McMurdo in December

Sunday, 1 December 1996
Thanksgiving dinner, yesterday, was exquisite. I arrived late for the 15:00 seating and didn't have to wait in line. The appetizers in the foyer were superb, especially the Japanese-style rice balls served with wasabi and seasoned shoyu. Inside, there were too many choices... I picked up some freshly baked antarctic cod, roast turkey, cornbread stuffing, real mashed potatoes, generic vegetables, and a few other odds and ends. The desserts were killer. There were pastries, cakes, pies, and the ice cream bar with assorted toppings. We should be enjoying those leftovers for days.

I went over to the Galley with Peter, one of the other computer techs, but lingered so long over my food that our entire table finished and was replenished with folks from the 16:00 seating. Before yet another wave could hit the food lines, I had had enough nibbling, and I went home and napped.

After a few hours of desperately needed downtime, I bounced back around eight and went club hopping. I split my evening between karaoke at the Southern Exposure and the dance party at the Erebus. When it was all over, I didn't even try to find another party to go to; I just hit the sack.

The coffee house was where I spend most of my day today, before and after dinner. The mail had been good to me last week, so I was able to treat the local Babylon 5 fans to new third season episodes. This weekend marks the last fresh episode back home (fourth season); if all goes well, I should have that tape in about two weeks.

Monday, 2 December 1996
Today was filled with fun and excitement. Right before lunch, I got a call from the radio station - a time slot opened up and I was offered my own show. I start at 22:00 tomorrow night. After lunch, my name was suggested as the most likely candidate for replacing a modem (and testing the replacement) at Lake Hoare. In the middle of all of this, the weather turned on us again. After a stellar weekend of sun and near freezing (melting) temperatures, we got more snow and less visibility. Even though the day had been unsuitable for landings, the flight from Chch took off during a sucker hole. Three hours into the flight, before they even reached PSR, they turned back due to weather. The flight from Pole was also canx'ed; Chris, my roommate is still there from his "one day" trip, last week. The evening finished off with a birthday party for Lenore Hinson, the volunteer organizer for the greenhouse. It was a typical Hut 10 shindig, with lots of folks, tunes and great munchies. I got there too late to miss the surprise, but it was still going strong for hours.

Tuesday, 3 December 1996
I just got back from my first radio show. Over the course of two hours, I played selections from 22 discs, 80's music, mostly. It was a lot of fun. It was like being the DJ for a big party: thousands of CDs to choose from, and whatever struck my fancy, I could play.

Wednesday, 4 December 1996
A great day for news - the top three stories on CNN were all space related: the Mars Explorer launched three minutes before the broadcast, the Columbia might return to earth Thursday or Friday, and the Clementine probe may have discovered ice in craters on the moon. I wish we had that much good news from space every week.

Thursday, 5 December 1996
Right before the end of the workday, I found an invitation on my chair to the annual Hangi put on by Kiwi Cargo, a group of N.Z. military that live in McMurdo and process our cargo as well as cargo for Scott Base. I wouldn't miss the experience for anything short of a trip to Pole: fresh well prepared food, freshly imported beer that hasn't been sitting in a warehouse since February, and a great party thrown by a fun bunch of Kiwis.

Saturday, 7 December 1996
The Kiwi Hangi was excellent, as expected. Chris Liljenstolpe (my roommate), Mike Mahon (from Scott Base) and I arrived on time, before the festivities. Mike, as it turns out, got back from New Zealand this week. He left here a simple science tech and returned as the winter-over station manager. The three of us sampled the beer and chatted until it was time for the Powhiri, the formal welcome.

Once all the guests filed outside and stood back from the entrance, the overhead door opened and a single Maori came out, bare from the waist up, painted and brandishing the taiaha, the long club. After a brief demonstration of his skill with the club, the same warrior presented the Wero, a formal challenge for important guests, by setting a small item at the feet of the ranking manuhiri (vistor),in our case, the NSF representative. The Rep picked up the item, signifying peaceful intentions, the club-wielder retreated into the building, and a group of Kiwis, also unclothed from the waist up, marched out in formation and ran through a set of precision poses and chants, completing the welcome. In the -20°F (-29°C) windchill, they did not tarry at their task. When they retreated into the building, we followed them, and the feast was on.

The food was as good as I remember it, doubly so, compared to what the Galley has been pushing out lately. There was fried bread, steamed potatoes and kumara, pork, chicken and mutton, all without sauces but still packed with flavor. Even the beer was fresh; kegs of Speight's and Old Dark arrived on this afternoon's flight.

The crowd didn't start thinning out until 21:00; Chris and I left an hour later as the die-hards were singing along to Kiwi rock-n-roll. Interesting stuff, but I couldn't understand a word of it. If you didn't know it was English, you wouldn't know by listening to it.

Tuesday, 10 December 1996
My second radio appearance was far from flawless, but I'm still getting familiar with the equipment. I ejected CD's that were playing; I forgot to push sliders from "cue" to "program"; I fumbled with the CD players while failing miserably to cover the gap with chatter; I hit the wrong play button; but, I still had a ball. For nearly two hours, I played nothing but music from 1985 just to hear it all again. I even got requests for songs of the period - Chicago, Foreigner, Mike and the Mechanics, Wham! I even spun some vinyl, just to hear a song that wasn't on CD. If I winter again, I'll definitely be signing up for a radio show. It's more fun than I ever imagined.

For a Tuesday, it was a busy night. Right after dinner, I went to a meeting for IceStock '97, the traditional New Year's Day concert. There are at least four bands signing up and a bunch of smaller acts, like me and Dave Smith on didjeridu (Dave just got back from a month's R&R in Australia, where he picked up a genuine wooden didj. I couldn't afford it, but it does sound nice compared to my PVC pipe didj. There's a reason why tubas aren't usually made of plastic. The sound from a wooden instrument is much richer and much more interesting). After the meeting, John Booth set up to play in the Southern Exposure, but I left early to check out the coffee house scene and to prepare to pry myself away early so that I had time to prepare for my radio show.

Thursday, 12 December 1996
Mike Mahon invited Chris and me over to Scott Base for drinks; we were the only ones on the 21:00 shuttle. The place was fairly crowded; we sat on the short side, away from the pool table. Mike was tending bar, but wasn't too busy to chat with us. Only a few rounds later, it was time to go. The last shuttle, at 22:30, was packed. Chris went straight back to the room, I finished out the night at the Southern Exposure, singing karaoke.

Friday, 13 December 1996
Bad news from the mail room: today's flights from Chch were canx'ed. The next opportunity for mail is Monday.

Sunday, 15 December 1996
Today was the busiest day off I've ever had down here. After an early brunch, I grabbed cameras and headed for the bare patch of ground between the Galley, the Southern Exposure, and the Acey Deucy for the annual chili cookoff. Two rows of milvans lined the area, shelters for the contestants. In the middle were pallet after pallet of beer, and dozens of black 55 gallon drums. Over the winter, hundreds of 24-packs of Miller Genuine Draft were unintentionally frozen and thawed, making all of it unfit to drink. To speed up the disposal process, it's been turned into entertainment. Teams of four to five gathered around a pallet of beer and a pallet of drums, the first team to empty all their beer wins. The cans could be punctured, but not crushed nor cut apart. During this spectacle, I took photos from every possible angle, including climbing up on both sets of milvans for some interesting overhead shots. People had all sorts of accessories for speeding the process, most involving nails, one (from the Heavy Shop) made from welded steel plate. After 45 minutes, several of the pallets were bare; Kiwi Cargo took the prize.

The first batches of chili were ready even before the spoiled beer was gone; I sampled several. All were good, but most were not to my taste. My favorites were made by the Navy comms folks, the Firehouse, and the helo pilots. I didn't happen to sample the winning entry, but it did look and smell very good. The judging started right about the traditional time for Babylon 5; I headed inside and popped an old season 2 tape in, because the newest tape still hasn't arrived. There it a flight due in tonight, however. My sources tell me that there's mail on board.

Monday, 16 December 1996
At half-past-twelve, the flag went up. I checked, the tape from George arrived. Peter, Chris and I are watching it, season 4 of Babylon 5, we couldn't sleep if we wanted to. Not only is it like fresh news from home, it's damn suspenseful.

Saturday, 21 December 1996, Summer Solstice
Saturday is normally our big night off. Because of the Christmas holiday schedule, it's just another school night. The clubs are closing at 23:00 and the town is quiet. It doesn't even feel like a Saturday.

Every year about this time, the active runway shifts from the Ice Runway to Willy Field; by mid-summer, the warmer temperatures and perpetual sunlight take their toll on the sea ice, creating huge melt pools at the transition and at the runway complex itself. There's still several feet of ice, but under a foot-thick layer of slush and water in some places. Today is the last day for the Ice Runway. I wanted to get some new pictures of town from the sea ice at "midnight" because the sun lights up the slope, face on. Unfortunately, the weather was against me.

Dressed up, I caught the 02:00 Ice Runway shuttle. I should have gone earlier: the driver mentioned that there had been four penguins wandering around. To make matters worse, fog was blanketing Ross Island; the top of Ob Hill was hidden, as was Erebus. I meandered between the buildings at the runway, trying to find something interesting to photograph, and went home on the next shuttle run. The driver was kind enough to stop just outside of town, close enough for a panoramic view of town, but last year's photo was a better photo-op.

Monday, 22 December 1996
The long week is finally over. This afternoon was the Info Sys Christmas party at the Southern Exposure. We've been gathering goodies for days. Nancy Farrell made a huge batch of Japanese food - maki sushi, yaki soba and more; Chris, Peter and I worked on real hamburgers. Not the ubiquitous over-frozen, past freshness-date, hockey puck, preformed patties; real burgers, hand formed from seasoned ground beef. It was a lot of work, but very much worth it.

The big event this evening was the town party at the Heavy Shop. It was the usual sort of thing, a few hundred folks, some food, a live band. After eight straight work days, we all needed to blow off some steam.

Wednesday, 25 December 1996, Christmas Day
Back in the States, it's a White Christmas; here, it's as far from that as we ever get. The weather the past few days has been terrific - light winds, cloudless sapphire blue skies and temperatures hovering around +32°F (+0°C)! I haven't worn a coat all day.

My Babylon 5 plans were a bit derailed for today. The TV and VCR that normally live in the coffee house, migrated to Hut 10 for upcoming Visitor events. We scrambled around a bit and are currently playing the new Season 4 episodes up in the library at the Lab (which is closed for Christmas). Mark Smith, the Chaplain and a B5 fan, offered us the use of the Chapel for the remainder of the season.

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