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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Christmas, Trucks and Easy Bake Ovens

We’re all hooked up and ready to rock and roll to yet another TSL at daybreak. Having almost, but not quite, conquered our HUAD (Hitching Up Anxiety Disorder) we decided to do all the hooking and unhooking today so we can hit the road before we get parked in tomorrow. That meant hauling around the furniture and pulling in all 4 slides.

We’re successfully hitched and the slides are back out but it certainly wasn’t worth dragging the furniture around again. I’m holding the computer – which is the first time my laptop has ever been on top of my lap – sitting in the recliner, which is perfectly upright, wedged between the table and the sofa.

The satellite and sewer and water hose are all packed away. Only the electrical line remains as a tentative umbilical cord, tying us to the nurse wagon until morning.

Getting ready a day ahead did give us a smaller audience of onlookers than usual. It’s a little like a being an old-fashioned carnival side-show attraction. Whenever we get ready to hook up, crowds gather. Step right up folks! You have to see it to believe it! Two Women, One Truck!

People (men mainly) are amazed that a woman can back up a dually. Seriously, it’s just like driving forward, except in reverse. They’re stunned that two women, with no help from a fellow, can hook up and haul a 40 ft 5th Wheel.

I feel like that little girl who started a petition for a gender neutral Easy Bake Ovens. I think that just meant an EBO that wasn’t pink since boys aren’t supposed to like pink. If you’re a boy and you like pink, you might grow up to be a man who likes pink. And everyone knows that if you’re a man who likes pink, you’ll have to become a professional football player or join the WWF to prove your manliness.

Most folks down here in Texas know that boys can cook. They just don’t all know that girls can drive trucks. Anyway, as my fellow TSAs know, we never know until we arrive at our secret assignment whether or not we’ll have any internet or phone service. Since I may be out of range after tonight, I wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

If you’re a frequent flyer here, you know I’m crazy about The Piano Guys. I recently posted Steven’s cheery cello rendition of Carol of the Bells. I thought it might be fun to include the piano guy (Jon) this time. 😀

I liked the Christmas message they posted with their video. It seems to fit with my readers, too, so I’m including it here:.

We love the Holiday Season. Why? It’s a great excuse to be extra nice to each other. =) … And we love Christmas music, lights, presents, and the excitement of our sleepless children anticipating the advent of Christmas day. We know there are many out there who do not celebrate Christmas or believe in what it may represent. This song is not meant to exclude anyone. We hope this song is an opportunity to reflect on everything we are blessed with in life — family, a beautiful earth, a place to rest our head, the warmth of the sun. The lyrics of this piece speak of being “ransomed” from captivity. In general terms, at some point or another in our lives we find ourselves at the receiving end of a “ransom” — a rescue by someone or something — even as simple as a note from a friend, a hug from a child, a much-needed vacation, or the unconditional affection of a loyal dog. That is what this song represents to us. People may define the “rescue” moments in life differently, but the meaning of the moments remain the same. To many, including us, the story of The Savior is the sweetest and most priceless “ransom” of all. To Him we dedicate this song.  ~The Piano Guys

O Come, O Come Emmanuel – traditional
Performed by
Steven Sharp Nelson: Cello
Jon Schmidt: Piano

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
[Refrain] Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
[Refrain]
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
[Refrain]
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
[Refrain]
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
[Refrain]
O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
[Refrain]
O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
[Refrain]
O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace

Before my signal fades away, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Another Fork In The Road

It turns out that the poem by Robert Frost that was the original inspiration for the name of this blog is a bit of a mystery.

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The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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The only reference that I could find directly attributed to Robert Frost about the poem comes from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference where is it quoted that he said:

One stanza of ‘The Road Not Taken’ was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England: Was found three or four years later, and I couldn’t bear not to finish it. I wasn’t thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.

Frost’s biographer, Laurence Thompson says that, in the end, he finished the poem to poke a bit of fun at his friend, Edward Thomas’ tendency to second guess himself and inability to make up his mind about things.

You’ve likely heard The Road Not Taken, or parts of it, quoted often with many grand themes and schemes attributed to Mr Frost. That’s the funny thing about this little poem. People have taken it so terribly seriously.

That’s just what happened to me this past week. When the edict came down to all those who work for my employer (sorry that I didn’t make that clear before) to adhere to a new NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement), I took myself way too seriously.

Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come. Never take yourself too seriously. ~ Og Mandino

I was in a two-day funk. I’m rarely in a funk at all and never in more than just a momentary funk. It’s been years since I’ve been really funky! I was feeling a lot of something: mad or sad. I’m terrible with negative emotions so I couldn’t decide which, I just knew I felt bad. 😉

I had a true bout of tunnel vision. I think I’m over myself now.

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I have pages of comments that you’ve written regarding my last two posts which I deeply appreciate. In the spirit of the NDA, I can’t publish anything relating to the company I work for or the industry I work in, so I can’t make those public – but thank you!

There are still many blogs relating to Level II Security Jobs on ranches in Texas written by those working for other companies. If that’s why you read Fork, take a look around. Don’t limit yourself to just one. As I’ve said all along, we all have different styles and experiences and no one has a corner on the truth about the job.

To once again quote the great philosopher, Yogi Berra:

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

I have and I will. I’m going to take a breather and then come back here and take another Fork in the Road and see where it leads.

If you read Fork for reasons other than my job, then let me know where you’d like to go and I’ll see what I can do. The gate is wide open!

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Going Dark

When I’ve been in New York City (once) 😉 and San Francisco a few times… it happened on Monday nights.

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When I was in London (once) 😀 it was on Sunday nights.

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I believe that most cities have a night when many of the theaters go dark. The show doesn’t close. They just take a night off.

Today I received a call from Gate Guard Services corporate offices, requesting that The Fork in the Road go dark as well.

While I’m free to keep the blog, I need to abide by their cease and desist request re: any future posts that are in any way related to the industry, gate guarding or to Gate Guard Services. They expressed their preference that this also includes all past posts (400+ ).

I may come back to Fork at some point with a different focus. I’m uncertain right now.

SO – one last thank you for being such an amazing group! I’ve truly been flabbergasted by your readership and support. Although I’m sure that you all don’t love musical theater (you know  how it is with me and music), I keep thinking of this song from Wicked so I’ll end with this and go dark, at least for now.

Warmly,

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How We Got LIT

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We shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. ~ J. R. R. Tolkien

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Picking up where I left off in There and Back (But Not) Again, we left Oregon in mid-December of 2010.

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We  raced (well, as fast as we could on the narrow two lane roads in a 32 foot Class A – towing) across the Siskuyou’s just hours ahead of a winter snow storm.

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We made the 1300 hundred mile drive from Gold Beach to my sister’s home on the outskirts of Tucson in 2 days. There were warning signs all along the way.

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Even the names of the tiny towns made us wonder if it was foreshadowing?

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After spending a wonderful Christmas with my Sis in Tuscan (our first in over 20 years) we set out for San Antonio.

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… or so we thought. We headed toward San Antonio. We had campground reservations. We hadn’t’ been living in the RV for a year. We kind of stuffed things in and hit the road. We planned on using the “Just get to Texas and we’ll call you when we have something” time to organize, stock up on groceries, water etc..

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We drove 755 miles and stopped the second night in Junction, Texas where we dropped the U Haul (on purpose). 😉

I forgot to mention we’d given the Saturn to my son,  bought a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee with 200,000 miles on it while visiting Heidi’s son in MN.

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We were told we couldn’t tow the Jeep, so we rented a U-Haul ramp thing and pulled it through the mountains. $900 later, we dropped it in Junction at a U-Haul spot

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We got an early start, heading for San Antonio to begin the wait. I hopped in the Jeep and we drove the last stretch of our trip separately – sort of…

Heidi wrote about that day so I’ll link to her post instead of rehashing it all: Car 54… Where Are You?

To summarize:

  • Heidi and Henry took off in the Class A down Interstate 10
  • I followed in the Jeep
  • 57 miles later, we pulled over to check directions to the RV park
  • Heidi and Henry took off in the Class A
  • I didn’t follow in the Jeep
  • Eventually Heidi noticed
  • The Jeep battery was dead
  • Heidi called 911
  • We didn’t know where we were so they couldn’t find us
  • I walked a quarter-mile to find a mile marker
  • It began raining –
  • The guarding company called while H was talking to the 911 operator
  • Heidi called Jamie back while waiting for the police
  • We had a job that day IF we could get to Tilden before dark
  • A police officer found us and jumped the jeep
  • He told us to follow him to an auto parts store
  • He raced off across the grassy median
  • We didn’t have time to get Henry
  • We left Henry locked in the RV on Interstate 10
  • We got a new battery in Kerrville
  • We got lost trying to get back to Henry and the RV
  • We found Henry and the RV
  • We took the VERY bumpy “short cut” the auto parts folks suggested
  • We didn’t have any food or water
  • We left Henry in the RV in a church parking lot in Jordanton
  • We went to Pleasanton in search of supplies
  • We left Walmart and went the wrong way
  • We lost Jordanton altogether
  • We lost Henry and the RV for the 2nd time that day
  • We found the RV and Henry
  • We called Jamie for directions
  • We lost the phone signal
  • We found our 1st gate,outside Tilden, in ankle-deep mud in the rain
  • We had a 20 minute set up/training session
  • The training was: Here’s the clipboard, wear your vests, do what I did
  • We had no phone and no internet
  • We had no water (J. didn’t set it up right and we didn’t know how yet)
  • We had no septic (that would come a couple of days later)
  • We had no clue what we were doing… or why 😀

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And there you have it. We now think of things in terms of  LBT – Life Before Texas and LIT – Life In Texas. We’ve been living LIT for a year and a half now.

But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on — and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. ~ J.R.R> Tolkien

There (But Not) Back Again

He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

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And that’s just about what happened next (picking up from where I left off last time). We came to another Fork, we stepped into the Road, and we could never have guessed where we were about to be swept off to!

I thought we had the ideal situation. We had a 2 bedroom apartment on the resort property in exchange for being the night managers. That meant we were on call every night from whenever the office closed (8 in the off-season, 10 in season) until it opened the next morning between 7 and 8. As Guest Services Manger (me) and Assistant Manager (Heidi) we both worked full time but had 2 days a week off (although we were on still on call every night).

We pulled the slides in and parked the RV behind an empty building at the resort.

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I sort of expected to be doing this for years. We loved the area. We joined a wonderful little church. We liked our boss. We worked well with the staff. And we had a steady income. If we weren’t working, we were on the beach.

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Henry became the resident celebrity. He was even the ring bearer – off leash, no kidding –  for a couple who got married barefoot on the beach, just like in a movie. 😀

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But the fame was fleeting. Tourist season ended and Heidi’s hours got cut from 40 to 7 per week. The proverbial writing was on the wall, or at least in the checkbook.

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When Heidi began having chest pains, I knew we had to start looking at other options. We were sinking, just like the Mary D Hume.

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During our time at the resort, Heidi and I had done the majority of the hiring and firing.  Well, I didn’t actually do any firing, but I did participate in the hiring! 😀

One woman I’d hired to work the front desk on weekends left mid-summer to take another job. She and her husband were also workamping at the same private RV park Heidi and I had started out in. They ran into the same things there that we’d encountered, only they chose to leave mid-stint.

I called Joanie one late afternoon in October to see how they were doing. They were working as gate guards on a ranch in Texas. She really encouraged me to look into it. Jumping ahead – this is during a visit. She and John subbed for 5 days last month on the same ranch we were on in Cuero! Small world!

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I’d read about gate guarding in the Workamping magazine and it didn’t sound too appealing, to be honest. But at this point, I was past appealing slipping into better just take anything that’s honest and pays. We were making payments on an RV we weren’t living in. We were already working or on call almost 24 hours a day. With Heidi’s hours slashed, we had a diminishing bank account and she was having stress induced chest pains.

We called the Gate Guard Services office in Corpus. They sent a packet. We decided to follow through. Back then, you did everything from wherever you were. We went to the county jail in town and got our fingerprinting done. We did our best on the Level II Security test and waited.

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Like many who are considering gate guarding, we searched for all the information we could find. Two years ago, we couldn’t find much. We did find Kit and Jerry’s blog. Unlike my rambling stories, Kit writes more of a daily diary. Reading Kit’s blog and talking to Joanie gave us some idea of what we might be getting into.

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The Fork in the road seemed to be pointing south. We called the company after 2 or 3 weeks and were told we were approved. Then came the next wave. There was no guarantee of a job. Patty said just get to Texas and we’ll call you when we have something for you. Hmm… That’s not how I like to roll, but roll we did.

It was another gut wrenching time. We loved Gold Beach and had made many dear friends there. We were a long ways from There and Back Again.  We were so far that we knew if we cut our ties this time, there would be no going back (my apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien for using his lovely words in such a sloppy way).

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We talked. We prayed. We packed up.

We said many more tearful goodbyes and hit the highway once again. This time we headed for Texas. I was pretty sure I’d stepped in the Road and failed to keep my feet

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“Farewell,” they cried, “Wherever you fare till your eyries receive you at the journey’s end!” That is the polite thing to say among eagles.

“May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks,” answered Gandalf, who knew the correct reply.”  ~ J. R.R. Tolkien