About the Sun
Couriers keep the mail moving
Posted January 14, 2007
Working as a courier at McMurdo Station transforms all of town into a circuit workout.
Get out of the truck. Walk into the building. Climb up the stairs. Drop the envelope. Climb down the stairs. Walk out of the building. Get into the truck. Drive to the next building. Repeat.
“We’re basically moving mail from place to place and getting a lot of exercise in between,” said LaVonne Hynes Weber, who has spent her last three seasons as a courier and her first season as a dining attendant. “That’s one of the fun parts of the job.”
She said another highlight of her experience is working alongside the other courier – Lorraine Weber, her roommate and sister.
“LaVonne’s my best friend as well as my sister,” said Lorraine, who is in her first season on the Ice. “We have a lot of fun together, and we complement each other well.”
The two women rotate weekly between the task of shuffling packages among work centers and the task of distributing mail in the station’s mail room.
The couriers make the circuit of stairs climbs and brisk walks several times each day, checking drop boxes for new items that need to be moved around town.
“It’s nice being helpful to the community. It’s time out of their day that they are able to do what they need to be doing instead of running all over town,” LaVonne said. “Parts, paperwork, pagers – we’re the movement of it all.”
McMurdo offices generate as much paperwork as any organization, but they are sprawled out like a town instead of gathered together in a centralized location, which means some paperwork needs to be moved more than a mile on its path to completion.
LaVonne said the forms organizing each person’s departure from the continent have to make three courier stops before they gain the necessary signatures and arrive at the right location. With almost 1,000 people leaving at the end of each summer season, there’s plenty of work to be done this time of year.
Rivaling the leg workout the courier job provides is the exercise it gives facial muscles from imparting a smile and a greeting toward almost everyone the couriers pass. The sisters are two of the most recognizable people on station as they can be regularly seen walking the halls of every building.
Both of the couriers agree that giving out package mail is one of the most enjoyable parts of their job. On a continent that is far away from everyone’s home, U.S. Antarctic Program participants regularly search the posted list of package mail hoping for a box from friends and family.
“People come into the mail room smiling and leave smiling,” Lorraine said. “We have a service that makes people smile.”
LaVonne added that one of the most enjoyable parts of walking around station as courier is getting to tell people they have packages as she passes by them. But keeping people’s names, faces and packages straight with a large population like McMurdo can be a challenge.
“Most of the time I get it right, but sometimes I’m a little off,” said LaVonne. “You get to know people’s names because of the time in the mail room. And after I leave the Ice, they’re still swirling about in my mind.”
The alternate weeks in the mail room are not as aerobic as delivering packages around all day, but LaVonne said it’s a nice breather before the next go around.
“The two jobs together just make the perfect job,” she said.
Even on their weeks as courier, the women serve a vital role in assisting the other person in the mail room. The sister on courier duty is responsible for covering the mail room while the other goes to lunch and helps to alphabetize incoming mail and packages. Without assistance, one person could never keep the mail room open to the community all day, which LaVonne said is important with the multitude of work schedules.
Despite the mail room support role, the weekly courier’s primary duty is to make laps on the stationwide circuit, answering pages for immediate pick-ups, gathering mail and redistributing it with each tour of McMurdo.
One of the sisters’ nicest parts of a day spent as courier is the two-mile drive to New Zealand’s Scott Base that they normally make once in the afternoon.
“It’s wonderful, and you get a view of Mount Erebus. It kind of refreshes the spirit just seeing that mountain,” LaVonne said. “After four seasons, I’m still in awe of this place.”