In late October, Mikey Kampmann left Southeast Portland's Clinton Street neighborhood for a summer vacation of sorts. Kampmann, a 25-year-old comic and occasional Portlandia cast member, is spending four months working as a cook at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. An American scientific research center that focuses on meteorology, astronomy and astrophysics, it employs approximately 200 people in the summer and 50 in the winter. WW interviewed Kampmann by email and phone (it's a 21-hour time difference) about Antarctic cuisine, retro fashion and the relatively enviable weather. "It's not as cloudy," he says, "and the sun is bigger than I've ever seen. It just does circles in the sky. It's trippy." Kampmann also blogs about his adventure at mikeygoingdown.tumblr.com.
WW: Have you seen any penguins?
Mikey Kampmann: No. 1 most annoying question we get. I haven't seen any penguins. Apparently a skua [seabird] flew past the station one day and they announced it over the PA, but I missed it. Other than that, the only life we've seen is a slug that came here on a head of cabbage. We tried keeping it as a pet until it died.
I assume you have some everyday luxuries, like a bar. What IPAs are on tap?
The South Pole doesn't have a proper bar. We can buy booze at the store and drink wherever. I like to drink Speight's Old Dark, a New Zealand beer we get here. That or whiskey. Or both.
What about the coffee?
Before I left, I decided to exclusively drink Legare's coffee—my favorite coffee in Portland. Jonathan [Legare] insisted I take 10 pounds of his coffee with me so I could trade with Russians while I was here. In return for 1 pound of beans, I received a bottle of vodka and a pistol. It's been really important to me having that coffee here. I look forward to my bowl of coffee everyday, and it reminds me that one day soon I'll be back in Portland.
Where does the food you eat come from? We presume it's all local.
The South Pole has about a two-year supply of frozen food in an underground food arch. About once a week during the summer we get freshies (fruit, veggies and eggs) from New Zealand, depending on weather. Back in Portland, I work for Groundwork Organics, an organic farm, and I thought I appreciated fresh fruit and veggies at the farmers market, but now when I see freshies I'm even more thankful. It's remarkable that you can eat a fresh avocado at the South Pole, or even just an apple. Part of the space-stationlike vibe [here] is the greenhouse, which does grow a nice amount of greens, including kale! Also, alien meat is pretty good.
How do you entertain yourselves?
There are some fun nights here: some big dance parties, Scrabble and cribbage are huge, watching movies, and of course looking for aliens. My favorite thing is to walk away from the station and sit in the sun in the flat, white nothing. I recently found a spot I call "The Beach" because the ice looks like the ocean, and where I like to sit sorta looks like the beach. I brought my boombox, too, so I'll play music and just sit and enjoy that nothingness. I've enjoyed making some absurd videos. Also, checking out the science happening here has been fascinating, even if I can't understand any of it.
What's the dating scene like?
There are free condoms in every bathroom. That said, I think a lot of people just take the condoms 'cause they're feeling overconfident. People are definitely hooking up.
South Pole fashion. Portlandy?
Everybody is mostly wearing the same thing, a "Big Red" parka, Carhartt overalls, bunny boots, gloves and goggles. Definitely lots of gross beards. Not nearly enough cutoff denim as Portland, which is too bad, and thankfully not as much flannel. For parties, people wear some outrageous clothes, most of which have been left here over the years. The '80s are definitely still going on here at the South Pole.
How did you end up there, anyway?
I'm following in the footsteps of my friend who worked in Antarctica. I thought about doing this for three years and finally realized that if I didn't do it now then I never would. So I applied, and a week later I had the job.
Is the South Pole everything you thought it would be?
It doesn't seem to belong to any place or any time. Until you land here, you can't feel how strange it is. It's fucking strange. I've completely fallen in love with the landscape and find it fun to walk out into minus-25 degrees and think it actually feels pretty warm. It's definitely been harder than I thought it would be, and it's made me a tougher person. Life in Portland is so fucking easy.