There were no scheduled parties planned for this weekend, but parties spontaneously erupted here and there around the base. Now that the ship has gone, the taverns are allowed to open again and service was pretty brisk. At this moment, I can’t remember if I have told you about the two bars that are on site. The larger of the two, Gallagher’s (of course it has an Irish name…only an Irishman would be crazy enough to open a pub on this continent) has a stage and a large dance floor where people can teach dance classes or do aerobics in the daytime hours. It also plays host to the bands which get together on the weekends to play. The smaller of the two is named Southern Comfort: Terribly appropriate if you think about it. There is a pool table, shuffleboard, foosball and a dart board. All the creature comforts for an evening of distraction. The six day work week takes it’s toll over time, and those amenities make life a lot nicer down here.
But when the all important Supply Vessel arrives at McMurdo base, both of the taverns are shutdown for however long it takes to get the boat unloaded. It’s not really a problem, as everyone knows it’s going to happen. It is a big safety issue to reduce the amount of pedestrian traffic through-out the base when all of the big tractors are moving through town 24 hours a day. We cordon off some of the streets to make the traffic flow in a predictable pattern, and we reduce the risk to the general population by making everyone want to stay indoors, or at least out of the way. We were unusually successful during this ship offload that it took less than five full days to unload, and it was the 7th day in dock when the storm hit. I did tell you that we were unable to get all of the waste reloaded onto the boat before the pier became too damaged to be safe. So all told, the bars were closed for only 8 days this year as opposed to some past years when they were closed almost 2 weeks.
So the Taverns were lively again this past Saturday night and many people were celebrating their last weekend together. Lot’s of my new friends are going home.
There is a sadness creeping over those of us who are staying behind to help close up the shop so to speak. I can be happy for those who are getting to leave early. I know that many of them are regulars who will be back again, and they have already made plans for next summer season. Some few are just so excited to go home that they are scrambling to pack and clean their rooms days earlier than their flight plan calls for. Three times in a two hour gap I walked around a corner straight into the arms of a hug from someone who knows they are never going to see me again. It was both flattering and emotional. I didn’t think I have been here long enough to have made any kind of an impression. It can’t even be because I am so tall and stick out. There are at least 6 other men here that are taller than me.
The emotions are running a little high at this time of year. The station population is now under 750 souls and shrinking every time an airplane jumps off the runway. The dining hall is nearly empty for the midnight rations, or Midrats as the expression goes. Those of us rats who work nights can see the reductions in the workforce and are already looking around at the empty “favorite” chairs. And the big push for my department doesn’t even start till February 18th. Most of my cohorts will be gone by the 19th, and only 4 members of my summer season team will remain until the 24th when I step off the ice for the last time.
Believe me when I say I am definitely looking forward to coming home. But there is something about this place. The constant sickly-sweet smell of diesel , and the inescapable volcanic dust that penetrates every layer of clothing. The twisty-turny roads that ramble at all angles. The constant sunshine…Only now after 9 weeks of working here is the sun close enough to the horizon that it can actually be blocked by the mountains in the distance. And the Mountains themselves! So impressive! And those boats! My Lord, I have learned so many new and amazing things down here. I completely understand why some people do this every year. They have some deeper understanding of this place that I can only barely grasp. But I am under it’s spell, and for 7 more days I’m going to enjoy it.