Time Wasting at South Pole

Trip Start Dec 18, 2008
Trip End Feb 17, 2009

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Where I stayed
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

Flag of Antarctica  ,
Monday, December 29, 2008

Antarctica gets dull rather quickly.  Now I'm not saying that I didn't step outside each morning and gasp partially out of cold shock, and partially at the strange and awesome beauty of plywood crates and a mis-mash of geometric structures dotting the flat landscape--ice and sky.  The sun circling round and round apex of the sky, dipping lower as the season progresses does not lose its bizzare magic, but you do begin to run out of things to do to fill your time.  

"Antarctica really is an uninspiring place" Halley (science writer dishwasher) tells me as we sit in the art room killing time.  She is absolutely right, at least about the South Pole landscape.  It isn't that it isn't interesting, it is constantly interesting, but mostly in the effects it has on the people crazy enough to find themselves living there.  

The effect on my nose, for example. Huge boulder-sized boogers began forming inside my nasal passages the minute I stepped off the plane, and they hurt (actually hurt) all day.  I try coating my nose with vasoline at night and during the day in intervals, but no use, the boogers are here to stay.  I am sure I am not alone.  

Solitude is another effect.  The DAs (Dining Attendants--read euphemism for disher/janitorial staff)  Every meal feels like a I'm walking into a middle school cafeteria and have to choke up the balls to sit next to somebody.  This does lead to some interesting eating buddies, and really most people are friendly and welcoming.  Its just that people tend to eat in groups by department, and even interdepartmental factions like the GAs group with each other.  On the other hand, most people who end up here are experts at solitude, and choose it over company much of the time.  Many spend hours working out, reading, watching movies, or otherwise occupied in solo endeavors, all of which are probably quite interesting, if you can discern what it is they are doing.  

Shelby (marine biologist DA) has been great at pushing me into the community, which is helpful.  It is much easier to push myself into people's conversations and dinner tables once forcibly introduced by someone. 

Socially the station functions a bit like an Archaeological site, my best point of reference.  People filter in and out--Scientists arrive and leave every few weeks, completeing their field research then forfeiting space to new projects.  Some science support staffers have been coming down for years and have a pretty good social niche carved out for themselves.  Everyone else sort of fits in the middle, with some people forming very close friendships, but many remaining on the level of fun drinking buddies.  And drink we do!  

Most veterans carry a bottle or two of jack in with their weighed rations, and there is a small store that sells alcohol (beer and spirits.)  The Polies never tire of comparing themselves to McMurdo (Mac-town) dwellers, and feel superior because they can buy spirits in their store, a privilege McMurdo lost after an unfortunate incident a few years ago which involved physical injury.  

I meet my best friend my first Monday at the Pole when Shelby has invited me to drink after work in what a small group has dubbed "Aspiring Antarctic Alcoholics Anonymous" or something like that nobody can remember... just that it had four A's in it, and was thought up over dinner.  Another excuse to drink.  

I work Swing Shift, which begins around noon and ends around 11pm.  (Swing shift outside the kitchen is timed a bit differently.)  By the time I show up, the station's Safety Officer Laurie, Shelby, and Austin the Operations GA (which is a separate position from FEMC GAs)   are already drunk and expressive.  I've been dating Austin over a year now, and he claims he has no memory of this first meeting, which may or may not be convenient memory loss.  Austin accused me of being "another artist at South Pole, big surprise!"  ran around telling people I was cooler than he was because I'd been more places, and a whole lot of bullshit.  I've been dating this turd ever since. 

Go figure, I have excellent taste.

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