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.

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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.

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. 😉

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