It Takes All Kinds (of Kinds)

Now some point a finger and let ignorance linger
If they’d look in the mirror they’d find.
That ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning
It takes all kinds of kinds.*

For most of my life, I stuck with my kind of people. Do you know what I mean? I hung out with people with similar socioeconomic and educational backgrounds; similar religious and political views; people with whom I thought I had the most in common.

When I was around folks who saw the world too differently from me, I would tend to become wary of conflict or feel a peculiar need to proselytize (I’m not just talking religion, it could be anything on the list of life events). I felt safe in alikedness.

I’ve always heard: People are the same everywhere.  I used to believe that. Not anymore. And more importantly, why would we want them to be?

7 years ago, I left my lifelong Midwest residency for a job in Oregon, then California, then back to Oregon and now, for the past 3 years, I’ve been buried deep in southern Texas. I learned real quickly that living and working in a place isn’t at all like passing through on vacation. I’ve been blessed to do a lot of traveling, and as a tourist, I’ve loved being an observer. But when you live and work with people, you don’t just observe – you participate whether it’s sand dollars and starfish or javelinas and jalapenos!

With every relocation, I’ve been introduced to new ways of understanding a well turned phrase. Each move has brought people into my life with whom I’ve had seemingly little in common but oh, what they’ve taught me by helping me see our world through their eyes.

One of the things I’ve discovered through these adventures is that people are not the same everywhere. There are lots of common traits: goodness, kindness, compassion, meanness, arrogance, selfishness. But by and large, we’re regional thinkers. It goes way beyond food and fashion and accents. Different places plant different kinds of thoughts in folks. Usually, not always, the thinking grows and spreads.

I’ve found people in the Midwest to be different from people on the West coast who are different from folks down here in the South.

That’s kind of great!

I’ve learned so much from people who aren’t my kind. The friends I’ve made, and the diverse groups I’ve broken bread with, have taught me to value our differences instead of feeling the need to conform myself or to reform/inform others.

I’ve certainly learned that it takes all kinds of kinds. I know some of you aren’t big country music fans, but would you take a couple of minutes to watch this video anyway? I didn’t add it as filler. It’s more of a visual philosophy.

*Lyric by Don Henry

After 7 years on the road and 3 years in the oil field, I’ve met a lot of kinds of kinds. 

If it were practical and possible, I’d recommend everyone uproot (even if only for a year or two) and plant themselves in an entirely different region to live and work with people they don’t think are their kind. We have remarkable things to learn from each other!

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here at Fork. Our Deep in the Heart of Texas, a long way from nowhere, gate guarding Internet has been nominal on good days. It’s still hit and miss but I’ve decided to post more often on the hit days.

I’m writing again, in part, because I’ve learned so much from all of you and y’all are one diverse bunch! To quote John Denver (yes, I’m equally surprised at the attribution – case in point):

I believe that we are here for each other, not against each other. Everything comes from an understanding that you are a gift in my life – whoever you are, whatever our differences.

Thank you for the gift! It does take all kinds of kinds!

Midnight Chicken

Lee used to bring me chicken at midnight.

When I got up Monday afternoon, Heidi said: Our kids and grand-kids are all OK. The rest of the family is OK and everyone here on the rig is OK but I have some sad news. Lee was killed last week.

I’d been watching for him for several nights. I’d already set aside the peanut brittle I was going to give him.

Lee was a pusher (field supervisor) for a company that we’ve worked with for the past year and a half. I talked to him almost every week, sometimes several times a week. We work with so many nice guys, but he stood out. Lee wasn’t unusually handsome or charismatic. Lee stood out because he was unusually kind.

He was always worried about my torn meniscus.  He’d jump out of his truck to meet me on the RV steps so I wouldn’t have to make the climb. When it rained, he’d race to the door to make sure he was the one who got wet.

Lee would check out our next location before we even knew where we were headed. On his own time, he’d drive the torn up Texas back-roads to find the route that would cause the least amount of rocking and rolling to our RV. The glove compartment is stilled stuffed with his hand drawn maps.

Lee was only 45 years old when another driver crossed the center line and hit him head on. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. Like me, Lee works nights and his shift  was over. Typically, he volunteered to make one last run to save David the long drive out.

David’s face fell when he told Heidi the news.  Everyone is sad. Everyone says the same thing: He was a very good man. Unanimous praise is rare in this industry.

Someone new just came in a few moments ago, with Lee’s plate on his truck. I felt my gut synch-up as I wrote down HN6 and asked him how he was. He said: I’d be better if I didn’t have to be here.

He may be nice enough. I don’t know. I only know he isn’t Lee.  I was thankful to make it through Be safe and have a good night before my throat closed up. Tears were flooding my face as his tail lights faded.

The nights down here are quiet and sometimes lonely and I’ve truly lost a friend. There won’t be any more gifts of chicken at midnight.

But I didn’t sit down to write about me or my grief. I sat down to write about Lee and about how one man’s kindness moved my heart.

Life is short.

Be kind. Be kind all of the time because there may not be another time.

September Swan Song of Sorts

September means big changes.

When you’re a kid, or parenting kids, the hazy lazy days are gone in favor of new folders and new clothes and new routines. When you’re old like me and living in sweltering southern Texas, it means that for the first time since April, you can look forward to the weather improving! We’ve broken 100 degrees 40+ times this summer and we’ll continue to (according to Channel 4) for another week or so, but the 90’s are beckoning and there’s even a distant promise of 80’s in the long-range forecast.

September also means other changes here at Fork. When I began writing 3 years ago, I felt as if I’d traveled through some weird worm hole and landed on an entirely different planet. I knew nothing about Texas, nothing about the oil field, and not as much about myself as I’d thought. Every day was well … weird, so I had a lot to write about.

We worked with a lot of Cajun speakin’ Louisiana boys for the first year and a half and I couldn’t understand about half of what they said in the beginning. When I did get it right, it didn’t really matter because I didn’t know anything about the oil business so I had no idea what they were talking about anyway.

I didn’t like getting dirty. I hated hot weather and I was jumpy about things like spiders and javelinas and coyotes and scorpions and rattlesnakes and wild hogs.

Three years later, I’m not at all surprised when someone wants to show me their pot-bellied pig or pet tarantula.

I’m not even surprised when, like yesterday, I wake up to find a rattlesnake adorning our gate.

It’s just another day in the oil field.

I can not only talk the talk. I can even code it with a flash light…

to our derrikman through the tiny kitchen window!

We follow a rig so apart from an occasional ornamental snake and Coyote Catering, one day is very much like another. That doesn’t leave me replete with fascinating material (clearly, as I’ve now written about tearing my meniscus 3 times).

I’ve made multiple mistakes as a blogger.

I didn’t know anything about blogging so I let other bloggers tell me how to write:

  • If it isn’t 1000 words long, it isn’t worth writing about. Now that was BAD advice. I read a fair number of blogs, and unless the writer is a professional blogger or exceptionally gifted, when I see 1000 words, I move on down the road. That’s just way to long for me.
  • Never write about politics or religion (or anything controversial). I’ve followed that principle for all this time. Things are changing. My blog – my topics.
  • Stay true to your readers. People started reading Fork because it was about Gate Guarding so you have to stick with that. Well, as a general rule, that’s probably true. You build a readership that’s content based so if you change your content, you alter your readership.

However, here’s my problem. I set out to write about my experiences but after 3 years (and the GGS NDA) it’s become more of a blog about me than a blog by me. As a result, I rarely write because I’ve lost interest in it and I can’t imagine it’s interesting to anyone else either. Some of you are just in too deep to quit I guess!

It’s September and it’s time for a change. I love my job – weird, I know, but I do love it – however I’m tired of reading and writing about it.

You know that Yogi Berra quote:

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

I’m at a fork. I’m not sure where this Fork will lead but I have to either put the blog to bed or take a different path. So I plan on trying another path for a while. If it leads us somewhere, I’ll keep going and if not, then it’s been a fun ride!

Just Right

The Story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears Debbie and the Four Stairs

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks.  She  went for a walk in the forest . Pretty soon, she came upon a house. She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.

You know the rest of the story, Goldilocks eats the bear’s food, breaks their furniture and takes a nap. She was, however, pretty hard to please.

The first bowl of porridge was too hot,the second was too cold. The the third bowl was just right. so she ate it all up.

The first chair was too big, the second was too big too, the third was just right but when she sat in it she broke it all to pieces.

And,finally there were the beds. The first  bed was too hard, the second, too soft but the last was  just right. She fell asleep in the just right one. When she woke up, she saw the bears, screamed and ran away.

So, here’s my parallel story.

Once upon a time, there was me. I took a tumble and then a twist. There wasn’t any forest – just caliche and cacti. Eventually (after 6 months), I came upon the office of an Orthopedic Surgeon. He took a look, ordered an MRI, told me to call him in the morning – just like the song: Put the Lime in the Coconut !

And now, the rest of the story:

When I was 19, a drunk driver slammed into me going 65 mph. After the Jaws-of-Life peeled open my door, the EMTs had to remove the steel rod that had once held the steering wheel of my Dodge Dart, but was now buried deep in my knee.

If your tire is flat, you may be able to patch it and air it up. But if you have a blow out, you need a new tire. My knee was patched up with 48 stitches and a cast back then, but this time, I had a total blow out. Dr Elmer said my meniscus looks like a shredded tire not a flat one.

I’m too old for a meniscus repair (by about 10 years). He said I need a total knee replacement.

But, I’m too young for a total knee (by about 10 years).

So I’m too old and too young which means I must be just right!

Thank you all for your emails and well wishes and prayers. That’s the story. Whenever I write again, whatever I write about, it won’t be about my joints. (It’s like going to a nice restaurant and listening to people beside you talk about their gallbladder all through dinner!)

Dr Elmer suggested Cortisone shots or Rooster Comb shots. We’ll see. For now, I’m getting by and keeping my pants on. Life is very good!

Life comes from physical survival; but the good life comes from what we care about. ~Rollo May

Rips and Rants and Saggy Pants

In many towns and cities and parishes across this country, I’m breaking the law each and every night. What can I say, I was born this way.

I’ll explain, but first you need to know that I’m totally ripped. I’m ripped but not in the cool 6 pack kind of way. And not in the uncool but clearly inebriated kind of way. I’m ripped in the old-fashioned dictionary definition kind of way:

to cut or tear apart in a rough or vigorous manner: to rip open a seam leg; to rip up a sheet knee
to cut or tear away in a rough or vigorous manner: to rip bark ligament from a tree bone

First there was that Slip Sliding down the steps back in early February which led to the original tearing my medial meniscus.

Every day for the past 5 1/2 months, I’ve thrown myself down on the floor (literally –  there’s no graceful way to land with a torn meniscus), faithfully doing my rehab exercises. After about 3 months, I started getting better. My knee quit throbbing and it didn’t hurt to have the sheet touch it when I went to bed. I was encouraged.

However, one night in late June, while making the hazardous trip from the sofa to the sink, my knee buckled even though I was wearing my 4th (not even from Walmart) knee brace and I was back where I started. Actually I was behind where I started since pain was racing down the inner and now the outer side of my knee.

At that point, things started getting loud. I was thumping a lot when walking and dropping and plopping when attempting sitting. All of this extra commotion put a serious scare into Heidi. She started getting up multiple times every night to see if I’d fallen and become road kill.

It was time to build in some extra safeguards. This is what I’ve come up with.

I dress carefully – often, but not always –  wearing my special shirt to send out an advance warning to any who may encounter me upright or prone at the gate.

I always wear my knee brace. This is a picture of the 4th one. I have a 5th one now. I’ll get to that later. Both personal experience and a Google search confirmed that frozen vegetables stay cold longer than more conventional ice packs.

It turns out Sugar Snap Stir Fry stays frozen even longer than peas. Who knew? The biggest draw back (besides the smell when they thaw and leak) was that I didn’t always have time (or remember) to take the bag out of my brace on the way out to the gate. It’s funny how people don’t really know what to say to someone walking around with vegetables dangling from their leg.

Because of Heidi’s fitful sleeping, it seemed prudent to take a few additional precautions. Personally, I don’t think all of these are necessary but she sleeps better this way.

If I fall down the steps again, the long-handled hoe should be within reach. That way, if there are rattlesnakes under the RV, I won’t even have to get up to chop off their heads. (That is SO not happening but I pretend like I would do it to pacify her.)

One of my bosses bought me BLUE pepper spray that he strongly believes I should wear during all the dark hours. To be honest, unless it’s a real breeze-less night, it hangs by the door. The wind here (and there’s almost always wind here) is constantly changing directions. If I’m not real precise, I could be the one streaming blue tears. And no one will let me practice on them so I don’t even know for sure that it works.

In my leg pocket, I’m required to wear my phone so that I can call Heidi and say: Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! – just like in the commercials. She sleeps with her phone. Of course, she also sleeps with a sound machine rumbling, the air conditioning humming and ear plugs jammed in her ears. Just sayin’.

Anyway, we recently received a package from Swayback Ranch that included a CRKT knife. I wear this on my vest in case I fall and get hungry. I figure I can whip it out and skewer a grasshopper or an over-sized beetle or take a stab at a scorpion if it flips it’s tail at me.

So with my fair warning shirt glowing, my brace full of stir fry, the mace hanging around my neck nice and handy, my phone in my pocket, and the hoe and knife ready to be brandished, I felt pretty prepared for just about anything.

Just about anything except a TROM. Since my knee was still buckling with my hinged brace, I went all bionic and bought some serious hardware.

With this latest brace, I can pretty much just lock my leg in place. I have it set on zero which allows for barely bending at all. This has made navigation interesting.

I’m a very average 5 foot 6 inches tall, but I have remarkably short legs and a long trunk. Until now, the worst part of this has been that my pants sometimes drag. But as you can kind of tell from the photo, this new brace goes almost all the way to my hip.

With short legs and a telescoping brace, even UN-telescoped, there are issues. For one thing, I have to balance myself very precariously on the edge of the toilet seat. At least If I fall off there, odds are, Heidi will hear me and I won’t have to call her on the phone or eat bugs.

I’m re-learning how to walk, making sure I have a clear path to swing my leg. Sometimes I just shout out Look out, leg coming through. No one but Henry is listening to me but I feel better saying it.

I’ve always been a step bounder. Heidi says the RV shakes a lot less now that I have to two-step the steps. That’s a plus, I guess but it’s slowed me down some. When I get to the door, I stick my arm out and start waving right away, so people will know that the rest of me will follow eventually.

The worst part has been the Sag-Factor and this is where I could get into some legal trouble if I lived in, say, Terrebonne Parish, LA or Wildwood, NJ or Houston, TX. This is one heavy brace and it pulls my pants right down when I walk. And I do mean down. I’d be in a world of hurt if it weren’t for my fairly substantial hips.

I’ve tried wearing the TROM under my pants but it’s really not possible. This is a BIG brace and I’d need to buy pants 2 sizes larger which I think would just increase the Sag-Factor. I’ve tried it over my jeans and over my ultra cool black- fabric- that- breaths pants. That’s all I own so that’s all I can try. No luck. So I called the DonJoy Company.

In retrospect, I suppose this should have been an embarrassing conversation but that didn’t occur to me then. Desperate measures for desperate times.

Me: I just got my new DonJoy TROM Brace which is very nice and sturdy but it pulls my pants down and I was wondering if you had any tips?

Beth: I think I’d better transfer you to John.

Me: Thank you.

I repeat my dilemma to John who is the customer fit specialist. John and Beth and I are on a 3 way call – for quite a while. They say they’ve never encountered this problem before.

After a fair amount of brain storming, John decides to send me (at no cost) 6 feet of Velcro that he thinks I can stick on my pants. I tell him I have short legs so 4 feet would probably do. He insists on 6. I say thank you again.

The Velcro hasn’t arrived yet. In the mean time, I hope to find another means of victory over the sag because, well, you know – as the billboard says, RAISE YOUR PANTS RAISE YOUR IMAGE.

I’m considering suspenders…

Fit to Knit

There are a few material things that I take for granted. I’m pretty content as long as I have an abundant supply of coffee and paper towels. (We have toilet paper, but we don’t have napkins or tissues, so a paper towel meets all my needs from a fake plate to a stiff handkerchief.)  It’s almost always hot in southern Texas so I can’t imagine being here without air conditioning. And running water is a huge plus. I forget how much I like water until we don’t have any.

Our first winter in Texas was spent in an almost new, but not very well insulated, Class A. Our pipes froze up for a couple of weeks. As many of you know, that led to me planting myself in a variety of flower pots at Walmart,searching for the perfect fit. That flower pot catches rain/air conditioning water now which came in handy this past week when our canister blew up and we needed to pour water in the inside outhouse.

Really, though, we’ve kept that flower pot for 2 1/2 years just in case… It’s hard to find a pot to use as a pot(ty) that’s lightweight and will still hold this much weight!

We were only without water for 6 days this time. The part arrived from Florida yesterday and you would have thought we’d been waterless for a month. We were so excited we just kept grinning and turning the water on and off and on and off. Really.

The washer was surprised by the change and began frenetically blinking F-09 signals at me.

This had never happened before and pushing every button, two at a time even, didn’t calm it down. I read the manual and Heidi unplugged it. After a couple of minutes, she plugged it back in and it calmed right down.

Having a stack-able washer and dryer in this RV has been a blessing but getting to the plug-in place  is complicated. Heidi crawled into the closet and disappeared completely. You know how in Narnia, Lucy hides in the wardrobe and behind the clothes are the coats, and behind the coats there’s snow and a lamppost!?

Well, here, behind the clothes are the coats, and behind the coats you might expect snow because there are piles and plies of scarves. Heidi got pretty caught up in the knitting while trying to unplug.

I’ve covered only a portion of Heidi’s activities over the past few months. I can sum mine up as primarily being a cheery LARGE sofa pillow. I have to shake myself off every hour or two so the caliche doesn’t form a layer on my lap.

The only thing I’ve done since February, other than working my meager 10 hour night-shift and the ritual dusting of everything not breathing, is knit scarves. This is something of an ironic hobby since I live year round in Texas where no one needs scarves. It’s even odder because I don’t particularly like to knit.

I like to eat.

I like to eat when I watch TV and I really like to eat when I read.

I needed something to do with my hands that didn’t involve food. I’m too old and too poor to start smoking so, as some of you know, I sort of taught myself to knit. Just the very basics.

I can prop my Kindle on the arm of the chair and read and knit – as long as I keep it simple. I have friends who knit beautiful caps and hats and sweaters. I knit scarves. A lot of scarves.

I don’t want to count stitches because, well, then I couldn’t read. I can knit and pearl and page-turn pretty seamlessly.

The downside (other than the fact that there is zero demand for scarves in Texas) is that I’m often sitting in the near dark at night (this picture was taken in the daytime for your benefit). I usually only have a couple of pretty, but very dim, lights on.

This is what generally happens. I’ll read and knit. The bell will ring. I go out to the gate. I come back in and pour more coffee and read and knit.

A lot of the time everything is copacetic. Every once in a while I end up with the yarn either stuck to the Velcro on my vest or more often now, on my knee brace, and I drag the whole scarf-in-progress out the door with me. Sometimes it stays intact. Sometimes not so well.

Anyway, I repeat this pattern of knitting and reading and going to the gate and drinking coffee in the semi-dark about a dozen times every night before it occurs to me to turn on more lights and take a look at my project.

Sometimes I’m pleased. But quite often I find I’ve dropped a stitch about 47 rows back which leads to a lot of unraveling. I box the scarves up every few months and send them off to friends or family members in a colder climates to donate to the SA or a soup kitchen –  and who wants to get a scarf with random holes every 40 or 50 rows?

The upside to dropping stitches is that the yarn last longer since I knit it twice, which saves us a little money.

Tomorrow or the next night, I have a story to tell you about my knee and the need to always be prepared but for now I’ll just leave you with this dieting tip that’s worked (sort of) for me: If you find your pants aren’t fitting, it might be time to take up knitting.

Momma Said There’d Be Days Like This

I was going to write about Sugar Snap Stir Fry tonight but other things came up.

Momma said there’d be days like this…

It was very hot.

Then the rains came and that was a good thing. The temperatures dropped into the 90’s and the caliche tamped itself temporarily down.

Then the wind changed. The rain rained itself sideways right into the vent on the kitchen slide making the refrigerator go out.

Heidi still had the phone number of a roving RV repair man that she talked to a few months ago when the rig washers were washing oil based mud off the RV and soaked the vent, knocking the frig out the first time.

He had talked her through a magical magnet resetting trick over the phone. We sent him a thank you check for $25. She called. He called back and said he’d forgotten how to do it. Maybe we should have sent $35.

She asked him how we could prevent this from happening in the future (it rains sideways a lot on the Oregon coast).

He said, next time you buy an RV, get one with the vents on the top.

OK.

While I was sleeping and Heidi was running back and forth between the gate and the soggy vent, one of our guys stopped by and offered to help.

He accidentally dropped the magnet inside the vent where it found a metal home and he lost it completely.

When I woke up yesterday afternoon, that much of the drama had unfolded. I hobbled out with the umbrella that we were surprised to find still tucked under the front seat (not really much need for it in Texas between the wind and the drought). I held it while Heidi fished around with dueling screwdrivers, trying to grab the magnet.

The sun broke through making the umbrella even more superfluous than usual so I worked the gate while Heidi continued her vent project. She found the magnet, took a guess and, viola! the frig came back on!

We were relieved not to have to haul all of our food down to the Company Man’s extra frig (we did have to do that after the rig washer incident). We were celebrating Heidi’s magnet magic with a close game of Whist when we heard a LOUD thunk.

Heidi went out to find water gushing out from under the RV. She came inside with this:

The filter canister cracked and plunked right off. We called our dealership in Iowa to see if we could still use internal water. Well, that would be a no but they did assure us that it was an anomaly, a defective part and  it wouldn’t happen again.

OK.

Next we called the other roving RV repair guy who had just replaced our grey water valve and toilet this month and our micro/wave convection oven last month. He never called back. Heidi will start the phone calling over again this a.m. The part will have to be ordered so we’ll be waterless for a while (we have plenty of drinking water – just no tap).

Sooo, Heidi bleached a bucket that had previously held who knows what – probably rattlesnake heads – and filled it from the tank outside so we’d have water to do dishes. While she was beaching the snake and scorpion remnants out of the bucket, our mud logger stopped by to tell her to tell me to be careful tonight because they’ve seen 5 rattlesnakes in the past 2 nights under their trailers (about 100 yards from us).

Heidi came in with the bucket and the snake news.

By this time we no longer cared about health and fitness so we ate an entire DiGiorno’s thin crust pizza. Heidi was pretty tired by all this problem solving and went to bed.

A little later, I opened the freezer to get an ice pack for my knee. When I opened the door, a bag of ice cubes fell out on Henry’s head. It wasn’t a very big bag but he doesn’t have a very big head. It didn’t hurt him but it did scare him. He jumped backwards, into his water dish and flipping his dog food all over the floor.

Seeing his dog food all over the floor didn’t make him hungry so I picked it up. But seeing his water all over did make him thirsty which led to Henry drinking a quart and needing to go right outside where the rattlesnakes are gathering in the dark to rumba. They call a group of rattlesnakes a rumba. I have no idea why.

Momma said there would be days like this…

Just  now, as I was finishing writing, there was a knock on the door. I’m used to the bells but a knock on the door at 3:30 in the morning is always a little startling. There was a man with all gold teeth standing on my fake green carpet perilously near the potential rumba. He said in a semi-desperate voice:

Ma’am, I don’t suppose there’s any chance you have jumper cables? There’s gotta be at least 50 men on this site and not one of them, I’m not kiddin’ now, not one of them has a set of jumper cables.

Our frig is iffy, we can’t take a shower or flush the toilet (well, we can but without water so it’s more of an inside outhouse) and I suppose, before it’s all over, we may smell a little ripe, but by golly WE have jumper cables!

I got them out of the truck and he said:

Ma’am, you just saved my life. I mean it! Really!

I’m not sure why the cables were a life line but hey, any day that ends by sharing life saving jumper cables is a really fine day!