong. A poker game got going in another corner and then car bombs were drunk (take a Guinness, pour it into a glass. Poor a shot of Baileys, drop the shot glass into the Guinness. Chug). More Whiskey, an IPod and Tequila. There was still no real dancing (Tim doesn’t count, though he’s fun to watch. So is Jason.) but people were getting more and more loose and plenty of gossip fodder was around for Sarah and I to chew on. Who would R end up with? E or C? Could we do anything for S? Dam! J was looking hot and seems that a few people are noticing THAT.

Of course, the chance to see a Turkey shaved into someone’s chest hair was pretty worthy.

But after awhile, it got old not dancing and we left, in search of something more. What’s this? The Galley has changed again. The tables were pushed back, the music was pumping and a full-on dance party was raging! At last, things were taking off. It seemed the Tequila, the wine, the whiskey, the beer, the whatever had taken hold through the layers of Turkey and stuffing and we had found the party.

Of course, this being the south pole and not a place where people are meant to party, the sound system eventually started to crap out and the music was cutting in and out. I thought that this might kill the buzz all too soon and was trying to find a way to keep the music going when word started to spread.

“We’re going down to the skanky bar. There’s dancing down there.”

Sure enough, a walk down the unheated Beer Can (five stories) to the subterranean (and yes, heated) old gym/new smoking bar found us an honest to god rager. Without windows to let in the evil, evil sun (sorry Seattleites, but contrary to what you think, there is such a thing as too much sun, even in November), the poker in the corner had a seedy feel to it and the dancing in the center had a sexy feel to it. The couches were full of cuddling and kissing and the bar area replete with flirting, not to mention an actual new couple or two. Thank god. At last. A real party I could happily write home about and describe personal debaucheries from. Jesus. A week or two more without this and I’d’a gone nuts.

I woke up this morning still a bit tipsy I think, and dam that felt good. I’m sick of waking up alone, knowing Alexis is 9,500 miles away, but at least last night we both had a lot of fun, celebrating, in our respective places. We weren’t together physically, but I felt her close all night long.

Now it’s Sunday and brunch is calling. I’ve got to get a few pictures together for you all now though, because after eating, Misty and I are crashing the B1 Lounge movie room and watching the first three episodes of Star Wars all afternoon…. Ah weekends, how I miss thee.

Here are a bunch more pictures.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

You say it’s your birthday

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Like all things at the pole, birthdays are celebrated in a unique way, quickly and with little to no planning at all. My group of friends here celebrated our first one last night.

It was Kelly’s birthday yesterday, as you can tell by the above, and unlike me when mine rolls around, she was very quiet about it. But last week she had mentioned to a few people that her birthday was on the 13th so word did get out. Now, Kelly has a very visible job on station. Actually she has two. For half the time she is a UT apprentice which means she is learning to be one of the fix-it people that we all call when anything from the galley Ice Cream machine to the heat in the Jamesways breaks. The rest of her time, she is a janitor, doing laundry, sweeping and mopping public areas. Each week, she and the other janitor person, Ellen, sweep and mop all the floors in the public areas of the new station. On that day, everyone sees the both of them since they are in the hallways of the highest traffic areas on base all day long. Yesterday, Kelly’s birthday, happened to be that day.

I saw Kelly about a million times yesterday while I was putting the food delivery away and, I have to admit, it had slipped my mind that it was her brithday. I didn’t say a word to her about it until later in the afternoon when someone walked by and said “Did you know that today is Kelly’s Birthday?”

Since I’m a devout believer in the fact that one’s birthday is the one day a year you should feel special no matter what, I dropped everything (good thing I wasn’t carrying eggs) and ran over to her to hug her and yell happy birthday. I also apologized profusely for forgetting.

Kelly was a little taken aback but obviously happy at the well wishes. I was happy too, to see the smile on her face (she has such a pretty smile, and talked to her for a few seconds about how her day had better be a special one…. it’s a birthday after all. Back in the states, I’d be shocked to see her at work because I think folks should always take their birthdays off, but here, that’s not an option. You can’t just call insick unless you really are, so I din’t think anything of it as we boith turned back to our jobs. But then I realized there were no plans for our off hours to celebrate. She was already half-way down the stairs.
“Kelly!”

“What?”

“What do you want to do tonight to celebrate your birthday?”

“What? Oh I don’t know. We don’t have to do anything.”

“Not if you don’t want to, but it is your birthday. What do you want?”

“I dunno. You think of something. Just no alocohol. I can’t drink at this elevation.”

I didn’t particualrly want to come up with the idea, just make it happen. But it was her day and that’s what she wanted. Then, from the bottom of the stairs, I heard Kelly have an idea (She’s got a distictive little “Oh!” that she makes sometimes).

“Charlie!”

“What?”

“I know what I want to do. I want to play Pictionary!”

“Oh man, I suck at that game.”

“We all do. That’s why it’s so fun.”

So that’s what we did to celebrate. 10 of us or so got together in the small conference room after dinner (and after giving her a special dessert one of the cooks made (like everything else at the pole, it wasn’t extravagant, just a cookie surrounded by a fresh strawberry cut to look like a flower)) and of course embarassing her by pointing out her birthday to the whole galley we played Pictionary. It wasn’t much, it was last minute, and she loved it. Apparently, for the past few years Kelly has been travelling on her birthday, between seasonal jobs. She told me last night that it was the best brithday she’s had in years.

Oh, and by the way, her team won the game. And we didn’t even let her win. winners