The idea of rain hadn’t fully formed in my mind until it I was already half soaked by the thick wet barrage coming in sideways through the open window. I’d been stopped at a light, westbound on Arapahoe Road, admiring the crazy glorious colors in the western sky as sunbeams carved their way through towering clouds over the front range. There was a flash bright enough to be visible in the still-broad daylight, followed so closely by a sharp crack that I didn’t even have time to think about beginning to count the nearly obligatory one-one-thousand two-one-thousand. And by the time I’d had the presence of mind to realize that yes, that was thunder, the heavenly fusillade was already on its way.
Somehow, it felt entirely representative of the way the week has been going.
I’m now a bit more than halfway through my USAP orientation, and still feeling like the firehose hasn’t really started going yet. Three days of meetings where people say things like “ECO needs the IT TCNs for the LMG prior to PUQ” and everyone but me nods knowingly and says, “But of course!” Three days of rabbitholing down software installations to see if I can install what I think I need on the approved systems while I’ve still got enough semblance of bandwidth to make mistakes. Three days of asking “Is there anything I can do to help?” while chaos and bureaucracy collide in the face of what seems like the insurmountable logistical challenge of staging back-to-back-to-back scientific missions on schedule in the roughest seas on the planet. On the other side of the planet. In mid-winter. More than once, Henslowe’s description of the theatre business (from Shakespeare in Love) has come to mind:
Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. Fennyman: So what do we do? Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well. Fennyman: How? Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.
(Okay, I’m being facetious here; I know that “how” is hundreds of people behind the scenes making sure that those IT TCNs for the LMG get to ECO before it gets to PUQ, and doing a thousand other jobs that I can’t even imagine.)
But it’s not been all work. I’m astounded at how many people from the program remember me and embrace me like an old friend. Bill, Karen, Holly, Justin, Paddy, James, Elaine – there are hugs – “Hey – Pablo’s here!” – and we sit and talk about old times, sometimes over lunch, sometimes late into the night over barbecue and bourbon. It feels funny – I have to remember that a lot of these folks have been going down to the ice for close to two decades, while I’ve gone down once, and put in a measly four months. And yet they welcome me as a member of “the tribe”, an honorary “Old Antarctic Explorer” worthy of swapping tales with. It’s hard to find words for how heartwarming and humbling it is to be taken in like that.
Just tell them about the time that the weather was W0X0F and you had to track a weak NDB with an old ADF all the way from the FAF to the MAP because both the ILS and VOR were OTS, and see how many are still nodding. Then you’ll have a good idea of how many of them are in the same boat with you.