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Condition One

Posted on 31 January 2010

By Peter Hamilton Travis

The title originally intended for this week’s column was: The Sensible Person’s Guide To Surviving Winter on The East End of Long Island: Am I The Only Freak Left Out Here Actually Enjoying The New Ice Age?

However — according to a certain local newsie working in the biz — printing an “overindulgent” title for a piece with such “modest appeal” would be “fiscally irresponsible.” A “waste of ink.”


I knew better than to let my ego get in the way of marginally constructive criticism. When a spectacular launch into the rarified stratosphere of Madison Avenue’s top shop fizzled in the late ’80s, I found myself on a West Village sidewalk kick tapping for spare change. (Asking Mr. Cosby — mid take — during a particularly chilly JELL-O® shoot if I could borrow his COOGI® sweater seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. I was freezing.)

Though times were tough, the streets taught me two of life’s most valuable lessons:

1.            Pick your battles carefully.

2.            Never — for any reason whatsoever — leave a dance belt full of singles unattended on the corner of Christopher and Bleeker.

I always forget that first one…

This industry insider — with his perpetually newsprint-smudged paws and wide circle of local influence — was about to find out what this quasi self-respecting, sporadically contributing columnist was made of.

Pounding my partially clenched, mitten-clad fist on the hood of his 1998 Dodge Caravan, I demanded an explanation.

“Listen Hector! If you know so much about the tabloid trade, why then — after 15 years — are you still delivering my paper to the filtration/heater enclosure of my neighbor’s koi pond?”

As Hector landed his final uppercut to my lower right sinus — it hit me! Hector was right! The Sensible Person’s Guide To Surviving Winter on The East End of Long Island: Am I The Only Freak Left Out Here Actually Enjoying The New Ice Age? could easily be condensed down to a simple, curiously cryptic title: Condition One.

Condition One is a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration term used to denote the worst possible weather in one of the coldest, windiest, least hospitable, desperately remote places on Earth.

Other than Sag Harbor.

The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station — one of three ultra-private, super well-insulated resorts run by the United States Antarctic Program is the southernmost, continually inhabited place on the planet. If you consider three dozen, world-class, isolator/blizzard-wizards (The USAP prefers the term, “winter-overs”) cemented inside a geodesic vault with no hope of rescue during Antarctica’s “off” season (Winter’s long night howls March through September) — habitation.

Personally — it sounds like heaven.

I have not wanted to leave my house in weeks. Why? There is a sheet of sinister black ice — smoother than the Hubble Telescope’s newest mirror — lurking beneath my permafrost-encased stoop. My driveway. My front yard. My back yard. It lies silently waiting for me to drop my guard. Attempt to clear a narrow path for my housekeeper. Take out the trash. Or retrieve all those newspapers from my neighbor’s koi pond filtration/heater enclosure.

According to the United States Antarctic Program Participant Guide, Condition One denotes any weather event causing visibility less than 100 feet, or winds greater than 55 knots (63.2928696 mph), or wind chill temperatures below minus 100° F.

Sound familiar? It should. Check out Al Roker’s “Hamptons Getaway” forecast for this weekend.

During a Condition One — all participants must remain within facility buildings or shelters. Apparently, the USAP frowns on fully funded researchers inadvertently flash freezing themselves — mid-project — just to sneak a smoke out back.

They have a point.

I know what happens to those who defy a Condition One. And it is not pretty. First, you hear a “pop!” Then, a “snap!” Is seeking out human contact really worth spending six-months in a wrist traction tower? I’m not a doctor, but seriously — is it really necessary to torque those titanium screws directly into bare skin? Have we learned nothing since The Middle Ages?

I might as well be studying Neoplasmatic Fjord Liquefaction on The National Science Foundation’s dime. Perhaps — if I had spent less time obsessing about my Earth Science teacher’s obvious rug and more time learning how to grow quartz — I could be one of those lucky few professional hermits toiling night and night answering questions nobody will ever ask. On Facebook status update-worthy projects like:

  • The Long Duration Balloon Program


  • The South Pole Air Shower Experiment


  • Glaciology and Ice-Dynamics

OK. That last one seems a bit silly. Why travel all the way to Antarctica to study how ice works — when Sag Harbor’s cryogenically friendly 7-11 attendants are available 24/7? And by, “available,” I of course mean, “aggressively text messaging no one in particular while their customers ask a question, wait for change, or politely attempt to make the most basic of eye contact.”

A carton of clove cigarettes, a gallon of milk, 20 lbs. of rock salt, and an Entenmann’s Pecan Danish Ring are not going to bag themselves!

Perhaps even I could use a good thaw.

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One Response to “Condition One”

  1. elizabeth grignon says:

    keep coming back!

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