Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving Festivities

The morning of our Thanksgiving dinner this Saturday, I thought to myself, “What in Gods name is there to be thankful for down here”. I thought this as I stood about 6 feet above the platform inside the telescope, balancing on a 4x4 wooden beam, and half my body protruding through an opening narrower than my shoulder width through the center of the telescope main mirror. Its cold, its desolate, its lonely, I’m working on a weekend.

I managed to wrangle myself loose from the telescope around 2pm and head back to the station. After a one and a half minute shower and a fresh change of clothes, I was ready to eat some turkey. The dinner here was split into 3 seatings, 3:30, 5:30 and 7:30. This was mostly to accommodate more people than could fit into the galley. We were supposed to sign up for our seating about a week ahead of time. I squeezed Clem into the last 5:00 slot since he wasn’t here yet, and settled for 3:30 for myself. I think he appreciated it. Although it’s an early dinner, it turned out for the best. Two other graduate students I have become friendly with were also at this seating.

The galley was turned into an makeshift banquet hall, complete with string lighting, candles in wine bottles, white table cloths and a wine bar with proper stewards. Out in the hall a folk band played as we sampled delicious hors’devours; smoked salmon with herb cream cheese, a cheese platter featuring a fancy moldy cheese, baked bre, and a great artichoke dip. After a little socializing, we were escorted to our tables. I sat at the head of the table with the CMB crew, two grad student friends of mine to my right and three guys from the University of Chicago astrophysics department to my left.

The meal opened with a short welcome from the station director, with a very well deserved thank you to the kitchen staff. Then the science director from NSF, Valdamir, gave a toast to the station in broken English and a heavy Russian accent. It was hard to understand him precisely, but the gist of it was that we were all to be thankful for the accommodations we have in such a harsh environment and for the people who came before us that made it all possible. Then we ate. The food was awesome, roast and smoked turkey breast with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, all the standards in all the right ways. A silky pumpkin pie topped off the meal and I was stuffed.

Dinner was followed by about 4 hours of standard South Pole Station activity, aimless and lethargic lounging around and watching movies or people doing nothing. I caught the last half of The Big Lebowski in the video lounge and then hung around the game room watching some guy slaughter everyone in his path, ala table tennis. The paddles were his weapons and he was ruthless. I talked to a few new people and made some friends I think.

Over the last 2 weeks, I have managed to become at least friendly with a number of people here. This is a difficult task since very little interaction is afforded between the grantees and the rest. Yet, I’m slowly beginning to develop a clearer picture of the demographics down here. There are more people here at pole that are involved in a non-professional capacity than I would have expected. A good number of them are here as GA’s, something I believe probably stands for General Assistant. They are here to do odds and ends type work for the season. I think for most, its something crazy and adventurous to do for a few months before moving on to a more career oriented path. Like a really nice girl I met last night named Jodi. Before pole she was a Habitat for Humanity coordinator in Fort Lauderdale. Now she told me she shovels snow and drives a shuttle here. When she’s done she wants to get a masters and become an educator.

Jodi and a few of her friends were headed to summer camp for a little more fun. You may remember “Summer Camp” from a few postings ago. They official name is the Jamesways, in honor of someone named James I think. Summer Camp is a collection of Korean War era military canvas tent-like barracks. Of course, these could only be used during the summer season, winter creep right through them. This is where most of the people here live, the ones who aren’t here for scientific research explicitly. Obviously then, its where most of the fun happens. Ed Wu, the other grad student on QUaD, and I headed over there around 9ish.

The Summer Camp lounge was way cool! It was inside one of these canvas barracks and was decorated modestly with a few old couches, a table tennis table and a makeshift bar.

After a failed attempt to join a table tennis game of 4, I parked myself at the bar. The bartender was a cool guy from Dayton, Ohio, a horrible place, by the name of Aaron. He was here for plumbing, but had studied automotive repair outside Chicago.

“So, watcha got back there barkeep?” I asked most honestly expecting some surprise!
“You can call me Goldie,” he replied donning a curly blond wig, contrasting nicely with his bushy brown beard, “and this here’s Goldie’s Bar. Tonight we’ve got two specials, which one you’d like, Jack or Shit?”

I was quickly reminded that beverage options at the pole were less than optimal. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised moments later with a very generous offer of 17-year aged single malt scotch! A truly rare find that was cleverly smuggled in against regulations by a kind fellow whose name escapes me now. I hung out at the bar a while longer than Ed who left before midnight. While people were friendly, I still didn’t feel comfortable enough to let loose and party. So I finally packed it in and headed home a little after midnight. Returning to Station, I found people still drinking and dancing in the galley.

“Hey buddy, we’re going sledding after this, you wanna come,” one of the stragglers offered kindly.
“Nah, I’m beat, I think Ill hit the sack early tonight, but you guys have fun!” I declined.
“Ok, man, take it easy.” He turned to his friend, “ … hey dude, lets go, but first we’ve gotta find some ladies!”

With that I walked away, not quite sober, definitely full and feeling little sentimental.

In retrospect, I guess I really do have a lot to be thankful for. This is certainly an interesting and unique experience. I’m meeting people I’d probably otherwise never be exposed to in a social setting. I’m living in perhaps one of the most remote places possible besides the space station. I’m participating in a science research project that’s unfolding yet a few more of the boundless secrets of our universe. Still, only after less than 3 weeks, I miss my home, my friends, my family, my turtle and my tsaritchka. I can’t wait to see them all again soon.


Anonymous jstrysko said...

--I heart the summer camp lounge
--I like that they've started to call you buddy. That is, of course, significant.
--Who is tsaritchka? Oh wait, I think I can infer...

2:42 PM CST  

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