Tomorrow, November 2nd, is Dia de los Muertos and my birthday. It also roughly marks ten years since I arrived at South Pole Station one glaringly bright and cold Antarctica day. I bring this up because it’s already my birthday in Antarctica and I have a story to share.
For those that don’t care about my birthday blithering, you’d probably like to know the BBotE status report. Madison, Dublin (Ireland), Santa Barbara, and soon Portland’s Ambassadors were all resupplied this week. This week also sees the inauguration of regular BBotE service to Boston courtesy of your new Ambassador, Talena! She is a recent transplant from Portland and acolyte of the Caffeinatrix. You may drop her a line for 750ml bottles by email at bahstun [dot] bbote [at] gmail [dot] com. I somehow suspect they may go quickly.
Now for the Way Back Machine, but first a glossary…
“The Ice” (n) – Colloquial name for the continent of Antarctica.
“The Dome” (n) – Colloquial name of the part of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station covered by the geodesic dome weather skin to help keep buildings from getting buried by snow. Commissioned in 1975, demolished in 2005. Replaced by the new Elevated Station.
Club 90 South (n) – Bar at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Built by the Navy well-beloved by me.
Polie (n) – A person who has wintered-over at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
Polie (adj.) – 1. Pretaining to the actions, people, or places at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. 2. Patently crazy, primarily evidence being the willing agreement to spend a year at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
Winter-Over (n) – A person who has stayed at one of the Antarctic stations through an Austral winter.
Winter-Over (adj.) – Crazy
Skua (n) – 1. A large, evil minded, dust mop of a Southern Ocean gull that has no fear of Man and has, in fact, learned that things in Man’s hands are often tasty and will steal them. 2. A central location in the station for excess/junk items to be stockpiled for general use by anyone rather than just throw them away.
Toast (n) – The state of diminished faculties associated with a winter spent at one of the Antarctic stations, likely related to thyroid hormone imbalance due to extended darkness and cold.
Toasty (adj.) – A descriptor of foolish acts or person who is likely suffering thyroid hormone imbalances due to a winter-over conditions.
Taking from these definitions, you may note that a Polie is double crazy.
On Halloween 2002, after almost two weeks of weather delays and mechanical failures in Christchurch, NZ before getting to McMurdo Station and then a cold snap that made it impossible to fly into Pole, the first flight of the summer season, P001, arrived at South Pole Station and I was on it. We then dropped off our gear and tromped to the not yet complete galley of the new elevated station. The NSF representative welcomed us new folks (note: he flew in with us), congratulated the previous winter’s crew for making it and handed out the Antarctic Service Medal to them, and then the station opening party began. I was the only new person that got out there on the dance floor and danced the Time Warp with the old winterover crew, thus earning me another nickname and access to Club 90 South while the winterovers were still hiding in it from the new people. This should have been a sign to everyone when people who’d already been stuck at Pole for a year considered me to me alright and normal.
There are two parties not particularly set on the calendar in Antarctica because they are dictated by weather: Station Opening and Station Closing. Roughly speaking for Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the first flight in is some time around Halloween and the last flight out is Valentine’s Day-ish. However, these are not the big parties. The big two are Halloween and Midwinter (AKA the austral winter solstice, every day from there is a day closer to light). Halloween, in particular, is big because it is the fleeting moment when the previous year’s winterovers are there and the first planeload of new people has showed up. Not without coincidence, the first cargo pallet to come off the first plane of the season is not medicine, or mail, but beer. However, parties happen on Sundays because that’s the day off. Halloween fell on a Friday that year, so the party was delayed until the 2nd. My birthday.
Halloween, of course, demands costumes. To this end, the nice folks back at HQ in Centennial, CO had loaded several large, palletized, tri-wall boxes full thrift store clothes and generic accessory crap from the Goodwill Bargain Barn (motto: “VALUES BY THE POUND”) and sent them to Antarctica. Pole had them lined up to the skua bins. McMurdo had a goddamn Costume Closet for special events, which tended to cause a lot of men dressing in drag for some reason (ACTUAL REASON: Navy tradition).
PROTIP: DO NOT dress in drag around the Russians freshly released from a two year stint at Vostok. They. Do. Not. Care. Anymore.
I did my best under the trying circumstances to find something that fit. I had no other clothes than the expedition grade stuff I had arrived with in the go-bag I was carrying; the rest of my possessions were still stuck in McMurdo and wouldn’t arrive for another two weeks. The resulting horror was a hybrid of snowpants and boots, brass toned expedition thermal underwear, a blue seersucker jacket, and a chicken hat. When I eventually find the picture of this, I’ll put it up.
EDIT: Picture found!
In the ship store, I discovered they sold both Maker’s Mark and sweet vermouth. I’d brought my own bitters with me, so I bought one of the travel mugs to use as a shaker, chipped some ice off the side of the Dome and made a manhattan. We were warned that we who weren’t accustomed to altitude and probably shouldn’t do any drinking. I made a second one to go out to the Summer Camp huts for the party.
On my arrival at the hut, I was greeted by my friend Mark, with a bottle of Glenfiddich in hand. “PHIL!” he bellowed. “YOU NEED DRINK AND BLOOD!” I then was ordered to take a swig from the bottle and fake blood was poured all over my face and chicken hat. Mark had already had great fun with the fake blood and his head looked like he’d just recently pulled it out of the carcass of a freshly killed pig.
The night gets a bit hazy after that. Pinatas happened. We summoned Mark, a gifted mountain climber, down from the ceiling with the promise of shots of whiskey. There was also a chainsaw. A chainsaw happened to a pinata.
As this kicks off the ten year anniversary of Phil’s Antarctic Adventures, there’ll probably be a few more of these posts popping up between now and next Halloween as we hit more milestones. I hope you’ll enjoy.