Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Orange People

In less than two weeks, we'll be meeting new people for the first time in over 8 months, and that's kind of scary.

The official station opening, when it becomes "summer" and the population skyrockets to 250, is Nov 5th. Because winterovers are notoriously bad at dealing with the masses of summer folk, many of our replacements will be arriving earlier than that on smaller planes, during a so-called soft-opening. That allows us to do all the turnover training before the population gets too high and we become too dysfunctional. It also means much of the winterover crew leaves Nov 5th as the masses begin to pour in.

Anyway, in 12 days, the smaller planes that operate through the soft-opening period will be passing through on their way to McMurdo. Two days after that, they'll be back with freshies, people, and who knows what else. While I am looking forward to fresh produce, the people are a little more mixed. To repeat myself, we haven't seen anyone other than we 60 winterovers in over 8 months. We're all tremendously comfortable around each other, know each other's personalities, histories, interests and quirks, and the prospect of new - unkown - people is quite frankly a little frightening.

That may be hard to understand, coming from the outside world, but isolation like this builds quite a group mentality, an us-versus-them way of thinking. Everyone one station is now thoroughly toasted in their own special way, and one of the end stages of toast is an inability to deal with anything new, particularly people.

I'm sure we'll be as nice as we can be to the summer folks, but according to previous winterovers, when that first plane shows up, there's a moment of panic that runs through the assembled crowd. Even old friends from off the ice are somehow a little more than we're prepared to deal with, and the winterovers quickly retreat to their rooms.

Adding to the distinction, none of us have had any sun exposure since arriving last summer. For me, that's about 10 months; for some, it's been as much as 16. We've all very gradually gone very very pale, and now, no matter the ethnicity, we're one and all quite white, verging on transparent. The lore is that anyone from off the ice, regardless of how mild a tan they may have, will look thoroughly orange by comparison.

Summer arrivals are the Orange People, and they bring with them an exhilirating mix of newness, excitment, and - to the toasty mind - a mildly threatening otherness. Also, freshies.


desert tortise said...

I have a t-shirt. It says, "I see orange people." Should I send you one?

Keith said...

That's fantastic! Thanks, I'd love to get one - I'll get in touch by email.


desert tortise said...

And you thought your friends only left you things marked "sensitive equipment!"