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 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!

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!

Heigh-ho, Heidi HO

It’s been a while since I’ve written so it may take a little time to catch you up. I’ll start with Heidi HO. Heidi HO is her legal name, which she gave herself. It’s a long story…

Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho
It’s home from work we go…

Do you remember the Seven Dwarfs whistling and singing this song?

Well, it’s just like that here except there are no diamonds or rubies and we’re never off work and the lyrics are more like:

Heidi HO, Heidi HO
It’s home at work she goes…

Believe me, this woman works! And ever since the first week of February when I ripped my meniscus, she’s been working overtime, fighting the elements, the intruders and warding off the possibility of any misconceptions (I’ll get to that part in a bit).

For starters, Heidi finds multiple reason to walk around on the roof. First there were bees gathering in the vent (she had a can of hornet spray too, not just the fly swatter). Then there was the squeaky bathroom fan.

Then there were two tiny, tiny leaks.

The bees are gone. The squeak is better and the leaks are sealed but I’m sure there’ll be something else up there to check on any day now.

I’m not allowed on the roof since I fall off the  steps.

And when she’s not on top of the RV, she’s often under it.

Oops, wrong legs! Too hairy. That pair belongs to our mobile RV repairman that had the less than glamorous task of replacing our grey water valve and our toilet.

This is the picture I meant to use. Heidi is very diligent when it comes to warding off the encroaching caliche, making sure our slides slide and our jacks jack and our steps don’t freeze in place.

She’s constantly baking – for us and for the guys on the rig. She bakes so much she wore out the microwave/convention oven and we had to buy a new one.

This one is scary smart. It may be even smarter than my phone. It can sense when I’m looking at it with confusion and it starts frantically flashing messages at me. Press, Set, Choose etc… This makes me nervous so I push Sensor Heat and let it have it’s way.

Heidi’s also been doing more adventurous things. There was the recon trip which included ditch diving, rolling under barbed-wire and crawling through burrs and stickers to get what she thought was a right-side-up wild bore’s head. It turned out to be an upside-down cow skull but she was still very, very proud.

You already know about the onslaught of rattlesnakes. Heidi Ho is very comfortable with a hoe. Just sayin’…

For a day or two we had a rattlesnake head coming out of the eye socket of the recently procured cow’s skull. She says: Hey, we’re just two women with a hoe a long way from nowhere. Heidi is very symbolic and loves to send “messages”. Pretty sure this is supposed to mean best not mess with me.

The problem with the snake’s head in the skull, apart from the fact that it was truly creepy, was that most likely, the resident bobcat would come at night and snatch it like he did the first one. And if not the bobcat, then a hawk or raccoon or coyote or something…

So she planted the head in a bucket (not in hopes of growing baby rattlers). We’ve been told, but are somewhat skeptical, that in the bucket the ants and things (?) will eat all but the skull which Heidi wants to add to the cow skull to make sure we’re truly sending the right message. Hmm…

It’s been there for a while now and grass is starting to grow on top. Haven’t dug any deeper yet. Last time she looked, the nose was still intact.

Heidi’s also been fending off cows with bowls of water again. I don’t know why the cows here are so adverse to water, but they are and if we don’t deter them, they munch on our fake green carpet and eat our satellite cables.

Catch you on the backside – a good ole southern saying takes on new meaning when Heidi has a bowl, or a swatter or a hoe in her hand! While Heidi’s been doing all of this and so much more, I’ve mostly just been stylin’ in Stir-Fry. More on that next time.

Once Bitten Twice Shy

One day a snake dropped out of a tree and landed on my Grandma’s head. This happened when my Grandma was in her 30’s. She lived to be 102 and she never got over it.

“Once bitten by a snake, he/she is scared all his/her life at the mere sight of a rope.” ~ Chinese Proverb

I’m not particularly afraid of snakes but I’ve never had one bite me or drop on my head which may be why I’m more afraid of spiders. 

Last month was the beginning of a new year on the Chinese Lunar calendar: The Year of the Snake. Swell. I’m not superstitious but the sound of it doesn’t give me a warm, pleasant feeling. However, folks who are into that type of thing are more optimistic:

Ancient Chinese wisdom says a Snake in the house is a good omen because it means that your family will not starve. ~HanBan.com

Hmm… This is just a guess, but I’m thinking a snake in the RV would mean H, H & I in a motel room which would mean our family might eventually starve. Anyway, we haven’t seen any inside but we have seen several outside snakes since relocating deep in the heart of Texas. Most are just the regular garden variety.

Around this time of year down here it’s the Season of the Snake. When the snakes start sunning, the tails and the tales start spinning. Everyone that comes through the gate has a story.

A fellow couldn’t wait to show this one to Heidi yesterday.

A 5 footer - I'm not sure if that was with or without the head.

And a friend stopped by to show us another.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m arachnophobic. I’m shy with spiders having been more than twice bitten – I think.

All I know for sure is there have been red bumps on my legs and squished spiders in my sleeping bag/bed on more than one occasion.

And I’ve bitten back. This I know this because the other half of the spider was still swimming in my Grape Nuts.

I used to catch garter snakes in the back yard when I was little. They didn’t bite but they do kind of pinch if you stick your finger in their mouth, which I did. I came close to being bitten when I caught a 5 foot water moccasin on a hiking trail. It was almost, but not quite, dead which is probably good or I might have been almost, but not quite dead, too, since I was only about 6 or 7.

Anyway, everyone has a snake story now. Last night, the guys at our TSL said the buzzards were feasting on a rattlesnake just up the road a ways. I’m hoping it was one of the 3 or 4 that have been spotted circling the wagons this week.

I was standing right beside this one when I took the picture, but one of the guys had made sure he was already under the weather.

It may be that I’m not afraid of snakes because I’m not real sharp or maybe, like I said, it’s just because I’ve never had one drop on my head – yet. I figure if we stay in Texas long enough, anything can happen!

The upside of having snakes around (it’s good to try to find an upside) is that it should keep the mice population under control and out of my door.

Although, I’m beginning to rethink that. The other night, the guys stopped to tell us about a bobcat that was 15-20 yards from the RV. Heidi was real disappointed not to have seen it. Me, not so much, although I would have liked to take a picture. Anyway, I was telling that to one of the guys who said:

Hey, I’ve got a picture for you. My boss just sent this from a rig about 30 miles from here.

OK, that kind of took the comfort out the mouse prevention bit.

I looked at the picture and then at Henry VIII. The upside of not getting enough exercise is that Henry has put on a little weight and is now officially bigger than a rabbit.

Last night, a driver was warning me about the rattlesnakes. I told him about the picture and he said:

Oh ya, I just saw one chasing a rabbit across the highway.

Really? I think we may have a crop of rabid rabbit chasing rattlers this year!

The folks at Shorty’s BBQ and Grill seem to have found a solution that works for them.

We have Wasp spray.

I just had a driver come in and say:

Be careful, Mama (they say Mama a lot here), I’ve seen six 6 foot rattlesnakes in the last half hour. They’re on the move!

It makes me feel like I’m in Tremors and they’re going to start popping up through the caliche!

I’m trying to remember to stop for a second and scan the area before I fling myself out of the RV in the dark. I don’t expect a snake to charge me, but I doubt he’d be keen on being stomped on. According to Buzzle (lots of rattlesnake facts here), rattlesnakes hunt mostly at night and can bite even after being beheaded. OK…

I’m issuing a warning to any kind of snake out there even thinking about coming too close, I’m pretty sure I’m a dead-eye with the Wasp killer. I haven’t ever actually tried it, but I’ve always been able to handle a spray can! And then there’s always the long, long-handled hoe.

As the African proverb says:

A weapon which you don’t have in your hand won’t kill a snake.

So y’all take care and be safe. Remember to keep your weapons handy and keep one eye on the ground and one on the sky. You just never know.

And Happy Easter  – again this week!

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Texas

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium Texas. If you’re not old enough to remember the movie, never-mind. It was pretty forgettable. Just like the day of the week or the month of the year is forgettable when you’re a Top Secret Agent in Texas.

Life as a TSA is jam-packed with redundancy.

We work every day  – all day and all night. Heidi and I are year-rounders so we work every day and every holiday and every birthday, which makes every day pretty much the same.

That’s a fact, not a complaint. We’re extremely grateful that we’ve almost never been without a job since we started gate guarding. It’s just funny to hear someone say on the news: Have a great weekend! That’s something you never hear in the oil field because we just have days – not week days and weekend days and holiday – just days.

I’m writing this on Saturday but it might as well be a Tuesday in Texas. I may not know what day of the week it is or sometimes even the month or season but I always know I’m in Texas. It’s the unforgettable part of life as a TSA.

Texas won’t let you forget you’re in Texas.

The Texas flag flies high and proud everywhere. It’s often accompanied by the Confederate flag which seems like a little bit of a contradiction to the US flag to me, but there it is.

Michener sums it up for us Yankees.

What you northerners never appreciate…is that Texas is so big that you can live your life within its limits and never give a (darn) about what anyone in Boston or San Francisco thinks. ~ James Michener

I can’t count how many Texans I’ve met who’ve never been outside of Texas. Seriously. Not ever. Grown-up people who’ve never once been out of this state. We worked for a rancher (a retired postmaster) who had never been out of his county. Hmm…

We’re well into our 3rd year now as Top Secret Agents. People are always asking us how/why we’re here working as TSAs in TX.

It’s a great question. If I had a bucket list, which I don’t, Texas might not fit in it because I’m a:

  • Water lover
  • Forest lover
  • Bug hater (spider fear-er)
  • Cool temperature lover
  • Nature (involving things that don’t want to bite or sting me) lover
  • And an avid walking on the beach type of bum

You can find things like water in Texas but you’re not likely to find a TSA job nearby.

I lived most of my life in the Midwest of Grant Wood. It was lovely. I don’t miss the freezing winters but I do miss having 4 real seasons.

For the three years prior moving to Texas, we lived on the southern Oregon coast. Growing up in Indiana, my family spent almost every Spring Break in Florida, where I fell in love with the ocean.

But Oh! the ocean in Oregon with the mountains and forests falling off into the sea; the whales spouting; the fog horns; the crab boats; the lighthouses; the agate and jasper covered beaches. It seemed like a place people made up in books.

Walks in Oregon were in the beautiful old growth forests or, if Henry got to vote, on the beach.

Henry enjoying a romp and stomp with the seagulls
Henry’s favorite thing was a wild romp and stomp with the seagulls, no leash, ever. Those were his halcyon days – and ours!

Heidi and I both worked as managers at a beautiful ocean front resort. The location was idyllic but the chest pains that Heidi started having from the stress became alarming. At the end of a particularly hard week, I made a just catching up phone call to Joanie who used to work for me at the resort. She and her husband were full-time RVers, gate guarding in Texas.

To tell you the truth, the job didn’t really appeal to me but it was clear we needed to make a change. Heidi already owned a motorhome which was sitting empty in a lot since we had a 2 bedroom apartment at the resort.

Acting on impulse and with no idea what to expect, we talked it over, took the Level II Security tests and headed to Texas with the assurance from a gate guard company that they’d find us something eventually after we got in state.

We started working the day we called to say we’d crossed the border. And oh gosh, it hasn’t been anything like anything either of us have experienced before. Not Texas, and not gate guarding.

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Gig on a Rig Tip #1: Be Flexible

Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.                       ~ W. Somerset Maugham

Do you remember the 1995 movie starring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman called While You Were Sleeping? In the movie, a guy wakes up from a coma to find he has a fiance (Bullock) and a life that he doesn’t remember. He wakes up in a whole new world.

That’s a lot like working nights as a gate guard on an oil rig, except for the coma and the fiance part. I usually go to bed around 6:30 in the morning and when I wake up, 6-8 hours later, it’s very possible my world will have rotated sideways.

You get used to it like you get used to the way the Big Dipper hangs at the wrong angle in the sky down here.

For years, Heidi and I taught a seminar on change called: As Long As You’re Green You’re Growing… But As Soon As You’re Ripe You Rot.

If you’re going to be happy as a gate guard, you need to stay green.

That brings me to my first tip on a Gig on a Rig: You Have To Be Flexible

You may get a 3 week assignment that lasts for 3 months. You may go to sleep believing that you’re about to be moved to Smiley and wake up to find you’re headed 300 miles north to Paradise instead. Smiley’s a long way from Paradise!

Even though I taught seminars about it, I haven’t been a huge fan of change. There’s something comforting to me in the knowable and the predictable. Gotta tell you, this job isn’t that.

Take this past week as an example.

  • I went to sleep last Thursday morning thinking I had the next 4 years all planned out, following this great rig, with these great guys, working for a great oil company
  • I woke Thursday afternoon to the news that our rig was stacking, the yards and parks and campgrounds were all full and we would be out of work in a week with no place to stay
  • I went to sleep Friday morning, wondering how to find a spot for the RV
  • I woke up Friday afternoon to news that fellow gate guards had offered to let us stay in their spot in a lovely RV park for as long as needed (we’ve only met once) – now that’s kindness
  • I went to bed Saturday morning feeling encouraged that we had a place to park

I don’t think a whole lot changed on Superbowl Sunday. I guess it did for fans of the Ravens and the 49ers, but not so much for me.

  • I went to bed Monday morning  counting down the 3 days until our job ended and we left for the RV park
  • I woke up Monday afternoon to the news that we had a new job, 35 miles away with our same oil company but new Company Men and drilling rig
  • I went to bed Tuesday morning with plans to meet the gate guards we’d be replacing to get the lay of the land on Saturday
  • I woke up Tuesday afternoon to find out we wouldn’t be done here until Sunday so we couldn’t meet anyone on Saturday
  • I went to bed Wednesday morning, grateful for a new job and a few more days with this rig
  • I woke up Wednesday afternoon to the news we wouldn’t be done until here until Tuesday
  • I went to bed Thursday morning (yesterday) thinking the two moves were in sync since the other gate guards would be finishing up on Tuesday
  • I woke up Thursday afternoon to find out that we now had two job offers – our Company Man had been given a new rig and put the call in for us to join him
  • I’ll go to bed this morning knowing that we’re moving 90 miles instead of 40, that we’re moving south instead of west, that we’re rejoining the Company Man we’ve loved working with for a year now, instead of starting over with a new rig… at least I’ll go to sleep thinking that I know all that

I have no idea what I’ll wake up to this afternoon. I’ll get up, start the coffee and hold my breath until Heidi’s done filling me in on how my world has changed – While I Was Sleeping.

Stacking the Deck

Some things are meant to be stacked –  things like pancakes and books and rocks.

But most of the time when you hear the term stacking, it’s tied to the deck, which isn’t such a good thing.

I grew up in a family of really good card players. Not competitive card players, but good enough to hold their own in Bid Euchre or Pinochle or any of a dozen other card games. Playing cards was something we did after dinner at virtually all family gatherings.
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Everyone was pretty equally matched except for my Uncle Max who was a border-line savant and counted cards. Playing against Uncle Max was like playing with a stacked deck.
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The only person in my family who didn’t play cards was my Grandma. She quit playing Go Fish with me when I was 4 because she said I cheated. I didn’t. Each fish color had a different expression so I always could tell what she was holding. My Grandma was pretty cut-throat.
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The only other not fun card playing experience I can remember was when my sister brought Ray home from college. I was in first or second grade. He asked me if I wanted to learn a new card game? Thrilled to be included, I said Yes! He took the deck of cards, did an impressive one-handed shuffle and then shot cards out of his hand all over the room. That, he said, is 52 Card Pick Up – and you get to pick them up.

He thought that was really funny. If you’re a clever but unscrupulous card player, you may have an idea how to stack the deck. Ray probably knows how to do that, too.

We’re stacking here but it’s not cards and it’s stunning and not a bit funny.

Our ability to adapt is amazing. Our ability to change isn’t quite as spectacular. ~ Lisa Lutz

Stacking an Oil Rig: To store a drilling rig on completion of a job when the rig is to be withdrawn from operation for a time.

Since becoming TSAs, we’ve bounced around only a little bit – surprising little for this business. Our first job in December of 2010 was on a hunting ranch way down south. It was such a Top Secret Job, we didn’t even know what we were guarding. It was short – 3 1/2 weeks. The day after our TSA ended, we got a call to join a rig. We stayed with them for almost a year, until they stacked in the winter of 2011.

We subbed for a couple of months. We took a break to replace the side of the brand new 5th wheel that we’d owned for 2 weeks when I ripped it off on a baby palm tree.

Then, almost a year ago, we joined a new TSC with a drilling rig that was less than a year old and we’ve been with them ever since. We thought we’d be with them until we retired. They thought we’d be with them until we retired. Turns out, the rig is retiring and we’re all looking for work.

We have about a week left until we stack. We don’t have a job or a place to stay to wait for one. This time of year the yards and RV parks and campgrounds are all flooded with Winter Texans. The day we learned the news, we signed back up for Workamper and started a job search. It lasted for about a half an hour. Then we stopped. The thing is, for quite a number of reasons, we really love our job as TSAs.

What’s been striking about stacking is that everyone, up and down the ladder (with us being the bottom rung) has had the same reaction: It’s so hard because we’re like a family. That doesn’t usually happen but it did here.

We’ve been saying goodbye to guys we’ve prayed for every day for a year. That does something to your heart, I think. Something good. It’s been a gift for us.

We aren’t likely to get another assignment like this one, which was pretty close to perfect, but we’re counting on being assigned some place, eventually, that’s good for us for other reasons and, hopefully, we’ll somehow be good for them in return.

I’m not inclined to worry so I’m expecting another job and a place to stay until then. I don’t often get scared about practical things. I was scared the other day when there was an enormous spider on the ceiling. Not enormous like a tarantula, more like a golf ball enormous.

When I get scared, I’m kind of the deer-in the-headlight type. Heidi, on the other hand, gets mad when she’s scared. Except when she used to get mad at me, I’ve found this to be a greatly beneficial opposite reaction. She was scared of the enormous spider, which of course, made her very mad. She got right up on a stool and walloped it with her sandal without even staining the paint. She hollered, Henry hid and I froze. It all worked out.

And it’ll all work out with a new job, too. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why I like this job that I seem so ill-suited for. We have minimal internet access but if I can stay connected, I’ll write about some of the quite unexpected things I’ve learned as a TSA.

In case you ever want to try stacking Multi-Grain Cheerios, it helps if you lick them first… just sayin’. I found this out quite by accident.