Experiences at Pole

Day Eight: The Curse of the D.V.'s

Journal Report:
At the South Pole
Saturday Feb. 8th

For some people, the term 'DV' might be mistaken for an allusion to an unpleasant form of 'gastrointestinal distress' (euphemism). However, for the managers of a high-profile location such as the South Pole Station, the term 'DV' is one that *INDUCES* gastro-intestinal distress: for it refers to a situation that can not be cured by 2 pills in a glass of water. The term 'DV' that strikes fear and loathing into these people refers to that most ghastly of apparitions incarnate: the Distinguished Visitor. In groups of N, the effects are not just multiplied N times, but the disruption and inconvenience are enlarged to the Nth power.

It seems that there are 2 categories of DV recognized by the local management: the 'OK-DV' and the 'F-DV'.

The OK-DV is often a senior scientist, or senior manager. This person is treated with well-deserved respect: the person recognizes that station operations are complex and intense, and attempts to minimize his or her impact. The purpose of the visit is often to conduct on-site reviews or inspections, or to confer with local science or operations leaders. The OK-DV is rarely seen, spending most time in offices or laboratories. The OK-DV's goal is to become invisible and non-disruptive, so that the acts of inspecting and conferring represent the true, equilibrium state of affairs here. Another category of OK-DV is the Truly Famous Person, whom everyone wants to meet anyway. The disruption in this case is more than worth while: Sir Edmund Hillary, for example, the first Westerner to climb Mount Everest and the leader of the first Trans-Antarctic Expedition, who visited Pole a few weeks ago.

However, there is another category of DV, the so-called F-DV. The prime characteristic of the F-DVs is that they come for *NO REAL PURPOSE* save as a junket for themselves. The primary goal of the F-DV is to be photographed at the Ceremonial Pole, to be photographed in front of the entrance to the Dome, to get a postcard mailed with a South Pole stamp imprint. F-DV's contribute nothing of immediate substance by their visit, although unfortunately they are often in positions of undeserved power and influence back home, and must therefore be humored. Candidates for this category can be drawn from high-level academia, politicians, and high-ranking military. Somehow, in a distant manner, they find themselves in an upper box on an org-chart that contains a reference somewhere to Something At The South Pole. Voila! - the junket is conceived, the camera is loaded with film, the administrative assistants are told to make the necessary arrangements.

Of course, said F-DV's are very sensitive to the nature of their visits: they have achieved their positions by careful attention to politics and promotions. However, what puts the prefix 'F' into their descriptive code is their total disregard of the intensity of station operations, their lack of consideration for those who have jobs to do, their arrogance derived from the habitual exercise of substantial power. This last attribute forces one to Express No Opinions, Name No Names, lest the lightning of Official Disapproval strike one's cubicle, one's project, one's career.

So here we are at the South Pole, only a FEW DAYS before closing - i.e. there is LOTS for everyone to do, before the last plane departs for the winter. The dispatcher announces over the PA system: "aircraft 10 miles out, on-deck at 11:45, fifteen thousand pounds of cargo, six thousand gallons of fuel, one passenger, seven DV's ". A great groan of disbelief goes up in the galley. SEVEN DV's ? ... THIS LATE IN THE SEASON ??

It is part of Don Neff's job to give brief tours of the facilities and projects to DV's of every type. Characteristically, he smiles, pulls on his jacket and goes to get the keys to a vehicle. His management responsibilities will have to be temporarily set aside.

The plane lands: from a distance, I see the one passenger disembark and walk towards the station dragging his bag. Perhaps a returnee for the Winter. The Cats are working at the rear of the plane to extract the cargo: the Fuel Team is pumping out the excess fuel and transferring it to the Station tanks. Eagerly waiting in the galley are the 19 people who are scheduled for departure today. Some of them have been here since November: all of them have schedules to keep, colleagues and loved ones to eventually meet. I see Don driving the DV's around in a snowcat: they are peering out of the windows, but their real goals are elsewhere.

The engines of the plane are running, as is usual. Several hundred gallons of precious fuel per hour. As soon as the freight is unloaded, the announcement is made: "All departing passengers please proceed to the aircraft". With final good-byes, they gather their bags and walk up the hill, out of the Dome, and towards the plane that will take them from this monochromatic world back to civilization.

I am outside, waiting with the video camera to get some footage of a plane departing in a cloud of exhaust. I am slowly freezing, as I am standing still. Now, the DV's are at the Ceremonial Pole. It's right next to the plane: but they don't walk over and climb aboard: they get back into the snowcat and Don drives them down into the Dome. I am really freezing, so I figure that the walk will warm me up. I end up in the galley, looking for someone who can give me an idea of when the plane will be taking off.

Inside the galley, our F-DV's are cheerfully sitting at the tables, drinking coffee and eating slices of cake. They are chatting to the pretty galley ladies, and other women staff. If dressed in red-checker wool shirts, they would perfectly resemble a group of Good Old Boys back from a hunting trip, chatting to the waitresses in a diner in Wisconsin.
They get their coffee cups refilled.

Outside on the runway, the aircraft engines are roaring, the 19 passengers are sitting inside the hold of the plane in the belly of the netherworld.

Back in the galley, the DV's finally decide that now it's time for them to get their postcards of the South Pole with the official stamp. They exit, laughing and joking. What a great trip - the South Pole! I calculate that it couldn't take them more than a few minutes more, so after a bit I put on my coat again and go out onto the runway. The plane is exactly where it was, its engines still running, its tail rudder swishing back and forth exactly like the tail of an angry cat, as the pilot wondered what the *** was going on, and watched his fuel gauges.

I stand on the runway for another 20 minutes or more. I am freezing again - and so is the battery in the video camera. Eventually, the DV's emerge from the Dome entrance. They are slapping each other on the back. They pause for some more pictures of each other, and walk gradually over to the plane.
Oops! - forgot a particular shot of the Ceremonial Pole; a shot of each one climbing aboard the plane. The aircrew salute, the last one gets on board, the ladder goes up.

It is 1 hour and 15 minutes since the freight was offloaded, at which time the plane would have been ready to depart. Nineteen people, who just put in months of dedicated hard work in 40-below-zero conditions, have been given the privilege of sitting in the hold of the aircraft for an hour and a quarter so that our Good Old Boys can chat with the galley ladies over coffee.

The plane takes off and flies away. I am disgusted, as well as being encrusted with ice over my face and beard.



But then ....... !

Back in the Dome, it's Saturday night! - of all things there is a BARBECUE on the snow outside the galley. Perhaps it had been hidden until the F-DV's departed. Steaks are sizzling, a huge cloud of greasy smoke is going up inside the dome. "Grab a plate" they call out. Inside, margaritas are being mixed - and good ones too, with tortilla chips and fresh salsa. FRESH SALSA ?

Now I am really disoriented. A moment ago, crass inconsiderateness by a bunch of Good Old Boys, by whose hour-and-a-quarter delay I froze my fingers and face in (windchill) 60-degrees-below-zero conditions, and got riled. A moment later, I am surrounded by people who have become my friends in this last long week: I am eating a steak with chips and salsa, and drinking a darned good margarita.

What in heck is going on ? Am I really here ?


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Prepared by Tony Hansen and Tod Flak; last updated 08 Feb 1997