So I left off in the galley dining room at about 15:45 on Tuesday. My day was already twelve hours old at this point. Orientation consisted of a few PowerPoint presentations about housing, recreation, and protecting the environment (are you sensing a theme?). Afterwards, supervisors from all the departments came to “claim” us.
I was met by Todd, the Culinary Manager. He welcomed me and gave me my “green brain” – a small green notebook issued to everyone, mine came with two pens and a post-it on the back. The post-it had my name written on it and underneath my name it said “Sous – Matt Mills, 1st shift -> 10/24 @ 8PM-6AM”. Today was the 23rd. So not only was I starting work the next night but I was officially a “Midrat”. “Midrat” comes from Midnight Rations, a Navy term for the meal eaten by the overnight shift. As if my body clock wasn’t already messed up enough! Todd greeted the other culinary staff as well but as I was the only first-timers, he also helped me pick up my linens – bedsheets, pillow, duvet, and blanket are all issued – and find my dorm room. I wouldn’t be living in 155 but rather in one of the dorm houses that sat just behind 155, making my commute all of 5 minutes. When I entered the room, I was thrilled to learn that I would be sharing it with only one other person and we would have an ensuite bathroom shared with the people next door. Nice! I unpacked my carry-on and broke a sweat in the process – they keep the rooms HOT and mine is on the third floor so we get all the residual heat as well! After that, I trekked up to the cargo depot that Todd had pointed out to me and claimed my bags. The station arranged “bellhop” service – vans towing small enclosed trailers that would take me and my luggage back to my dorm. I was nearly done unpacking all my stuff when my roommate, Laura, came home.
Laura’s from Portland and works full time for Lockheed Martin, monitoring the impact of the USAP on the water in Antarctica. Basically, she sits in a lot of meetings but also gets to travel around a bit and make sure the water is being treated properly and conserved as much as possible, etc. She was very welcoming and became even more so when she discovered I was not a Republican – I didn’t tell her this but I think my Darwin fish magnet I’d stuck to our minifridge gave it away? Anyway, she was just in the middle of offering to take me to dinner and introduce me to people – this was her fifth season and she had lots of info to offer – when the room phone rang. Some friends of hers were having drinks in the dorm next to ours and did she want to come along? She looked at me and accepted the invite for both of us. So off we went to meet some of her friends, most of who work in Waste. Yes, that’s actually how they introduce themselves. It’s also incredibly important: nothing stays in Antarctica…everything we throw away (or flush) gets packaged for shipment off the continent so while it’s definitely not a glamorous job, it’s absolutely essential. And apparently what we were attending that night was what they called “Dirty Drinks”, where they proceed from work directly to drinking in someone’s room without changing clothes. We stayed long enough for one beer – which after all my travel and my early morning, went to my head pretty quickly – and then all went to dinner together before the galley stopped serving dinner at 7pm.
The galley – as they call the cafeteria – is not as big as I imagined given it’s the only place to eat on the station, but it seems to manage the flow of hungry folks well. I peeked into the kitchen and was impressed with the equipment to hand – 6 steam kettles, a blast chiller, 4 warming cabinets, a single small flat top with two burners, 3 tilt skillets, 4 convection ovens, and 1 combi, and that doesn’t include the bakery. In the dining hall, there are also two steam table buffet lines, one u-shaped buffet, a cold buffet, a huge griddle, a grill behind it, two deli counters, and a condiment/utensil rack. It’s easily the same size or even a little larger than the Tower Court dining hall (for the alumnae out there who would get that reference). The food was pretty much what I expected – on the heavier side but there was fresh salad and lots of vegetables so I loaded up on those. After dinner, I nipped off and found my Sous who was just starting work at 8pm. I introduced myself and we sat down over coffee as he took me through the job a bit:
Unlike the 1000+ people that eat during breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Midrats is maybe a tenth as many people. It’s all the personnel who work in essential functions (and yes, Waste is one of them) – things that have to be monitored or duties performed 24 hours a day. We’re responsible for serving them “lunch” at midnight, then “dinner” at 05:30. Simultaneously, we also put out breakfast for the whole station at 05:30. Cooking on this scale requires some transitioning of mindset when it comes to preparing food but, on the whole, we Midrats people are able to put more care into the food than if we were cooking on the scale of the AM or PM crew. Then he issued me strict instructions to rest up for the next day and headed back into the kitchen. I had intended to go back to my dorm but honestly, I was just too amped up so I went for a little stroll around Town (as the station is called), locating the gerbil gym (treadmills, etc), the two bars, and the chapel. I was starting to get a little worried that I’d not heard any mention of the climbing wall I’d read about…hopefully I’d find someone to ask about that before long. Then I settled in the library, which is conveniently located on the 1st floor of my dorm, to write all this. It’s now 2230, I’ve been on the go for about 19 hours and I can barely keep my eyes open so I’m heading to bed.