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!

64th Emmy Awards Detour

I was planning on writing a bit about my recent not top-secret trip but the internet was barely firing so I stopped and “watched” the 64th Emmy Awards. I have no idea why.

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Since becoming a TSA two years ago, I’ve made several life style changes. I now live in remote areas. I sleep during the day and I do my TSA work at night. I have, for the first time ever, a DVR, so I can now watch GMA in the pm. In spite of the DVR, I’m not a real big TV watcher. This became abundantly clear last night.

I have no idea what possessed me to record the Emmys, but I did. It was a 3 hour show that I watched in 3o minutes. I kept waiting to see something I recognized. I finally just fast forwarded to the big awards.

I’ve divided the nominees into 3 categories, reflective of my viewing experience:

  • Haven’t Ever Watched it – HEW.
  • Haven’t Even Heard of it – HEH?
  • I’ve seen this one           –  YEP!

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MINISERIES OR TV MOVIE

“American Horror Story” – HEH?
WINNER “Game Change” – HEH?
“Hatfields & McCoys”  – HEW.
“Hemingway & Gellhorn” – HEH?
“Luther” – HEH?
“Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia” – HEH?

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COMEDY SERIES

“The Big Bang Theory” – HEW.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” – HEH?
“Girls” – HEH?
WINNER “Modern Family” HEW.
“30 Rock” HEW.
“Veep” – HEH?

I’m more inclined to watch dramas, so I still held out a little hope as I FF to the end.

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DRAMA SERIES

“Boardwalk Empire” – HEH?
“Breaking Bad” –  HEH?
“Downton Abbey”  – HEW.
“Game of Thrones” – HEH?
WINNER “Homeland” – HEH?
“Mad Men”  – HEW.

Wow! I’m zero for 18 here. Not only have I never seen any of these shows, I’ve never even heard of most of them. Now that just seems wrong. I’m kind of old. But I’m not real, real old, and yet, I don’t have a single YEP!

In my feeble defensive, I don’t get Showtime or HBO. And one of the great perks (in my mind) of owning a DVR is that I can skip all the commercials so I rarely catch a preview of anything.

Seeing a murder on television… can help work off one’s antagonisms. And if you haven’t any antagonisms, the commercials will give you some. ~ Alfred Hitchcock

According to the The Washington Post, the best quote of the 2012 Emmys came from Claire Danes, who won best actress in a drama (Homeland  – HEH?) who said: Mandy Patinkin: holla! In my mind this just validates all those who think public speaking is worse than dying. Seriously? In a room jammed packed with actors and writers and directors, the quote that is trending is Mandy Patinkin:holla? 

In the end, the only shows I’d seen were in the In Memoriam tribute.

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If you think and feel what you’re supposed to think and feel, hard enough, it’ll come out through your eyes – and the camera will see it.  ~ Andy Griffith

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YEP!

Mirror Mirror On the Wall

I’ve returned from a grand vacation with a new perspective on a variety of things: work, crowds, cabbage, tea, humor, Dylan, bisque, Crocks, gratitude, mirrors …

On this trip, I found mirrors to be as invasive as Spanish moss. I don’t think I’d ever noticed how there are mirrors stuck around just about everywhere. I live in a nearly mirror-free environment. There are two in the RV. They’re both in the bathroom. Well, technically, the closet doors in the bedroom are mirrored, but since I’ve plastered the windows with blackout paper to make it easier to sleep during the day, it’s always dark, which renders those mirrors pretty useless.

I see mirrors as having two primary purposes.

1 – I look in the mirror when I get up to remind myself that I’m me and not the entirely other person I was in my dream moments earlier. (Is it just me, or do you also sometimes dream you’re someone else altogether?)

2 – As an occasional fleeting reminder that a hairbrush might help.

I particularly like this mirror because I can mostly just see myself from my top chin up (unless I step back and then I can’t see much at all). Straight on, from the chin up – that I’m used to.  It may be a transposed reflection, but it’s a familiar one. There’s a second mirror on the medicine cabinet over the toilet. Odd placement. I never look at that one because I always have my back turned.

But while traveling, I found not just high medicine cabinet mirrors, but whole bathrooms full of mirrors, providing surround vision mirrors for that complete 3-D look.

There were rooms with entire walls of mirrors; mirrors inside the closet doors; mirrors behind the bed; mirrors beside the TV; mirrors over the desk; mirrors all over the lobbies and lounges and restaurants. Why is that, I wonder? I find all those mirrors to be disconcerting and distracting.

For example, during dinner, right in the middle of a great conversation, I would look up and see myself listening, which of course would cause me to stop listening, and lead me to ponder the fact that my face is a little lopsided or try to subtly see if I had food in my teeth.

When the Wicked Stepmother said: Mirror, mirror on the wall, she had just one mirror in mind. And in my mind, one is enough (although I’m glad mine is mute). Unlike Narcissus, I’m not enchanted by the beauty of my reflection. The more left to the imagination, the better! For example, I imagine myself with nice straight posture, an unbent nose, youthful skin, only one chin and much smaller thighs.

I’ve given up the looking glass; quicksilver has no sense of tact. ~ James Goldman

In addition to mirrors, the vacationing cousin in crime is the camera. I hate to have my picture taken. For generations, the women in my family have hated picture opps. We’ve found a work around for this problem by being the one who holds the camera whenever possible. We do the picture-taking instead of being shot. And when I say being shot, that’s just how we look when we pose for a picture. We all paste on that awkward frozen smile that makes us look like someone dropped an ice-cube down our backs and then said Say Cheese!

Mirrors and photos leave so little to the imagination, but more than that, they make me self-conscious and self-focused. Part of my challenge on this trip came from a quote I read by G. K. Chesterton:

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.

I found that it wasn’t the weather or the people or the itinerary that, at times, kept me from being a traveler and moved me into the realm of tourist. It was all those mirrors. It was my literal and the figurative focus on me that occasionally kept me from seeing the wonder of the moment.

And there was plenty of wonder all around me, every day. There still is, it just takes a little keener eye. Coming home, being back in my familiar environment in my top-secret job, there’s so much to see when my eyes aren’t on me.

If you have a good friend, you don’t need a mirror. ~Bente Borsum

Walkin’ In High Cotton

We’re walkn’ in high cotton, which is actually pretty short, but its high cotton all the same. Now this is a surprise to me because I didn’t know (before moving south) that cotton was grown in Texas.

Guess which state in the nation grows the most cotton?

Texas, whose 3-year average production was over 6.2 million bales of cotton for the years 2006 through 2008, is the leading cotton-producing state. ~ National Cotton Council of America

So yes, there’s more than a little cotton down here and I expect we were bound to end up sittin’ in the middle of it sometime. And so we have!

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I blame my lack of knowledge regarding Texas and cotton on Mr Brokaw, CCR and Alabama. Mr. Brokaw was my high school History and Geography teacher. He was also the assistant football coach. We mostly learned about the history of football.

A bale of cotton weighs about 500 pounds. ~ NCCA

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If I’m going to be totally forthcoming, much of my particular view of geography and history comes from the fact that most of the ‘facts’ I remember are lyrics spinning in my weirdly wired jukebox brain. I can’t think about cotton (the look … the feel… the fabric of our lives) without a jingle or a song playing in my head.

I was influenced a lot by those around me – there was a lot of singing that went on in the cotton fields. ~ Willie Nelson

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And I can’t look out the window without thinking about cotton so my brain’s a’ hummin’. Sometimes it’s Creedance Clearwater Revival singing about the Cotton Fields of Louisiana.

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One bale of cotton can make 1,217 men’s T-shirts or 313,600 $100 bills. ~ NCCA

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But most of the time the tune that’s playing as the current soundtrack to my life is Alabama singing High Cotton. It’s a look back at the good life in Alabama and not really about cotton, apart from the high reference, but I like it the best anyway.

And I love this video. It’s one of those click on the button to fill the screen and sit back and be grateful videos.You don’t have to be  a fan of country music to enjoy it!

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We are so walkin’ in High Cotton!

  • We have a job
  • We like the job
  • We really like the guys we work with
  • We haven’t seen a rattlesnake or a tarantula in almost a year
  • We’ve been mouse free for months
  • We have a real pea gravel pad 3 times the size of our RV
  • We almost made it to August before temps settled in the 100+ range

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  • It’s been weeks since I’ve had giant bugs nesting in my hair or t-shirt
  • It’s been months since I’ve thrown water on a donkey
  • Fallen on any cow
  • Run into a tree with the RV
  • I haven’t left the RV for 7 weeks
  • SO, I haven’t gotten lost in 7 weeks

Hard to beat all that! High Cotton, for sure! 😀

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The immature flower bud on a cotton plant is called a square. ~ University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture

Go figure. They look round, kind of like walnuts, to me. But then again, I’m the one who didn’t know there were cotton crops in Texas so who am I to say. 😀

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

Crashed and Burned

Sometimes we crash and burn. It’s better to do it in private. ~ Dean Kamen
Saturday I crashed and burned – just me, not the RV this time! 😀
Saturday morning we were up (I hadn’t gone to bed since I’d worked all night), Heidi was up and more than raring to go at 5:45. Having done most of the outside work the night before and undeterred by the fact that it doesn’t get light until 6:30, we drug the chairs into place, unhooked the electricity, pulled in the slides and made a slick, tight 90 degree turn out of our tiny slot to wait for our replacements.
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We were ready before 7. Everything went smoothly to either the chagrin or amazement (and our relief) of our audience, which was BIG. We were the only show in town at 6:45!
There were a dozen semis waiting to get in, floor hands hanging around drinking coffee and the rest of the men waiting for the semis who were waiting for the go ahead to haul our moving village 75 miles SW so we could begin it all again.
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Henry kept a close eye on everything.
For some reason, two women hooking up a dually to a 40 ft 5th wheel seems to be a jaw dropper here in Texas. 😉
On the up side, it’s scares people! When they see us coming, they give us a wide berth!
Eventually, our Safety guy said to just get on along, so we set off, bumping through many a small town. Steven B. Harper has some interesting insights on life in a small town. All the quotes below are from him. If you’d like to read his entire list, you can find it here.
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Living in a small town: You referred to anyone with a house newer than 1965 as the “rich” people.

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The town next to you was considered “trashy” or “snooty,” but was actually just like your town.

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It was cool to date somebody from the neighboring town.

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I love this typical southern Texas Laundromat! I love the Wash-N-Fold! No tossing your clean clothes back in the basket here! And I love the STOP sign. I’m not sure if it’s there to indicate the demarcation line for parking or to entice you to bring in your unclean clothes? The gate on the door tells me that whatever STOP means, they take it seriously.
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Anyone you wanted could be found at the local gas station, drive-in or the town bar.

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We pulled over at a town that used to be, that no longer is, to double-check our directions when someone came walking up and tapped on the window.

You ladies lost? Follow me. I know a short cut. When your Company Man tells you to follow him, you follow! 😀

It’s hard to miss Jimbo since he has a giant LSU decal on the back of his bright red truck – not exactly Texas PC! He’s every bit as proud to be a Louisianan as any Texan is to be a Texan. He calls us Yankee white girls, which is kind of funny since he’s white and maybe a little younger than me.

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By 10 o’clock we arrived … somewhere that isn’t real close to anywhere.

When you decided to walk somewhere for exercise, 5 people would pull over and ask if you wanted a ride.

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Your car stayed filthy because of the dirt roads, and you will never own a dark vehicle for this reason.

 

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Set up was easy and for about an hour, it was just us and the neighbors across the road that dropped by to see if we wanted anything from San Antone and to warn us that their black lab loves people but eats little dogs.

Heidi now walks Henry with mace in hand. I prefer the BB pistol. 😉

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We weren’t alone for long.

The video is short and the quality is pretty poor but you get the general idea. The guy in the red truck waving (even though I thought I was discreetly tucked away behind the generator) is Jimbo.

If you click on the screen symbol in the bottom right corner you can see this full screen which gives you a little better feel for the action.

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Moving days are always interesting for those of us who work the night shift.
I don’t know how those of you who have written saying you work FRAC and move every week, do it?
I’m not asleep… but that doesn’t mean I’m awake. ~ Unknown Author
At 22 hours without sleep, I was sailing – like I’d had 5 double espressos.
At hour 23 I couldn’t talk in complete sentences and did a 4 hour crash and burn.
The night was quiet, thankfully, since I’m sure I would have written in all the numbers and letters upside down.
It hasn’t been quiet since! 😀
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The floor hands are our neighbors.
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We’re about 100 feet from the pad this time, instead of 10, but we still have quite a view of the action!
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You didn’t give directions by street names but rather by references. Turn by Nelson’s house, go 2 blocks to Anderson’s, and it’s four houses left of the track field.
Although we passed through many small towns, we don’t live near any. I can stand outside at night and see the lights of 5 derricks and the flare of 3 FRACS . This leads to a lot of confusion for the drivers. So far, Id say about 75% of the people have gotten lost trying to find us and then they find us all at once! It’s another great adventure, for sure!