January 12, 2000

Pete and I found Los Angeles International Airport just after six in the morning, right around the time I realized my flight left at 9am and not 6am. With an extra three hours, we went out to find some breakfast.

I suppose anyone with the gumption to be out-and-about before six in the morning also has the constitution to handle food from the International House of Pancakes, which is good because at that hour the only other places open were the nutritionally-comparable AM/PM Mini-Marts. Pushing the victual envelope, we each ordered a meager plate of IHOP hash browns and garnished them with syrup and mustard. Mid-meal, Peteís voicemail informed him that his girlfriend just secured an unattended house for the weekend up in Lake Tahoe, so as soon as we finished eating he dropped me off at my terminal and headed north for some "quality time."

The lady at the airline counter had no record of a vegetarian meal for me, but I was so early she was able to swing me one for my first flight to Miami. I milled aimlessly around the airport until finally parking myself in a gift shop where I read every magazine with either a guitar or half-naked girl (or both) on the cover. After long, my boarding announcement sounded and I strolled onto the plane and found an entire row to myself. The Walkman I just borrowed from Pete didnít work so I pretended to nap the whole way to Florida.

We arrived in Miami ahead of schedule, giving me ample time to read more sensationalist American propaganda (and porn) in their fine gift shop. Luckily the new issues of the same magazines I read in Los Angeles were shelved while I was on the plane. I read them all during my three-hour layover.

My flight to Buenos Aires granted me another empty row of seats, and vegetarian meals! However, the planeís front TV monitor was planned to accommodate rows 20 through 60 and I sat in row 20. I can assure you that whoever coordinated the TV arrangement never sat in my seat. I could only watch for two minutes at a time before having to turn my neck the other way to counter the neck strain. And every time I turned my neck back towards the screen it caught the attention of the woman sitting not only across the aisle from me, but also directly in my line of view. Her seat was so close to the screen she couldnít make out heads or tails of what was being projected on it, so she gave up watching entirely. Instead, she resigned to reading magazines for the rest of the ride, until she got tired of thinking I was staring at the side of her head and eventually got up and never came back.

When telling people I was headed to Antarctica all but two responded immediately with "Why?!" Why?! is usually a good enough excuse for me to do anything. Because so many people find it ludicrous to travel to such an unknown place, I am naïve and immature enough to do it.

I never told anyone, but I actually had real, more viable reasons for going, but itís always nice to let people think you are a moron. They expect less and you can get away with more. Anyway, some of the other reasons were as follows:

  • Itís the coldest, driest place on Earth. It has been almost 10 million years since the heart of the continent received itís last real rain/snow fall.
  • Iíve never traveled by myself, and no one could cough up enough money to join me on this trip. This will allow me to do something none of my friends have done, which is a good way to maintain an identity and bragging rights.
  • Itís the most pristine place left on the planet. Where else on Earth does the law of the land "designate [themselves] as a Ďnatural reserve, devoted to peace and scienceí"?
  • The animals arenít (yet) afraid of humans.
  • There really arenít any humans (yet).
  • Itís the only continent I havenít been to (yet).
  • Dude, how cool would it be to go to Antarctica?!

Antarctica, by the way, is the big chunk of land (yes, land) located at the very "bottom" of the earth. Itís been suppressed under ice (three miles thick in some spots) for close to 45 million years. Itís very cold, and the sun shines for 24 hours a day throughout the summer, and disappears for a few months during the winter. The northern sky is home to Arktos, and whatís the opposite of Arktos? Ant-Arktos Ė hence the name, Antarctica.

I spent a year and a half casually studying the Antarctic before buying my tickets three months ago. I also figured that while I was heading south, I might as well stay in Buenos Aires for a week and hang out with some old friends.

In between movies and news clips, the airplane movie screen showed a map with a little airplane noting our progress. When our cartoon plane passed over Venezuela I took inventory of my fears for this trip:

  • Would my Spanish be adequate after not having spoken it in over four years? Would I even need Spanish since I was hanging out with my bilingual friends?
  • Would my bilingual friends be at the airport in Buenos Aires to pick me up?
  • Would I be able to eat vegetarian this whole trip? If not, would I resort to eating the flesh of other animals? Or would I just live off the thirty Power Bars I packed for such an emergency?
  • Would I go nuts because I wouldnít have anyone to talk to/relate to on the ship to Antarctica?
  • Was Antarctica a good idea? The chorus of Whyís I got from friends were overwhelming Ė did they know something I didnít?
  • Could I tolerate the cold? Iím from California. I wear shorts in the wintertime.
  • Will my oppressive fear of water drive me to hole up in my cabin with the lights out or, even worse, jump overboard like a person suffering from vertigo who succumbs to pull of the edge of a building?

These are all valid fears, but what scares me most, what absolutely terrifies me more than anything, is the possibility of being bored. Things get broken and feelings get hurt when I get bored. Usually fun of the most absurd kind is had during periods of intense boredom, but the potential for offensive behavior peaks then, too. At the very least, I hope to come home with a story to tell, or die and not come home at all. I figure either is valorous.

NEXT