"In town" Means McMurdo
The last few days of cloudy, snowy summer weather has kept us out of the Dry Valleys and away from our last sampling duties. This means that we've had some quality time to hang out and explore the many features and facets of life in town. For most of the people involved in US Antarctic Programs, a majority of time on the continent is spent "in town". McMurdo Station is as weird as towns go. McMurdo's population size can change 10x during the year. Local leaders and celebrities in September may be completely unknown to those living here in February. Each year everyone who lives here will have just come here or will leave. Although many come back regularly each season, and some may "over winter" after spending the summer here, no one is truly a resident. Even the penguins, seals, and skuas are temporary.
The largest population is during the summer science season from October through February. This is when most research projects are being supported across the continent. McMurdo is a gateway for several Antarctic science bases. The New Zealand Scott Base and the US South Pole station are two of the biggest. The station provides almost every service you might find in a small town of its size: a hair stylist, pub, convenience store, radio station, yoga studio, craft room, coffee house/theater, climbing gym, public transportation, airport, nondenominational place of worship, healthcare facility, emergency services, and internet service provider.
McMurdo is a nice little town. There are tourist style attractions like historical sites, a trail system, a frisbee golf course, and there are events like open mic nights, trivia contests, clubs, a marathon, team sports, a speaker series, and even education classes. There is a strong art scene with works from noted artists who have been in residence here and work from overwintering welders or bored paint shop workers. Everywhere you look you see little bits of creativity.
Then there are the things that make it not like a regular little town. Yesterday I saw someone walking by today and they had an apple and an orange. They held them out to show me, grinning from ear to ear. I asked where and they said "galley, just now." I changed course from wherever I had been going and headed to the galley. The first person I saw, I showed my fruit to. I said "galley" and they began running.
I should mention that there is a community within the town that is 12 hours off. I don't know it very well. They are special folks who rotate their clocks 12 hours from the rest of the world. Affectionately called "midrats", they keep shifts of cargo handling, building, and transporting happening when most of the town is in bed. They have their own breakfast at dinner time and go to the bar in the morning.
The people are not random. The population of McMurdo is made up of people who traveled thousands of miles from where they live to spend months supporting the scientific mission. Not to generalize but, I will. These are people who enjoy adventure. They are creative in the way they live their lives. They are talented and expert in their fields. They are curious about the world and have lots of interests. No one here is here by happenstance - the people are unique because they all chose, and in many cases, competed to get here. I am not sure that I could say that about another small town.
Other things that make McMurdo different from most towns:
- Landscaping - It's all rocks. All the rocks are the same color. If you see a plant on an office desk, it's fake.
- Sidewalks - Everyone walks to work but many people's work is driving massive machines.
- Sense of time - Keep that watch handy because it's probably later than you think.
- Dogs - Not a single nonhuman vertebrate running around this town.
- Colored lights - on every building that tell you if you need to stay inside.
- Food - Everyone eats three meals a day at the same place - The Galley.
- Housing - All provided by the station.
Thinking about buying a place down here for retirement? There are lots of ways to come to Antarctica but a real estate agent isn't one of them. McMurdo needs every type of worker a town would need. There are jobs for a huge variety of people who are interested and motivated to pursue them. Scientists, laborers, tradespeople, food service workers, bartenders, shuttle drivers, doctors, therapists, office managers, etc. all find their way here to experience the unique life of an Antarctican.