Pole cuts loose

Saturday was “Pole T-Day”. A I mentioned before, we normally don’t get Saturday off, so holidays are typically pushed to Saturday to give us a cherished two-day weekend. Thurs and Fri after work were build-ups to the big holiday, with pie making and potato peeling parties. Other than the popcorn and beer SPIFF retrospective, Friday night was quieter than I would have expected, but I now see that folks were saving their energies. Saturday morning was football at the Pole – I missed it, but Ralph, Steve and a lot of the other “big guys” came lumbering in after an hour, cherry-cheeked, out of breath and covered with snow. They’d had, by all accounts, a helluva time before declaring victory and retreating to the warmth of the station.

Mark and I put in some practice for our “hors d’oerves” music. As I understood it, there was a tradition of live music during the half-hour appetizers-in-the-hall, and I’d been roped into playing along.

As the first, 3:30 afternoon dinner seating approached, the halls filled with folks scurrying around with garment bags, looking for ironing boards, primping and complementing each other on “how well you clean up”. Getting dressed up here is a big thing. No tuxes, but an surprising number of “little black dresses” came out of nowhere, along with a handful of alarmingly bright ties and one full-tilt Scottish kilt. Others went for less conventional gear. Most notable was Isaac, in what appeared to be gold-lame lederhosen, cardboard wings, a utility belt and nothing else. Lots of the men shaved for the first time on station. Martin, our station manager even took off his hat (sadly, no one recognized him).

Dinner. Was. Fabulous. Smoked turkey, deep fried turkey. Two kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes and baked yams, fresh-baked biscuits and graaaaaavy. Oh, and pie. And more pie. With whipped cream and caramel sauce.

Was lolling in the tryptophan-induced haze of the meal when someone mentioned that the second seating was going to be coming through in a half an hour. Which meant I was supposed to be back out in the hall again, playing “appetizer music” again. Scrambled out just as Mark and Daniel were tuning up.

What a strange place to play: set up in the hallway, with me on the right, Mark and Daniel on the left, and a constant stream of people filtering through between us while we sang. I had to keep swinging my guitar out of the way so folks could get through. At a few points, somewhat-inebriated passersby threading the gap found themselves face-to-face with a microphone (*my* microphone) and decided to stop where they were and sing along. But it was fun.

Station activities welled up in other corners, too. Michelle fired up a movie (“Snatch”) in the downstairs briefing room, and the Cubies – always ensconced in the upstairs lounge, cranked up the tunes. Pool, beer and loud music. Oh, and Cubies – instant party.

Once our official set was over, Mark and I started to break down the equipment to haul it back to the music room, but a few folks hung around with requests – “Do you know ‘Drift Away’?” “How ’bout ‘Bobby McGee’?”, and we found ourselves swapping tunes, sitting on the floor in the hallway, making our way through bits of the ‘Rise up Singing’ canon with whomever would sing along.

By the time we did finally get the gear put away, the third dinner seating had broken up in the galley. Shades had been pulled and a disco ball appeared out of nowhere. Whoeve had control of the iPod was mixing up Gloria Gaynor, Men Without Hats, Bee Gees and, well, more recent stuff, and folks of all ages were cutting loose.

The galley staff kicked us out at 11:30, and the party made its way out to Summer Camp. Strangely incongruous to watch a long, slow exodus of tipsy partiers wrapped in Big Red and pumps toddling out across the bright sunlit midnight among monster snow machines. I had to go that way regardless – Summer Camp was where I slept, but wasn’t at all sure I had any stamina left for further partying. But earlier in the day, Rachael and I had been talking about sledding on John’s new hill, and as we all suited up, she said “And hey – you can show me which hill it was you were talking about!” Heh. You know me well enough to know that five minutes later, Christina, Joel, Rachael and I were taking turns hauling a broken banana sled we’d found under the station up the hill and seeing how many of us we could fit on it before we lost traction and went careening back down to the station.

Eventually it came to us that we were all dressed for fancy party, not sledding at the South Pole, and that we’d better retreat to some enclosed, artificially-heated spaces. Intercepted Isaac (still shirtless, in gold-lame under his Big Red) and helped him haul the cooler of sangria he’d salvaged from the galley over to the Summer Camp lounge. In through the door of the old Jamesway. Out of the brilliant Antarctic glare of the midnight (literally) sun and back into the impossibly hot, crowded, noisy dark swirl of a Pole party mosh pit. I only stayed a little – the long day’s worth of music, food and sledding had taken their toll. And I wanted to get enough sleep to take part in Sunday’s football-at-the-Pole rematch.

Pushed my way out of the creaky Jamesway door into the bright midnight sunshine (well, 12:30 sunshine. Telling time here is easy – the sun doesn’t go up and down, but it goes around like a backwards clock. The station, at grid north, is midnight. Just to the left, confirmed by a glance at my watch, was 12:30). Tromped “grid south” to J7, and let the surreality (surrealness?) of the situation settled in on me: Here I am. I live at the South Pole. And I’ve just spent the night sledding and partying in a 60-year-old army tent with a guy wearing gold-lame lederhosen. Isn’t everybody’s life like this?

[Note: I didn’t get the chance to take any photos of the festivities, so I’m appending here photos that Linda, probably my dearest friend down here, took of the evening.]

Setting up the galley

Note the “fireplace” on the overhead monitors
Ashley helps serve wine
Haley eyes the color-coordinated appetizers
Linda and Froggy (Heavy Equip Operator and OAE)
Mark, Daniel and I try to make do with the hallway setup
John and Meagan (left foreground, sledding hill
 builders, sing along with ‘Ripple’)
Pull-ups are a standard display of kitchen
prowess – James…

…and Ricky show off
Linda earns serious karma in the dish-pit post feast.

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