Antarctica

Week 5 November 21 2004 "Thanks Giving!"

There isn't much to see at the South Pole. If it wasn't what has been brought here, there would be just the sky and an endless plain of snow. While these are fascinating, they're not enough to make you want to come back. The people make the South Pole special. You will not meet a group of people like Polies anywhere else in the world.

One of the great Polies is Neil of Comms (Communications). Neil has worked in Antarctica for 19 summers (16 at Pole)! It takes awhile to know Neil, but it is worth the wait. He has a wonderful dry humor, and while he may seem indifferent he cares very much about Pole and the people. In the past he has been an enthusiastic ham radio operator and often there were All Calls announcing a ham patch open to the US for anyone wanting to talk to family. In very recent years with easy access to satellite phones ham patches have almost disappeared.

I'm not sure if I have mentioned the All Call system. This is a public address system at the South Pole. Anyone can make an announcement by dialing 01 from any phone. Comms operators will make All Calls for flight operations, and general station announcements. Here are some typical All Calls from Comms.

"Inbound flight P053 has reached Pole 3, arrival time estimated at 11:30".

"Adult beverages have arrived inside the Dome. If you have time please help unload into the Freshies Shack". Neil's variation on this was "All personnel under the age of 66 should report immediately". Guess how old Neil is.

"Fire alarm has sounded in the emergency power plant". Followed quickly by, "Disregard fire alarm. Disregard fire alarm". In which case someone has accidentally smacked a fire alarm and quickly called it in. Or after 20 minutes of intense activity by the fire team, "Stand down from the fire alarm. Stand down". Another false alarm which has to be treated seriously until the source is found.

Neil's dry humor comes across in many of his All Calls. A classic from this week was, "Twin Otter update - arriving tonight". 5 minutes later, "Twin Otter update - not arriving tonight". 5 minutes later, "Twin Otter update - leave MCM at 5:30, arriving tonight, but no talking, will arrive and GO TO SLEEP. Sorry for the confusion".

Another false alarm this week was "Fire alarm has sounded in old store/ post office area. Fire alarm has sounded in old store/ post office area. (long pause) Directly above Comms". It was a false alarm.

My favorite from last year was on the day of the solar eclipse. A Chilean tourist flight, a 747, was going to fly over the South Pole after having flown through totality of the eclipse. Neil's All Call was "A Chilean tourist flight will be flying over the South Pole in approximately 10 minutes (long pause) if you're into that sort of thing".

His signature line which most people remember because it is one of their last experiences at South Pole is "Inbound flight Papa 054 is 10 minutes from Pole. All passengers please report to the flight deck. Thanks for visiting the South Pole. And that is all". For people who could argue their trip of many years is more than a mere visit, the ending may be changed to "And don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out", showing the respect old timers deserve. I guess we're all FNGY's in Neil's eyes.

This week was Thanks Giving. Along with Christmas it is one of the big events of the summer calender. It is a long weekend with both Saturday AND Sunday off. It's normally a 6 day work week at Pole. Off course Thanks Giving gets moved to Saturday as it would be silly to have a day off mid week. It is a chance to spend time getting to know all the interesting people down here. Of course it is also a chance to partake in adult beverages and open old wounds and have heated arguments. It's just like a family down here.

Thanks Giving dinner involves a lot of preparations for the cooks, with volunteer nights held in the Galley the week before to make pies and peel potatoes. It is traditional for Grantees (scientists) to buy the wine for the meal. Since the usual suspect for this job was not here I ended up extorting money out of the IceCube and AMANDA crews. We did very well and just the right amount of wine was bought. For the record there was 12 cases of wine (3 white, 9 red) and a few cases of soda for 245 people. The station was almost out of drinkable alcoholic beverages until this week. But many loads of drinks came in this week ensuring this weekend was going to be memorable.

Dinner is served in three seatings as we would never all fit into the Galley at the same time. In the Old Galley everyone almost had to take in a breath and sit down together. 30 minutes before dinner horses douvers are served in the hallway outside the Galley. Many people shave, a big thing here, and get dressed up for the occasion. Some people are unrecognizable. Some show up in Carharts (overalls). Some in long tails. And some in tails and bunny boots. It is great to see people looking so different.

After the previous seating is forced out of their chairs there is mad rush in the Galley as the washing up for 80 people is very quickly done, tables stripped and new table clothes laid, and the newly washed dishes placed. In 5 minutes close to a miracle occurs and the people outside walk in to a fancy meal. Toasts are made. The Galley crew are thanked for their wonderful efforts. Wine waiters pour endless glasses of wine. It is finished with a choice of apple, pecan, or pumpkin pie being brought around, with fresh cream! Everyone eats much too much.

Cargo Paddy traditionally is the cork mistress, serving behind the bar. She allowed me to help out. It is a very social place being able to watch the seatings and fun others are having. The third seating is very amusing as they don't have to be thrown out after 90 minutes and much more wine is drunk. After we cleaned up we joined them. The last seating officially ends about 9pm. I left the Galley just after mid night with people dancing on tables. Another party was happening in the Old Bar, and I visited this for a couple of hours.

Most people slept in on Sunday. In the afternoon there was a showing of entries from last years first ever South Pole international film festival. I had left before this event last year and was looking forward to finally seeing the movies. It was the idea of a member of our 2000 WO crew, Brian Land. Brian has gone to film school and enjoys making films. The film festival will continue this year even though Brian is not here, and I have already been asked to make appearances in a couple.

One of the funniest was called Brian's Land. Since you are unlikely to see it I'll ruin the plot for you. Done by one of Brian's friends it's about this bloke using one of the solar heated outhouses and the phone rings (in reality these phones are not connected). It's someone from LA California after Brian. Yes this person knows Brian and yes Brian makes movies. It's all he talks about. Yes he's making a movie. After quite a chat people are pounding on the door and the person says he'll take a message. Steven who? How do you spell that, S-P-E-I-L-B-E-R-G. What's your number? After he hangs up he realizes there is no toilet paper in the outhouse. He says sorry Brian and you can guess what happens with Brian's message.

All the films from last year were very good. There was a wide range from dance music videos, suspense thrillers, a surf movie set at Pole, dream sequences, Robert Falcon Scott finally arriving at Pole, and animated porn staring a bear shaped honey container from the Galley and other condiments. I'm sure the National Science Foundation was pleased about the last one.

And that is all....

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