September 2002

Sunday, September 1

Pretty much uneventful night, except for the newbies causing a ruckus upstairs at 3:00 AM.  Sounded like a fight, sorta, or at least like someone body slamming someone else.

Which reminds me...

One of the new electricians was fired for causing a fistacuffs in the galley late one night.  Seemed he got himself quite inebriated and took out his frustrations on a winter over plumber.

Other than that incident, I would say that newcomer-winter over tensions seem to be lower now and the two groups seem to be interacting more than we did last week.  But there's still some segregation at the galley, although the typical winter over's vacant stare and pale complexion might have something to do with that.  No one wants to sit beside a zombie, I suppose. 

Returned to work for 3 days in the evening and missed the official Antarctic premier of "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" as a result (can take some solace in the fact that I caught the "unofficial" one much earlier).  Trying to track down the DVD's owner so that I can watch it later.

The last plane of WinFly landed today.  No more for another month.

44 days on the ice and 2 more weeks on night shift.

Monday, September 2

Another holiday spent at work.  At least in this case the entire town was working as well.  Thank you Raytheon.  

And your welcome for all the overtime pay as well.  

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established the 40 hour work week and sets guidelines for paying overtime is not applicable to Antarctica, despite the fact that we're Americans and it's an American company.

Smart business.  Work your employees 54-60 hours each week and only pay them for 40...legally.  I wonder what else they're getting away with. 

So ends my Labor Day rant.

Tuesday, September 3

For dinner:  pasta with marinara sauce.  Tasted like fresh herbs in the sauce.

42 more days.

Wednesday, September 4

Didn't get to bed until way too late.  I couldn't sleep after work and went to the lounge and played a game for a few hours.

I was up long enough to see the sunlight reflect off the snow on the Royal Society Range.  It was blindingly bright and the most vivid shade of white that I had ever seen.  Didn't think about grabbing my camera.  I'll stay up late again soon and try to get a picture.

Thursday, September 5

Tatty Flag night.  Got my butt handed to me in 5 games of pool, each time by a guy I call "The Machine".  The guy owned the table all night and never missed a shot.

Spent all night trying to update my journal but couldn't think of anything except how cool those blogs are, and maybe I should start using one like Alejandro does.

On second thought, that's too much work.  My humble attempt at documenting my stay on the ice is winding down.  No need to put too much effort into it.

Friday, September 6

So what does it all mean?

For the past 11 months I've procrastinated about putting too much thought what Antarctica really is.

Sure, I've tried to document my stay, chronicle some of the town's events (without intruding on the rights of others), and even share my mood.  But I don't think that I've done a good job at delving into the metaphysical "meaning" of why I came here, what I've found, or what I'll take with me.

I'll try to focus more on this over the next month.  Intellectually honest answers of this magnitude don't come as an epiphany.  They take time to sort out.  There's no way I can ask myself these kinds of questions and arrive at a succinct answer in one sitting.

At work:  shoveled a lot of snow.  So much that my muscled ached at the end of the shift.  A mild storm blew in and dumped a few inches of snow.  But since we'd procrastinated cleaning accumulations of previous storms, it feel to me to clean up the entire lot.

Finally, I learned that I am to leave the ice on October 15.  I will be the last of the power and water crew to take off since someone needs to train the incoming folks.  Since I'd anticipated not leaving until the middle of the month, it's no big deal.  Also, Ella should be arriving in Auckland on the 14th, so she would have a day or two to herself and to get adjusted to the time change before I see her.

Not bad timing, assuming that the weather holds up.

Saturday, September 7

If one wants to see Antarctica, then accepting a summer contract position is the way to go.  However, if you want to experience Antarctica, then a winter over contract is in order.  If you want to do both, then you have to work for the full year.

I fail to see how one can come down for just one season and get a firm grasp at life here.  For instance, in the summer one can leave town and see the desolation.  In the winter, you feel it. 

There are a near infinite number of differences between the two seasons, and I hope that some of them have been illustrated throughout my journal.

Sunday, September 8

What did I expect to find here?

I suppose that I assumed that I would find adventure.  And I did, for about 3 weeks.  At which point the romanticism wore off and I saw how mundane life in Antarctica can be.  Oh, there are moments of excitement, like when Jimmie got lost in a white out.  But they are the exception rather than the rule.  We don't live in tents and, by and large, the only time I experience the cold is when I go outside.  Most of the time I'm indoors where the temperature, and life,  is normal.

What did I find instead?

Boredom, frustration, camaraderie, the brightest of days, the darkest of nights, loneliness, homesickness, painfully cold winds, sunburn, frostbite, cold toes and fingers, auroras, razor sharp stars, an appreciation for the simple things, a lot of new websites, and even a princess.

What didn't I find?

Myself.  I wasn't naive enough to even think that I could.  Finding yourself is more of a journey that you undertake in life, regardless of your time or place.  And there's no guarantee that you will find what you're looking for, if it even exists.  But it's a process that starts in the bathroom mirror.

Will I come back?

That remains to be seen.  It's a decision that I alone can't make.

Monday, September 9

Off day.  

Attended a political discussion concerning Internet privacy rights down here.  Some well informed people showed up, including several from the information technology group who had the same concerns as we, the peasants of the USAP. 

I suspect that the Internet Privacy Protection Act of 1997, like so many other civil liberties, don't apply to us here.  We're at the good graces of our benevolent employer.

Which reminds me that I need to say something about Antarctica today...

Unfortunately, it'll have to wait until I'm off the ice and no longer and employee.

Tuesday, September 10

Another day off.  Calm and fairly clear one at that.

I saw the most peculiar mirage in the evening- the mountain tops of the Royal Society Range to the northwest disappeared and were replaced with what seemed like mesas.  In one place, the upper 1/3 of the mountain was missing save the top, which looked as though it were hovering in the sky.  I'd seen mirages on the base of the mountains before, creating pseudo cliffs and glaciers, but I'd never seen them take to the sky. And I did happen to get a picture of it, just on someone else's camera.  I'll have to wait a few days until the download it off their camera and send me a copy.  I'll then upload it.  Promise.

Wednesday, September 11

Condition Orange was set back in the States.  Here, as always, it's condition white.

There was a small ceremony at the chalet commemorating the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon, but happened at midday.  So, I wasn't able to attend.  

Thursday, September 12

On the way to work I spotted the sun setting behind the Trans-Antarctics.  This was the first time that I'd seen the sun, as opposed to sunlight, since it rose nearly a month ago.  I was fortunate to even see it given that a storm was blowing in across the sea, obscuring everything else.

I spent most of the evening shoveling snow that the storm brought. 

Although it wasn't a huge storm, the winds were strong enough on the ice to force the NSF director to establish condition 1 on the ice.  So, the crew working on the ice runway had to secure from work and convoy their way into town.

Antarctic tidbit for the day:  when it warms up suddenly, expect a storm.  Usually a big one.

Friday, September 13

Got word from the travel agent.  It will only cost me $50 US to upgrade my return ticket to pass through Sydney and match Ella's travel plans.  Much less that I thought that I would pay so it's a pleasant surprise.

Today's random thought:  I crave the smell of freshly damp asphalt.  Dunno why, I just do.

Saturday, September 14

Woke up to find wet, fluffy flakes of snow falling and temperatures above 0 F.  It wouldn't have taken too much imagination to pretend that I was back on the east coast during what we they call a "snow storm" there.  Here, it's barely worth talking about.  Especially when the winds don't blow, like today.

The late movie was "The Shining".  I don't recall that movie being shown during the winter.  Wonder why? Could be something to do with Jack Nicholson suffering from cabin fever and running around with an axe.

 "Groundhog Day", however, was a regular feature.

Sunday, September 15

Yesterday's storm has turned into something fierce.

Just after dinner Condition 1 was set around town because the visibility was, according to one person's account, less than 6 feet.  I was headed out for a beer until Sherry stopped me at the door, where she was watching the storm.   So, after watching the storm for a few minutes (and people being escorted by the fire department from the now closed bars), I went back to my room to catch a movie.

Fortunately, the storm abated somewhat before midnight so that I could get some lunch.  I also checked in at the power plant to make sure that the other operator had everything under control and was ahead of the storm.  She did, so there was no need for me to come in on my off night.

Monday, September 16

Stayed up late to catch the 6:30 AM showing of "A Beautiful Mind" and am glad that I did.  It was a rather good film with a compelling story.

Although the snow had abated from last night's storm, the wind was still gusty.  By the time that I woke up, though, it was calm and sunny.  The sun has finally crept above the mountains and was able to feel the sun's heat through the window when I woke up.

My boss said that the sun helped melt the accumulated snow from around the radiators.  This not only a sign that the Antarctica summer draws near, but also good because it meant less snow for me to shovel.

We are approaching 12 hours of sunlight per day, now.  But the sun is still fairly low to the horizon, and not directly overhead as it will be come the end of December.

Tuesday, September 17

Steve gave me a copy of the mirage picture that I took last week.  As promised, here it is:



Interesting how atmospheric reflections of light can remove mountaintops and even punch "holes" through an entire range.

Last shift on nights. 

It started out smooth, but just before midnight a squall blew in.  Condition 1 was set on the ice and the runway crew had to return to town.

Wednesday, September 18

Just as I thought that I was going to be getting a proper Antarctic send off from night shift, the storm dissipated.  So, I didn't have as much snow to clean up as I had originally expected.

Stayed up after work for a few hours and resumed helping the electricians until the morning break before the bed called.

Feeling kinda run down later in the evening.  Didn't have an appetite at dinner and couldn't seem to wake up.  Also had the sniffles.


Thursday, September 19

Sinuses cleared up today.  Perhaps the crud has spared me for a while longer.

Worked with the electricians until 2:00, at which time I had to call it a day.  Since the bed threw me out at 2:30 I didn't get a good night's sleep.

Returned to the lounge of my dorm and watched a new movie called "High Crimes" that was on the local movie channel.  Wasn't overly impressed.

Tatty Flag night at Scott Base.  The shuttle bus' drive shaft fell off just outside of McMurdo.  From what we can gather, the bus was overloaded and the stresses placed on a tired u-joint.  No worries, though.  Someone went to get another bus and the two dozen or so of us continued on our merry way.

I didn't stay too late, though.  The bar was just too crowded.  All of the charm and atmosphere that it exhibited over the winter is gone.  It's not quite a cosa nostra anymore. 

Friday, September 20

"Rah rah" day for us winter overs.

After working most of the day on the building 165 project, I went to the winterover meeting where we were awarded our Antarctic Service Medals.  Since I have an Arctic Service Ribbon from my Navy days, I have now earn the matching set.  

I suppose that in a positive state of mind that I would elaborate on the significance of such an accomplishment and what it means to me.  But I'm not in a positive state of mind.  Let's just say that a piece of bronze with a colorful ribbon doesn't mean so much after you weigh the costs of spending a year here.

One interesting not to pass on, though, the NSF rep stated that since the medal was created in 1961, only 2,100 people have be awarded the winterover clasp.  I find that a bit hard to believe given the number of people here during the winters. Although there are a lot of returnees year in and year out, I don't think that over 40 years there are only 2,000 of them.

Saturday, September 21

Woke up at 11:30 last night and couldn't get back to sleep.  I had went to bed shortly after the meeting and didn't even bother with dinner.  I figured that I was tired enough to sleep through the night, but that didn't end up being the case.

Sun shined brightly throughout the day, having risen high enough above the mountains to be visible for much of the time.  And it was up for 12 hours exactly.  Currently, the period of sunlight last about 14 minutes longer each day.  At this rate, we'll have 24 hours of sunlight this time next month.

Went to work for my first shift working days.  Even though I had anticipated being tired due waking early, that wasn't the case.  Was tired afterward, though, and fell asleep by 7:00, leaving my roommate to watch "Full Metal Jacket" by himself.

Sunday, September 22

It's not fair.

The sun is out and the environment looks quite inviting when you peek out a window.   Step outside and you're hit with some nasty wind chills.  The temperature was quite misleading today.

Slept until 2:30 this morning, and managed to stay awake until 8:00 PM.  So, I'm doing a little better.

Monday, September 23

Sad day in McMurdo.

My kitty friend, Friday, had to be euthanised over the weekend.  Although I hadn't seen him in several years, it was still a loss as he was a good friend to me during my early college years.   

Unfortunately, I had to give him to close Navy buddy when I left for Cornell.  But he had a good home.

Over the past few months he had been losing weight.  The vet suspect some sort of infection and prescribed antibiotics. When those had no effect, he was taken to the vet again.  It turns out that he had a tumor that was probably going to be inoperable.  My friend then made the humane decision to put Friday to sleep.

Too depressed to write more.

Tuesday, September 24

Woke up at 4:30.  Went to work for most of the day with the sparkies.  

Thinking about selling both my Xbox and my laptop.

Wednesday, September 25

What is it now?  19 days.  Dare I start counting down?


Thursday, September 26

Back to work.  Only 10 more shift left until I'm out of here.

Saw my first "sundog" today.

A sundog is a rainbow colored halo that surrounds the sun.  The wind was blowing ice crystals high enough into the air to almost obscure the sun.  The light passing through these crystals gets refracted, as if traveling through a prism, to create the effect of a multicolored halo.

Steve tried to get a few shots with is camera.  Since I didn't have mine one me, I'll have to wait for him to give me a copy before I can post it.

Friday, September 27

Nine shifts left.

Nothing else of interest to report.

Saturday, September 28

Early in the day I started the check-out process, which consisted of turning in my tools and having various groups say that I'd turned in stuff that I never had to begin with.  For example, I need to get signed off as having turning in all my work related keys and a pager.  Since I didn't have either of those to begin with, it was rather silly that I walk all the way across town in the nasty winds to get them to sign my form.

Later, I had an interesting conversation with Leanne, a winter over who summered at the Pole. 

Basically, we discussed how best one would communicate a winter over experience.  The only tangibles that we arrived at was 1.)it's cold, and 2.) it's dark.  It's simply too subjective to try to communicate the incommunicable.

I look at my journal entries (or at least the rare quality ones) and wonder why I bother.  There's simply no way to convey the Antarctic experience no matter how much effort I put into it.  

Maybe if I weren't so tired I could actually sit down to think about that one.  

I'd like to think that my efforts this year point to something.  But I might have to admit that it was a colossal waste of time.

Sunday, September 29

Slept in late, and if that wasn't enough, I took a nap in the afternoon.

Had a half way decent burger for dinner and turned in before nine.

One would think that with all the excitement of new faces arriving and old friends departing this week that I'd be able to have a higher energy level than that.  But I'm really only concerned about my own departure date.

That might be something to get excited over.

Monday, September 30

One of the "perks" of working in Antarctica has apparently disappeared.  I say "perk" because it was really taking advantage of an ambiguous tax code and may not have been legitimate to begin with.

Anyway, over the years many employees who work on the ice claim that by working in Antarctica, they qualify for a foreign exemption when they file their income taxes.  If all goes according to plan, they then get a refund check from the IRS for all of the income taxes that they paid in over the year.  Essentially, then, their work here was tax free.

It works great in theory.

From time to time, however, someone at the IRS doesn't quite agree that Antarctica is a foreign country after all and deny the claim.  And oftentimes, like what's happening currently, they will re-examine the tax returns of people who have previously received refunds.  To make a long story short, Uncle Sam comes tapping on the shoulders of these folks and wants his money back.

Late last week many people around town received the unpleasant news that they had to pay back the money that the IRS returned.  I personally know of three.  But rumor places this number much higher.  And it will probably grow with the inclusion of the main body returnees who begin arriving tomorrow.

Some of these people have been hit pretty hard.  To the tune of 5 digits in some cases, plus penalties and interest.  And as one can imagine, they aren't exactly happy about it.  

So, they have scheduled a town wide meeting to try to decide up on a course of action.   Perhaps even hiring a tax attorney to challenged the decision, and maybe the law if necessary.

I can sympathize with them, because my research has led me to believe that the situation is ambiguous at best.  I've not been able to find anything on the IRS web site that would lead me to believe that claiming a foreign exemption for working here would not entitle me keep my income taxes.  

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  I'd kinda like to get my tax money back too.  After all, it's not as if I'm benefiting from paying them.



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