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!

Slip Sliding Away

I’m not clumsy. It’s just the floor hates me, the tables and chairs are bullies and the walls get in the way. ~ unknown author but it could have been me

Three months ago, on a dark and stormy night, much like this one, I took an embarrassing tumble – more of a slipping sliding landing on my seat stumble, down my RV steps. I was pretty sure this fall was a little more complicated than the last or 20 or so I’d taken. Usually I fall over and bounce right back up like a Bozo the Clown punching bag.

Maybe my problem is that I still cling to the imagine of an entire P.E. history of A+’s and I haven’t come to terms with my past mid-life clumsiness. Truth is, I tip over a lot. In this instance, however, the steps were wet, I was in a hurry so the guys at the gate wouldn’t have to wait, I went down and I didn’t bounce back.

My not so subtle landing on the last step (there are only 4) shook the RV like an explosion (always a possibility in our business). Heidi woke up, got dressed and was out the door in about 57 seconds. I’m pretty far past stoic when it comes to pain but this time I just sat there. It’s hard to describe. It felt like someone had just rammed a fiery poker through my knee.

I wrote about this back when it happened. I fell the first week of February which was fortuitous, if a fall can be fortuitous, since 10 days later we had a week off between the stacking of our old rig and our Company Man calling us to follow him at his new rig.

During the week off I did all the things you do with a bum knee. I sat – a lot – with my leg elevated and wrapped in ice.

I tried Ibuprofen and Aleve and Aspercreme.

When it was time to get back to work, Heidi bought every kind of knee brace Walmart carries. I have 1 that I can wear under my black pants which are loose and 1 that I wear over my jeans which aren’t and 1 that I sleep in so the other 2 can air out.

After 3 months of being afraid to exercise or move really, our rig came back to the area where my PA is located. I went in this week and it took her about 2 minutes to determine that I have a torn meniscus – a common injury of athletes and old people.

My PA referred me to an Orthopedic surgeon who would do an MRI and then would prescribe surgery or PT. Self employment has it’s benefits but medical insurance isn’t one of them.

For some reason, the diagnosis discouraged me. I don’t know why? After 3 months of quite a lot of pain, what was I hoping she would say? I already knew it hurt – a lot – so why I thought a torn meniscus was bad news, I’m not sure.

Here’s what happened that night. The gate was quiet at my TSL.  I watched 3 old episodes of Glee and 2 of Jeopardy. Pathetic, I know. It’s was during the “Think music” that I got over myself and started thinking.

I made the uncharacteristic decision to be ‘pro-active’ – a word I’ve never even used in a sentence, let alone applied. I Googled torn meniscus, read about 20 articles and looked at 5 or 6 sites with rehab exercises. I picked the WebMD exercises because they have a good reputation and pictures. I need pictures. I get confused without pictures.

I wrote every  exercise out in detail. Then I got the great idea of putting the computer on the floor (so I could study the pictures) and I plopped myself down beside it. The first exercise was called a Quad set. The exercise required a towel under the ‘injured leg’. I started to get up to get a towel and found out that, well, no, getting up wasn’t really an option.

I know me. I was pretty sure that once I managed to get up, I wouldn’t get back down again so I scooted over to the chair and grabbed the yarn, needles and all – stuck the yarn under my leg, prayed for no traffic and began my rehab.

During those 30 minutes, the bell didn’t ring even once. I eventually rolled myself over to the sofa and dragged myself up. I felt entirely better. My leg hurt maybe just a little worse but my attitude changed completely.

I was very impressed with myself. When Heidi got up I shared my new rehab plan with her. Ever the practical one, she thought probably it would be better to carry out this choreography while she’s up and can get the gate. True.

Yesterday was rehab day two!

Gig on a Rig Tip# 3 – I Recommend Pleasant

I’m taking a snake break and returning to some more of the things that help me enjoy this Gig on a Rig. Tip #3 – I recommend pleasant. I think pleasant is often wrongly thought of as being nicey-nice (fake) or placating.

Being pleasant isn’t an affect. Pleasant is an attitude. If you’re not sold on the synonyms, take a look at the antonyms!

Synonyms: affable, agreeable, amiable, amusing, charming, cheerful, civil, civilized, congenial, cordial, delightful, diplomatic, enchanting, engaging, enjoyable, fine, fun, genial, good-humored, gracious, kindly, likable, lovely, mild, nice, polite, refreshing, social, sweet, sympathetic, urbane, welcome
Antonyms: bothersome, disagreeable, hateful, nasty, troubling, unacceptable, unfriendly, unhappy, unpleasant,

I spent almost all of my professional life in a job where there weren’t any sick days or personal days. You couldn’t call in and cancel a seminar because you had the flu or a fight or a heartache.

For Heidi and I, most of our presentations were scheduled a year or more ahead. In the seminar business, you show up and you’re pleasant. Being pleasant was part of being a professional.

Being pleasant is also a way of saying I’m not the only person who matters here, you matter. And professionally or personally, I care how your contact with me affects your day.

I think I first learned this from Jimmy Stewart. I fell in love with Jimmy Stewart when I was 4 and he was 51. Really, I fell in love with George Bailey.

George Bailey, I’m going to love you ’til the day I die.                       ~ It’s a Wonderful Life

Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George Baily earned him the number 9 spot on the American Film Institute’s list of the 50 greatest screen heroes. You can click on to their interesting link here:AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains. George Baily’s probably not what most folks today think of as a hero, but he was always number 1 on my Hero list.

However, it was another Jimmy Stewart character that convinced me of the value of being pleasant.

Years ago my mother said to me, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me. ~ Elwood P. Dowd

 

Harvey is my all time favorite movie, mostly because of Jimmy Stewart and the wonderful Josephine Hull. They didn’t just make me ‘see’ a giant Pooka named Harvey, they taught me early in life about the immense value of being pleasant.

Pleasant is a practice, not a feeling.

My last Gig on Rig tip was Be Happy. Maybe you aren’t. Sometimes life is so hard you can’t be. But being pleasant is always an option. Being pleasant isn’t circumstantial. Being pleasant is an action, not a reaction.

So in the words of the wonderful Elwood P. Dowd, I recommend pleasant.

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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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.
~
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.
~

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.

A Very Un-Shakespearean Comedy of Errors

What is the course and drift of your compact?
~William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors

It seems our course has run somewhat adrift of late. Picking up where I left off last time, I’m still on the rebound from the fluke of a non-flu bug. I think that I might have been nearly well yesterday, if not for another unfortunate chain of events.

I broke my toe once. I was on a beach in California looking for sea glass. I ran away from a wave right into a rock. I broke my 2nd toe which took the brunt of the hit because it’s longer, if not bigger, than my big toe. I share this only to preface what’s about to follow. Stubbing a toe which sticks out anyway, particularly underwater, seems understandable. What’s happened here, maybe a little less so.

By the way, it was a beautiful beach and I did find tons of sea/beach glass. If you’re terribly bored and are inclined to hunt, there are 15 obvious pieces of sea glass in this photo (green, brown, clear and blue).


The first time Heidi broke her toe, her little toe (this was years ago) she was at my house helping in the kitchen and she ran into my foot. At her request, I took her to the E.R. where the Dr pushed in back in place and taped it up. As it turns out, there’s not much else to be done with broken toes.

The next time she broke her toe – the same one – she was coming up her basement steps and somehow caught her little toe that doesn’t stick out at all on the step and broke it. She called me. I went over and, in an attempt to help, I accidentally set it by grabbing her foot too hard. She hollered and then I taped it up.

Every why hath a wherefore. ~ William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors

Although I’m not questioning the words of the bard, night before last when Heidi broke her toe – same one again – going up the steps (inside), I began to wonder about the why and wherefore. Somehow, she snagged it on the step, even though her little toe still doesn’t stick out at all, or didn’t until then. Not appreciating my last effort, she decided to set it herself. She hollered (only a little) this time and I taped it up.

She went to bed with her toes taped and wrapped in an icepack. Yesterday, predictably, business was booming which meant quite a bit of foot time for Heidi. I got up early to help. I worked while she kept her foot up and cold-packed.

All in all, things were going pretty well until I decided to fix dinner. I’ve done a lot of cooking in my time but this is the first time I’ve had a convection oven. The problem with the convection oven is that it looks just like the microwave oven because it is the microwave oven.

There should have been nothing to it since I was just baking fish.

I’m not sure what happened. I think I forgot that I’d pushed the magic button that transforms the microwave into convection. The timer beeped. The fish was ready and I brushed my hand against the side of the convected-micro and fried it.

Heidi had discarded the icepack by then, so after some cold water and burn spray, I stuffed it with little baggies of frozen Ragu because cold-pack was warm.

I’m pretty stoic when it comes to pain so I was surprised by just how much the burn hurt. I was even more surprised when, a little while later, I looked down to see blood trickling down my arm. It hurt, but I didn’t think it hurt that much.

The thing about baggies of frozen Ragu is that they thaw pretty quickly when your hand is on fire. I was in such a rush to cram something in the ice-pack wrap before Heidi hopped up and hurt another toe that I didn’t notice they weren’t in a freezer bags.

Upon closer examination, I realized that it was Ragu, not blood, trickling in a sticky sweet line down my arm. While I was washing up, Heidi ended up hobbling over after all and found a bag of peas which worked much better.

For some reason all this excitement reignited my diminishing flu systems which left me in the bathroom and Heidi with no choice but to tromp in and out with her taped up toes and sandals (even though everyone else is wearing parkas again).

By 8:30, she was sleeping, the wind was roaring and the newly promoted SA Henry VIII had taken the helm. He’s unflappable under pressure and has yet to break a dewclaw or burn a whisker.

Yet this my comfort: when your words are done,
My woes end likewise with the evening sun.
― William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors

Postscript:

I wrote this early this a.m.  Because some of you are given to worrying I wanted to wait to publish until I could add a health update:

Heidi’s toe is healing nicely and it barely hurts at all.

After a night of burn spray and peas and a day of sleep, my hand is healing nicely and it barely hurts at all.

The entire misadventure has worn Henry out. He’s sleeping in front of the fake fireplace, relieved of all Secret Agent responsibilities, and he barely remembers any of it at all. 😉