I spent a year as the cryotech and bartender for Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, 2002-2003. I tried to write a lot of things down before I forgot them all.

Where’s Phil Now & How To Get To Antarctica

If you’ve been poking at the store side of things lately, you may have noticed that the inventories of most everything has dwindled down to zero. This is intentional as I want to clear everything out before I put up the next round of pre-orders. “Why?” you ask. Because I am off to beautiful, scenic Richland, WA for a week of Fun With Radiation. “WHY!?!?” you may ask again. Because Richland, WA is where we’ve hidden Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, AKA the Hanford Site, and they’ve accreted various things relevant to my actual career of playing with the DEADLY RADIATIONS™. So, really it’s almost a vacation, if your definition of vacation includes plutonium and talking about regulations. Regular production will resume after Memorial Day.

And you may be absolutely certain that I am going to sample all of the wares of these fine folks at the Atomic Ale Brewpub. In the interest of Science, of course.

Over the last decade (oh god, it has been that long) I have been asked many times people how the can get to go to Antarctica, most recently by Meredith Yayanos. Well, here’s my list of ways down to the Ice:

The typical way people assume you go to Antarctica is to do Science. As I have attempted to tell folks, the vast majority of people in Antarctica are not scientists but this is still a way down. As an American researcher, the first thing you’ll need is a large research grant. You then submit your research proposal to USAP, the National Science Foundation’s United States Antarctic Program (international researchers may feel free to apply, though many of the signatory nations to the Antarctic Treaty have their own programs). If approved, you’ll be granted an event number, which you should hold on to for dear life as absolutely everything you do in Antarctica will be referenced back to that.

For those of a scientific bent, it is far easier to find someone that has an existing event number, try to modify their proposal to include your research, and sort of be a research subcontractor. Or, if you like their research, go down as a research associate under their project. NOTE: this is why Antarctica is full of undergrads, grad students, and postdocs.

Of course you may fabulously independently wealthy, or have such folks as backers, and don’t want to deal with the USAP and feel like having an expedition to Antarctica on your own. You better have your shit together unless you feel like pulling a Capt. Scott down there because without an event number assigned to your expedition, absolutely no one will help you. Or they will help, grudgingly, and an extremely high price that will be taken out of your hide when your sorry, unprepared ass gets rescued and shipped home…assuming you survive to get rescued.

There are a variety of cruises that “go to Antarctica” that you can sign up for but buyer beware. Many of these cruises on converted Russian fishing vessels count crossing 66° 33′ 44″, the Antarctic Circle, as going to Antarctica. Some visit islands south of the circle, some play along the peninsula but I don’t know any that do landfall on the mainland. These cruises are also painfully expensive.

It was only -38F that day. It's a dry cold.

My Ceremonial South Pole Hero Shot & Xmas Card 2002

But perhaps price is no object to you and you want your hero shot at the ceremonial South Pole. Well, there’s always Adventure Networks that for ~$60k will fly you down, let you do  a bit of skiing, take your picture and fly home. Honestly, we Polies looked at these flights with some disdain as we contemplated our paychecks and watched 60-70 year olds pile out of the plane, gasping for air at the altitutde, stay for 30min and fly out. That was back when the trip only cost $30k.

If you want to actually work in Antarctica and let someone pay you to be there, there are a variety of contractors that support the USAP mission. The primary support contractor for USAP is Raytheon Polar Services Co (NOTE: this is no longer accurate). Akima Staffing Solutions is also down there as well. This is they way for most anyone else to go to Antarctica if you don’t think you have “science applicable skills” good enough to support the NSF directly as a grantee. Construction workers, cooks, mechanics, custodians, etc.,on average there’s eight people to every one person doing research just to keep the stations running. If you aren’t afraid of scrubbing pans or wielding a shovel, and don’t mind long hours and low pay, you can go to Antarctica. I’m to understand a judge on the federal bench once went on sabbatical as a dishwasher. Of course, you will have to pass the physical and psych qualifications; you have to be crazy enough to want to go to Antarctica, but not too crazy.

Lastly, there is a special Antarctica Artists & Authors Program out of the NSF to promote the creation of works of art inspired by Antarctica. The grant will pay to get you to Antarctica, plus food and berthing once you’re there, but there’s no money for salary or materials. So get your ducks in a row to keep the home fires burning before you go on an inspirational journey. Also, don’t be surprised if you get roped into the odd job or two while you’re there.

 

 

 

An Antarctic Recipe: Enhanced Sangria

In the interest of sharing important slices of life from my time as Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station’s bartender, I give you the recipe for “Enhanced” Sangria, AKA Mechanics’ Juice.

  1. Accidentally freeze an entire airdrop pallet of wine so that you have enough broken bottles that need to be consumed NOW so that this recipe’s portions make sense.
  2. Procure a reasonably clean 5 gallon bucket*. At the very least, a bucket free of detritus. Add the booze in the right order and you don’t have to worry much about disinfecting things.
  3. Add one 750ml bottle, each, of the following boozes: gin, light rum, tequila, triple sec, vodka.
  4. Add three bags of frozen fruit and several sliced oranges. Fresh fruit won’t last forever and you might as well use it here instead of throwing it out.
  5. Fill the remainder of bucket with red wine. Try to strain out the broken glass, chunks of cork, and label before dropping them in.
  6. Let sit for roughly 24 hours. DO NOT PUT THE BUCKET OUTSIDE IN THE SUBZERO TEMPS. Freezing things is why you’re making this in the first place.
  7. Hide the sharp implements and serve to the unsuspecting by the pitcher.

NOTE: A single person should not consume an entire pitcher of this.

Of course, that happened. This is the reason that there is a brilliant scarlet stain on the wall of one of the bedrooms in the Elevated Station. Someone had “an incident” and that stain is FOREVER I tell you. We’d only taken occupancy of the new station about a week beforehand, so this was the first ding in the fender if you will.

I take some solace it wasn’t me, but I did make the sangria that caused it. Sorry about that, US Antarctic Program.

* This recipe can be easily scaled up to for 55gal Rubbermaid wheelie trashcan. I know this because we had more frozen wine left over and repeated the experiment on a more epic scale.

A Bounty!

So, as we previously discussed, I’ve been to Antarctica.

In my time there I got to visit two of the American stations, McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott South Pole (where I wintered over), and New Zealand’s station right over the hill on Ross Island from McMurdo, Scott Base. I want to take a moment so that I can for the who knows how manyeth time thank the Kiwis for the hospitality they extended me when I got marooned in McMurdo for a month by weather and waiting for my cargo ship to come in. Most Americans are only allowed to visit one day a week to keep the summertime 1000+ McMurdans from overrunning the ~50 folks at Scott Base. You welcomed my forlorn Polie butt to visit anytime and for that I will be eternally grateful. Also, you had way better food.

Scott Base Hat In Action

Scott Base Hat…In Action! – Signing The 2003 Geographic South Pole Marker

Like all the stations, there is a ship store that has various sundries for the staff and visitors alike. While I may have enjoyed the amusing designs of the South Pole Station t-shirts more, the actual quality of the gear at Scott Base’s store was far superior. In particular, I purchased a simple black beanie with the words “SCOTT BASE” embroidered on it. I wore that thing damn near every day the austral winter of 2003, plus many cold and windy days since coming home. It has been a boon companion in countless urban exploring adventures.

And now it is missing.

Perhaps by posting this love letter to my missing beanie, it will reappear and I will merely look foolish for sharing these words. But if it doesn’t, I make this offer to the world: the first one of you that can give me a replacement Scott Base beanie, I will give two 1L bottles of BBotE postage included anywhere in the world. This is likely a golden opportunity for some lucky New Zealander to get some free BBotE.

You know how to get a hold of me, people. THE HUNT IS ON!

EDITORIAL: Yes people, that is a Fairport Convention shirt I’m wearing. It was the last concert I saw, shortly before departing for Antarctica.

I Went Here: Exploration, Toilet By Toilet

Fallout Shelter No. 9 1/2

Fallout Shelter No. 9 1/2 – the kind of wonderful things you find while Urban Exploring

At last, the long promised “Bathrooms of Antarctica” post.

Once upon a time, in the dawn of the new millennium when Geocities and Angelfire sites still littered the internet, I came across a brilliant website, now lost to the ages, entirely dedicated to one man’s exploration of the world via it’s bathrooms. Now, you might not be terribly impressed by a series of pictures of porcelain from exotic locales (especially since the view doesn’t change all that much in bathrooms) but I took away a valuable lesson that complimented my interest in Urban Exploring. If you want an excuse to go visit any given place, it doesn’t get better than “I need to pee”.

This is how I came up with a new rule for myself: every day, use at least one toilet you’ve never used before. I have some friends with shy bladders or crippling cleanliness-focused OCD to whom this sounds like absolute torture, but it has served me well. Following this rule, I managed to learn the UC Berkeley exterior and interior within a matter of weeks. By the time a year had passed, I shocked employees that had been at Cal for decades with the ease that I traced the fastest/easiest path in three dimensional space between destinations. Just call me the Human Hamiltonian.

I’ve used urinals that were barely more than a funnel soldered into a joint on a drainpipe in mechanical chases. I’ve stepped into heavy oak paneled and door stalls with massive works of porcelain that are best described as “eliminatory edifices”, not toilets. I’m impressed with the utilitarian simplicity that is the New Zealand bog, where you’re standing on grating from the time you enter the bathroom and the entire floor below you is the drain. So, pick a wall and the they only thing you really need to manage is not urinating on your fellow patrons. For some folks this easier said than done, so it pays to be alert.

Where it gets interesting is when you discover a toilet you didn’t expect, such as the one in the middle of the old power plant for South Pole Station so the person on watch who can’t leave can still take care of business (the aforementioned funnel attached to a drain line). Would you recognize such a convenience if you saw it? I heard numerous tales of westerners who achieved extreme discomfort before realizing the hole in the floor was the toilet when visiting Southeast Asia, not a place where the toilet was stolen from. When water is precious, you don’t waste it on such things as flushing.

Of course, at South Pole Station, water is a luxury because it has to be melted using precious fuel. Every time you flush the toilet, you’ve effectively sent your business down the drain with JP-8 jet propulsion fuel. For this reason, the new elevated station has .5L per flush toilets and the waterless urinals that seem to be increasingly popular in California in years since I returned in 2003. But what about the previous iterations of the station and what of the remote buildings?

The Poopcicle

The Poopcicle – sewage pipe flange leaks are forever at the South Pole. Note that there’s another one at the next flange.

The first thing to know is that running water only happens if you have liquid water and pipes sufficiently insulated to bring it to you…and take sewage away. This is a problem in the Dakotas, much less Antarctica. In McMurdo, they get away with elevated insulated pipes but South Pole has to put all their pipes will under the ice for extra insulation; the constant -80F of 20′ below the surface is preferable to the variable -8 to -108F of the surface, plus they’d get buried by blowing snow anyway. You’ve seen wrapped pipes before I’m sure, but please look at the sewage line for South Pole Station. That is a 4″ line with 10″ thick of insulation and then the corrugated pipe. It was just barely enough to keep liquid water flowing in and out of the buildings of the central station, from the meltwater pumping well to the previous played out melt well that now serves as sewage bulb. What I’m getting at here is that flush toilets are a luxury at the South Pole and always have been because Fuel Is Life and how much of that do you want to spend on water you don’t absolutely need to survive?

South Pole Solar Outhouse (Note the freezer door style entry)

South Pole Solar Outhouse (Note the freezer door style entry)

The answer is to take advantage of the environment. During the summer, there are portable solar toilets that are transported around the station on skids and planted near the worksites they’re needed most. 24hrs of low angle sunlight means that you can blacken the all the walls and be guaranteed that some part of the outhouse is getting enough sun to keep things melted. And let me tell you, as a toilet seat, 2″ thick heavy foam insulation is damn comfy. They work particularly well at Pole as there are no storms that to obscure the sunlight; at McMurdo one good hurricane-blizzard (AKA Herbies) and they’ll freeze solid without the sun, probably get buried under snow for good measure.

For the remote camps, where you’re just living in a tent for a couple weeks in the summer, you still have to have a toilet. The solution here isn’t much different than a Coleman camp toilet. The good news is that smell quickly stops being an issue as everything freezes. For men, we have the added benefit of the makeshift urinal made from a 55gal drum and a funnel.

During the winter, we used the same approach at the out buildings with the plastic bags placed outside to quickly freeze. NOTE: It’s is very important to remember that you did this. Otherwise, someone will receive a very unpleasant surprise when they clear away some snow later on.

The "Old Pole" Heads - I imagine the hinge & splinters would get a bit uncomfortable

The “Old Pole” Heads – I imagine the hinge & splinters would get a bit uncomfortable

It is worth noting that the first two iterations of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (the IGY ’57 station, AKA Old Pole, and “The Dome” in 1975) were built by the Navy. As such, they were able to take certain liberties with the comfort of the station crew. When you take into account that the no women wintered over at Pole until 1979 and none even visited prior to 1969, no segregated bathroom facilities were needed and even the main station were spartan. Interestingly, in terms of design, they’re not all that different from Roman latrines. There’s not all that much photo evidence handy of life when Old Pole was active, but the base is still there, 80′ under the snow and ice for people brave enough to go in and ignore the US Antarctic Program/Raytheon edict strictly forbidding entrance on pain of removal from the continent, forfeiture of pay & bonus, and ban from future return.

So, let us just say that these photos came into my possession. Let’s not discuss how I got them. Old Pole was abandoned because the weight of ice & snow overhead splintered a central support 8×8 timber. It takes a lot to break those. I’m to understand that when it buckled with a bang, the whole station heard and it sent out wooden shrapnel in manner that would have staked a whole platoon of vampires as an area effect weapon. That was 30+ years ago and the weight overhead has only increased, so enter at your peril.

The point I’m getting at here is that everybody, all of humanity, every day, poops. There isn’t a society anywhere on Earth that doesn’t have to deal with the repercussions of this, from the most remote tribe of the Amazon, to the financial houses of the City of London, to the frozen wastes of Antarctica. Any place you go, you have a chance to learn how someone else goes, to build that little bit of empathy. And, on a practical level, it is a chance to learn the place you’re at in great detail.

Corporate Culture vs. The Frozen Frontier

Right out the gate, I must highly recommend the work of Mr. Nicholas Johnson writer of Big Dead Place and curator of the website of the same name. I started giggling at his tales while I was still in Antarctica and it now helps me maintain a connection to a continent I never expect to see again. Whenever someone wants to know what going Antarctica is really like, I always recommend Big Dead Place because the process of going to and being in Antarctica is about people, not the place. The place itself is cold, strange, absolutely unforgiving, and staggeringly beautiful; what can make it a delight or misery is other people.

And, for good or ill, many of those other people aren’t even there.

In the dawn of Antarctic exploration, you didn’t get to know what happened on a voyage until the ship returned to port. Considering that expeditions regularly got stuck in the winter ice pack, that might have been a  matter of months between contact.

By the time of the Admiral Byrd and the Nazis declaring vast tracts of Antarctica to be Neu Scwabia, it was a matter of days until the aircraft in question could get back off the continent to tell tales of dash and daring-do.

With the International Geophysical Year in 1957 and the initiation of Operation Deep Freeze to establish the three modern American stations in Antarctica, constant contact was available via shortwave radio communication but mainly used for station critical operations. Personal communication by radio was limited to emergencies that actually percolated through the military chain of command AND someone decided was worth sharing with someone at the bottom of the Earth (i.e. births & deaths that might require a legal decision). Everything else was limited to the notoriously unreliable US Army Post Office, which can’t get anything to you for the duration of the Antarctic winter anyway.

By my time in at Pole in 2002-2003, internet access was been available roughly 16hrs a day with speeds ranging from 200bps to 1Mps depending on which satellite was in the sky. We also had the Iridium satellite phones available to us, so a call home could be made at anytime or, more likely, a call to us. This means that we never really lost contact with home and, much worse, people back at home in America really didn’t get that they were talking to people who were as isolated as it is possible to be and still be on Earth.

The United States’ stations in Antarctica are managed by Raytheon Polar Services Company (RPSC) which, as far as I can tell, is the sole non-military arm of Raytheon. RPSC is run out of a corporate park in Centennial, CO with lovely groomed lawns and cubicle farms. It wouldn’t look out of place in pretty much any commercial/light industrial commerce zone in America. Like any corporate office, they have ice cream socials, baby showers, birthday cake, summer picnics. Group bonding activities. Things that you’d put in the corporate newsletter.

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station Aerial

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station Aerial View, circa 2003: Note The Lack Of Picnic Benches

Things you just absolutely cannot fucking do in Antarctica. Sending this newsletter, or worse invitations to these events, during the dead of Antarctic winter just shows a cruel failure to relate to the remote employees you are “distance managing”.

All the normal trappings of corporate America comes with this level of contact: weekly sitreps, quarterly, HR code of conduct announcements, weekly safety meetings, etc. We had a station manager who’s role, nominally, was to make sure that we fulfilled all the demands from the Mother Raytheon back in Colorado. As the year wore on, we had a decidedly less reverent adherence to these demands. I made a point of including horribly inappropriate songs in my sit reps (that song went with April 2003’s sitrep, as I recall). Another person began doing their parts inventories as haiku.

But the safety meetings, that’s where we achieved true virtuosity as we had to submit reports on topics presented and the insights gained. We ran out of topics very early on because, really, there’s only so much going on when you can’t escape and are on caretaker duty. The solution was to start watching movies and then justify this with safety lessons. I had brought my complete DVD collection with me, so were well set. One of the last things I purchased for the collection was the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volumes 1-4, which included a DVD full of the safety video shorts. Our very favorite was “Shake Hands With Danger”, a video by the National Safety Council and Caterpillar from the 1970s.

Deep down, this entire post is an excuse just to get you to listen to this song.

Antarctic Lifestyle Challenge

The questions the first graders at Redwood Elementary School asked me had two major themes:

  1. Tell us about how you can die horribly and not be rescued. Add situational complications to make it harder for me to rescue the poor Antarctican
  2. Do you have/can you take *INSERT ITEM HERE* to Antarctica?

For the latter, I presented them with a challenge. It’s the same challenge every member of the United States Antarctic Program is presented with before they deploy: how can I reduce my life to 150lbs? Not 100 items, not 8cu.ft., but 150lbs. Yes, they do weigh you before you get on the the flight for Antarctica.

I suspect tonight there are 20 first graders that are going to be piling their possessions onto the bathroom scale much to their parents’ confusion. Go ahead and give it a try. Might encourage you to buy a Macbook Air if you really need a computer.

You get 150lbs of Important Things. It would be nice if it all fit in two suitcases and a carry on, but I’m not feeling too picky about that. Alright…GO!

Drinking To Columbia – An Antarctic Tale

EDIT: Today is February 1st, 2013, which makes it the 10th anniversary of this event. Raise a glass, won’t you, to the High Frontier.

This tale is prompted by hearing a familiar voice on the radio speaking to some elementary school students. One I hadn’t heard in eight years since a rather grim alcohol soaked day at McMurdo Station, Ms. Cady Coleman, Astronaut. She is currently serving aboard the International Space Station.

As previously discussed, I spent a year in Antarctica at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. We winterovers were entitled to some R&R during the summer before the full “The Shining”-grade lockdown for 9 months set in at Pole. But did they send us to Tahiti to enjoy warmth, greenery, and mai tais? Noooooo…they used to send folks to New Zealand but there was a bad spate of people skipping on their contracts now that they’d already endured three months of The Ice. By the time my year hit, people at Pole got sent for a week in beautiful, comparatively tropical, McMurdo Base. I got stuck there an additional two weeks waiting for a supply ship to offload.

Too much happened in this total of three weeks and much of it was spent drunk or short of sleep for me to hope to get all in one go.  For the time being, let us discuss Room 129 in Building 155. Eleven of us went on R&R at the same time in mid-January 2003. Six of us were in Room 105, where I was put, and the rest were in 129. Sadly, the occupants of my room were focused on sleeping and reading. The other room had a strict schedule that went something like this:

1100 – Wake up.
1101 – Pour yesterday’s burnt coffee into trash can, or other room occupant’s boots as the muse demands.
1102 – Turn on coffee pot. (coffee pots in rooms are against the McMurdo rules)
1107 – Pour coffee. Add Irish Creme and whiskey to greet the McMurdo morning properly. Repeat as necessary.
1130 – Stack previous night’s beer cans and liquor bottles onto the growing pyramid.
1200 – Lunch. Offend sensitive McMurdans.
1300 – Day Bar at Southern Exposure*.
1730 – Dinner. Offend sensitive McMurdans.
1830 – Night Bar at Southern Exposure*.
0030 – Midrats (“midnight rations”, McMurdo had a specific list of people allowed to eat at this time which we ignored). Assemble bar on the dining room table. Offend sensitive McMurdans
0130 – Room party or lounge shenannigans.
0400 to 0700 – Go to sleep, maybe.

You can take you guess as to which group I spent the most time with.

*: For reference, Southern Exposure is also known as The Smoking Bar. Once upon a time it had been the Chief’s Bar during the Navy days. There were two other outlets for booze, The Coffeehouse (formerly the Officer’s Club, a very old quansit hut), and Gallagher’s, AKA The Non-Smoking Bar (formerly the Erebus Club, the enlisted men’s club, renamed after the death of CPO Gallagher (ret.) who died on Ice in 1997).

I seem to be digressing. Let’s take the story to February 1st, 2003 standing in the main entryway to McMurdo’s primary building, Bldg 155, with NASA astronauts Eileen Collins and Cady Coleman. I’d gotten to help them move their remote campsite a few weeks earlier as they were doing meteorite collection on the ice sheet by the Pecora Hills. I have no problem whatsoever being menial labor on the endless frozen expanse when I get to hangout with astronauts. Hell, I moved their bucket toilet with glee and sat there for three hours in the cold waiting for a plane to take me back to safety.

Both Cady & Eileen had been on previous space shuttle flights. Eileen, in fact, had been the first female pilot the shuttle had ever had. There was some concern of damage to the shuttle for reentry. Thus, they were watching the Armed Forces Television monitors with rapt interest and sharing small tales of the awesome of going to space. Being the science nerd and child of Cape Canaveral I am, I was hanging on every word.

Then Columbia exploded.

There was a a sharp intake of breath from the dozen or so assembled. One of the construction folks screamed “NO!” at the top of her lungs.

I turned to Cady and said, “I have a bar worth of booze in my room if you’d like a drink RIGHT NOW.” She and Eileen slowly nodded, looking rather shellshocked. They’d just watched their co-workers die. No, more than that, these are the people you have been studying with, sweating in the gym with, and trapped in various spam cans with for years. Being an astronaut is somewhere between army platoon and tightly knit doctoral program group. These were more than co-workers or friends; they were fellow explorers on the frontier.

I would like to state for the record that it is rather hard to drink me under the table. I have survived evenings with naval personnel from several countries, a misadventure with a watch worth of Coasties, hard rock miners, gutter punks and emerged staggering tall (albeit holding The Plunger of Honor one time…long story, don’t ask). However, these two women had me holding on to the pool table for support as they kept clearing it with deadeye accuracy and taking more and more shots of gin. Commander Collins is 5’1″ and almost didn’t get to be an astronaut due to a space program worth of suits designed with the six footer John Glenn in mind. I doubt she said “Fuck you very much, NASA” but she did make sure that a suit was available to fit her by becoming part of the suit design project.

At the end of it all, Cady asked if I’d like to see the video she took on the shuttle. Her personal camera. That may have been the high point of my Antarctic experience.

To Cady, Eileen, and all the astro/cosmo/taikonauts, I wish you the very best as you keep humanity’s future in the stars going forward. To the names on the memorial at Kennedy Space Center, and all the others that have lost their lives as we try to escape the gravity well, I raise a glass.

The Black Lodge, Antarctica

While I muster together all the Las Vegas, CES, and nuclear accident thoughts, something else popped to the front of the line that demands sharing.  I recently picked up the Twin Peaks gold box, which is what dredges the story up from the depths of memory.  It is worth noting that I was the Science/Cryogenics Technician from Amundsen-South Pole station for 2002-2003.  Yes, I was there for an entire year.  I was also their bartender.

Once upon a time, in the austral summer of 2002, Mark the Science Electrician, Patty the Cargo Mistress, and I tried to organize a David Lynch-A-Thon over the course of several weekends during the summer.  This didn’t work out well since the only day off during the summer is Sunday and people generally decided to devote that to drinking (or the recovery therefrom).  Understandably, it ended up being just the three of us in the Summer Camp Smoking Lounge.

Oh, the poor smokers of Pole.  They only had two indoor places to hide and both of them are gone now.  The new elevated station is decidedly non-smoking.  There had been plans for a smoking lounge but they were changed.  If you want a smoke now, it’s out into the frozen wastes for you.

I really can’t do justice to the windowless, thick point sharpie marker graffiti’d, place where furniture came to die that this was.  Every time you sat down, you were enveloped in a fog of ash and cigaratte funk.  The only thing you could ever find left in the bar was a bottle of Jack Daniels but there were never any shot glasses.  The profane scribbles on the wall spoke to a heritage of five decades of drunken, surly construction workers and Navy enlisted men.  Once upon a time, it had been the Last Chance Saloon, its facade somehow constructed from crates.  Truly, it was heaven second only to Club 90 South.  I long to be seated behind the bar there with my feet propped up on the beer cooler still….

A little after 3am, after the the last of my victims passed out or staggered home, I packed away my portable bar and the three of us went over to the smoking lounge to watch the pilot of Twin Peaks which had just arrived in the mail for Mark.  He had shipped his complete VHS set to himself two months before leaving for Pole, making a total transit time of four months before it came off the plane in Antarctica.  After finishing the pilot, I dug into my portable bar and brought out the bottle of Hapsburg absinthe that had been smuggled to me from New Zealand by the pilots.  I figured that the green fairy was the only way to cope with Senor Lynch after nearly a decade without watching the show.  Mark and Patty agreed.

After a glass each, we figured what the hell, we can watch the next two and it’ll be time for breakfast.

After four episodes and a few more glasses, we decided, drunkenly & erroneously, that alcohol metabolized to sugar just like all other food which meant, basically, that we were having breakfast already.  (I do not claim that this was good reasoning)

Eventually, we had watched it all, including the movie ‘Fire Walk With Me’, had drank an entire bottle of absinthe between the three of us plus many beers, and hadn’t eaten in 24 hours nor slept in 48.  We were, understandably, a little bit loopy when we finally emerged into the never-ending daylight glare of Antarctic summer.  When I turned around to look back at the entrance of the smoking lounge, door still open, it seemed an inviting gateway to infinite darkness.

That was when we decided to rename it The Black Lodge.  Shame they tore it town 6 years ago.  Probably still in trash boxes waiting to be shipped out.