Ten years ago I got my first phone call from the Ice.
I worked in a cubicle at the time.
I answered the phone for a living; trouble-shooting technical issues long distance for veterinary clinics who had my employer’s equipment—in-house blood and urine diagnostic equipment.
I sat at a desk facing a computer in the middle of a building, the wall of windows a vague distant impression of light and dark changing in my days. In the winter I woke in the dark, drove to work in the dark, worked under fluorescent lights, and drove home in the dark.
It was a good company to work for at the time, constantly growing even as the economy began to stagnate: IDEXX Laboratories. I was good at my job. I was underpaid. I even enjoyed it, mostly.I worked with good people and was treated with respect by my supervisors.
But every day I spent indoors in that floor of grey/blue cubicles with soft fabric walls, staring at my computer, attached to a headset answering the phone, was a day I was not living my life the way I dreamed it.
I dreamed of Antarctica. I read of it, I googled it (or what passed for googling in those days). I bought a plane ticket, rented a car and a hotel room in Denver and went to the yearly job fair, groomed and smiling, trying to break the wall of “It’s all about WHO you know not WHAT you know.”
I didn’t know anyone even remotely connected to Antarctica. I didn’t even know I needed to, so naïve was I. It had taken me years and a wonderful book by Sara Wheeler (‘Terra Incognita’) to make me realize that my plans to return to college to study science to get there were unnecessary. I could clean toilets. Or wash dishes, even.
One year at the job fair I met a man, Jack, who had the perfect storm of needed skills. From the Denver area, he had heard of the job fair on the radio, and on a lark he went. They snapped him up, hiring him that year for that summer.
Jack and I hit it off. We chatted a lot while waiting in lines.
We kept in touch during his first year on Ice. I asked him all the stupid FNG questions by email. Panting for responses. I did not know how crazy a season was; I did not get many (or in my eagerness so they seemed: rare and special). They came every now and then and he did his best.
One day, working second shift at IDEXX during the winter, at the tail end of a flurry of calls in which I had worked through a myriad of technical issues, consulting the books on my desk, more senior colleagues, and my computer–my headset beeped in my ear and I answered with my usual spiel “Hi, this is Genevieve. How may I help you?”
And a distant crackly grinning voice said inside my head, “Hey Red, it’s Jack.” There was a moment as I frantically tried to find a vet clinic named Jack, my fingers already moving over my keyboard to search the database, then some confusion about who could be calling me Red. Then he said, “…from Antarctica.”
I was talking to fucking ANTARCTICA!
I stood straight up, electrified, breathless, verging on squealing, or screaming. I popped up over my cubicle walls like a crazy prairie dog, staring wide-eyed around me, my headset torn off my head so hard it clattered on my keypad as I shot upright, my seat rolled hard out behind me hitting the back wall of my cubicle.
Just as quickly I realized 2 things: no one (and I mean NO ONE) at IDEXX knew I was even trying to get to Antarctica, that I had been trying my entire time and even before I was hired there; and I’d just torn my headset off and wasn’t actually talking to Antarctica anymore.
I sat back down just as quickly, nearly cracking my tailbone on the seat arm and missing the seat altogether, and I scrambled to reattach Antarctica to my head.
And I talked to Jack, who was IN ANTARCTICA. I cannot have been articulate at all. I know it took a few moments of his repeating the fact of where he was and that he was calling me from there for me to even accept it. I doubt I gave him time to answer my questions before more came pouring forth. I recall barely being able to keep my seat and many times I stood again, pulled short by the headset cord, bungeeing up and down with the absolute thrill of talking to Antarctica.
I don’t think I was much use at work the rest of that day. I didn’t sleep that night. My mind was exploding and popping with imaginings, with hopes, with dreams of the Ice.
The next year I went to the job fair again. Jack and I arranged to meet afterward so he could show me his photos and answer all my questions.
Instead, Jack showed up at the job fair, surprising me.
Jack introduced me to some people.
I was now past the wall of Who You Know Not What You Know.
That year my resume got pulled. I got a call. I got a job.
My first season was the summer of 2004-2005 at McMurdo Station.
In Antarctica. On Ice.
I’ve been working on Ice ever since.
Thank you, Jack. Thank you for calling me from Antarctica, giving me the thrill of my life up until then, and then introducing me at the job fair, “This is Genevieve. She’s good people.”
As my 10th season, my 9th year, grows closer, I feel that energy, that crackling popping electric charge the Ice brings me. Those stirrings of excitement and anticipation that have never failed.
I work in Antarctica. Holy shit, eh?