A Donkey By Any Other Name …

If you were to survey gate guards, you would find among us a consensus that not all, but almost all of the folks who pass through our gates are polite and pleasant. On rare occasions, someone’s had a little too much to drink, or a little too much power or not nearly enough sleep; but overall it’s a pretty congenial bunch.

Once and a while you run into someone who relates to the world around them based on where they see others in the food chain. If an oil field drill site were a pond, we gate guards wouldn’t even be minnows. Maybe more like tiny pieces of plankton.

The other day, a big fish came to my pond.

He drove up in a big red truck, wearing a big white hat. I asked the reason for his visit? I thought he was a salesman, but I didn’t know what he was selling.

Instead of answering my question, he simply said his last name.

While I was still trying to figure out what his product was, he started to drive on in. I stopped him. He became agitated and said his last name again, with great conviction.

Possibly the bright orange vest had blinded him to the RV plate from Iowa and the Jeep plate from Oregon. If that name means something in Texas, he was talking to the wrong Yankee. He used his last name like a definition. He was a man who didn’t need a first name. Kind of like Cher and Seal and Elvis and Bono and Lassie don’t need a last name, except I’ve heard of them.

He gave his name. He said he was going in to look things over. I said he wasn’t. His wife tried to intervene several times. Each time she was silenced with a glance. She wore the resigned look of one who’s been in that same moment a million times before. I remained polite, he remained belligerent. He told me about all the land he owns in this county and in other counties where his wells are pumping night and day. And, no gate guard had ever tried to stop him before. I didn’t feel affronted or offended. I did feel sad that their world, overflowing with mailbox money, had left them so disappointed.

As his wife covered her mouth with her hand, I listened to his explanation of his significance to society. I still withheld the hall pass. I didn’t argue. I didn’t even have a chance to suggest a solution when he suddenly tired of messing with plankton and gunned for the rig, only to slam on his brakes 20 yards later. He’s been defeated by a donkey. Fetus had no intention of stepping aside. A donkey by any other name is still a donkey, and Festus is definitely a donkey.

Never Talk About the Weather

They just don’t seem to talk much about the weather here in southern Texas. If you’re a Yankee, that eliminates at least half of your regular every day small talk. The only 2 things I hear anyone say about the weather are:

1 Think this is hot, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!  Yep, that’s encouraging!

And the universal favorite all across the nation:

2. Is it hot enough for ya? I know this is rhetorical, but don’t you just want to say something like: The boiling point of water is 100°C or 212° F at 1 atmosphere of pressure (sea level), but water boils at a lower temperature as you gain altitude and boils at a higher temperature if you increase atmospheric pressure …  well, maybe not that exactly but there sure must be something to say other than, Yep.

Back in the Midwest, we love to talk about the weather. Every where you go, just about every day someone has something to say about the weather. The weather sure is beautiful, hot, cold, rainy, dry, humid, perfect, awful.

In the Midwest we know what season it is by looking out the window. In the Southwest, I know what season it is by what’s on the tiny decoration display in the corner of the Super S and the featured cards at WalMart.

In the Midwest, we especially like to talk about snowstorms.  On the advent of every predicted winter storm, all the HyVee’s would sell out of milk and beer and rotisserie chicken. Shopping carts would be overflowing and cars would pack the giant lots, spilling onto the side streets, temporarily blocking the driveways.

In the Midwest, the predicted snow would come, sometimes. Everyone would hunker-down with a pizza and a movie and hope to hear that tomorrow would be a snow day.

Usually not. Most of the time there was nothing to do but set the alarm an hour early and start shoveling. The next week was guaranteed to be slow at the grocery store. It takes a long time for 3 people to go through 4 gallons of milk.

My cousin lives in Pismo Beach, CA. It’s lovely and the weather is perfect, every day. It’s like the movie Ground Hog Day, the weather makes it feel like yesterday all over again. No one talks about the weather in Pismo Beach except me. When I visit and go to the grocery store and say: Isn’t it a beautiful day! I just get blank stares. Of course it’s a beautiful day. Every day is a beautiful day.

In the Southwest, no one seems to talk about the weather for a different reason. It’s been over 100 degrees for 6 straight days and it’s still Spring! Here in Nixon, we’ve had 2 inches of rain since last September.

Back home in the Midwest, 6 straight days of 100+ temps in May would have the made Headline News!  We would have talked about the heat wave at the gas station and in line at the bank and in the express lane at HyVee while we stocked up on ice cream and rotisserie chicken. We would have bemoaned the drought and prayed for the farmers. There would be weather related slogans on all the church welcome boards.

But here in southwest Texas, only Yankees talk about the weather. We talk about it to anyone who’ll listen which is mostly other Yankees. To you native Texans, I get it. I know why y’all don’t talk about your weather down here. It’s just like Ground Hog Day. What can you say? Today sure is hot, windy, dry, hot, hot, windy, hot, dry, hot, windy, hot, dry, hot.

Weather forecast for tonight:  dark.  ~George Carlin

Deep In The Heart of Texas, Yankee Style

It’s Monday and time for another Texas tribute. Can there any better way to pay tribute than through a song? There are a whole lot of songs about Texas. Perry Como, from Pittsburgh, took Deep in the Heart of Texas to the top of  Hit Parade Chart for 5 week in 1942. Personally, I prefer the rendition sung by America’s ‘original singing cowboy’, Gene Autry, a Texan through and through.

You know a song is a classic when you hear it in a stadium. The Owls and the Astros sing it, right after Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th inning stretch. The Longhorns, Cougars and Horned Frogs all perform it for football fans to bolster enthusiasm.

These are the original lyrics for those who didn’t watch the above clip or are from north of the Mason/Dixon line:

Deep in the Heart of Texas

The stars at night are big and bright

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The prairie sky is wide and high

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The sage in bloom is like perfume

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

Reminds me of the one I love

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The coyotes wail along the trail

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The rabbits rush around the brush

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The cowboys cry, “Ki-yip-pee-yi”

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The doggies bawl and bawl and bawl

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

I love the (clap, clap, clap, clap)! It’s like going to a live performance of Grease where the whole audience does the Hand Jive. OK, well, that’s a little more complicated, but it’s still crowd pleaser.

You can’t improve on a classic.

This is just a Yankee version: same tune, same refrain, and definitely the same classic clapping:

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Red eyes at night gleam creepy bright

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The prairie heat will melt your feet

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The wild hogs bloom like skunk perfume

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

Reminds me of buzzards above

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The mad bull wails along the trails

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

Rattlesnakes hush around the brush

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The boars huge tusks shine white at dusk

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

Tarantulas  crawl and crawl and crawl

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

I hope I did the song Yankee proud. Y’all come back now, ya hear?

Texas Truisms (more or less)

“Texas: It’s Like a Whole Other Country”
This is the Texas state slogan used on the official web site of the Office of  Economic Development and Tourism. And they aren’t kiddin!

If you’re thinking of working as gate guards in Texas and you’re a Yankee (a Yankee is anyone not from Texas or the South) you cannot be a Texan. Ever. You are and will always remain a Yankee who talks funny. You’re welcome to live in Texas as like as you like, just don’t call yourself a Texan.

Being a Yankee, I’m not sure I’m qualified to write about Texas truisms. I’ll just share what I’ve observed and have been told since arriving in The Lone Star State. Take this post with a splash of Tabasco. As a matter of fact, take everything with a splash of Tabasco! Condiments here are hot and spicy, forget bland things like mayonnaise. Tabasco is even served with your mush.

Go to McDonald’s and you’ll have to ask for ketchup but there is always a bottle of Tabasco at every table and in every booth. At McDonald’s, you’ll find they only serve ‘sweet tea’. Order ice tea anywhere you get ‘sweet tea’, the ice is a given and so is the sweetening. And if there’s a Starbucks on every corner in Portland, there’s a DQ in every incorporated town in Texas..

A few other food facts: it seems all soft drinks are called Coke. Moving from Iowa to Oregon, I’d just transitioned from pop to soda. I have no explanation for calling all soft drinks Coke and no idea how you order a 7-Up. Maybe someone can write and enlighten me.

Supper is usually at noon and sometimes again in the evening. Texans have a 2nd supper like Hobbits have a second breakfast. Dinner seems to be infrequent and at totally random times. It’s not meat and potatoes, it’s meat and beans and you’ll find that combo generously offered with breakfast and with noon and evening suppers.

Dine in or take out, forget Chinese or pizza, it’s tacos, fajitas and beer. Wine is wimpy, Texans drink beer. Although wine has almost 3x the alcohol content of beer, it’s a sissy drink. If you insist on ordering it anyway and don’t see it poured, it probably comes from a box. And remember if you do have a beer, it’s illegal in Texas to take more than three sips of beer at a time while standing. (I’ve read this in multiple searches of Texas law).

While I’ve see some Big Hair, the hairspray has to be fierce to beat the heat, I can’t confirm or dispel the the truism of the Big Belt Buckle. Most everyone I meet is sitting down or wearing a jumpsuit so I just don’t know about that one.

By the way, my observations are limited to rural Texas and don’t necessarily apply to city life in say, Dallas or Houston. Cities have their own truisms but I haven’t had a chance to observe them. I do know that in Houston, it’s  illegal to sell Limburger cheese on Sunday and beer can’t be purchased after midnight on a Sunday but may be purchased on Monday.

When addressing a Texan, it’s nice to show your respect by using both their first and middle names (e.g. Billy Bob, Lisa Marie etc… Yes ma’am and Yes sir appear to me to be more of a type of punctuation at the end of a sentence, like a period or an exclamation mark, than a sign of respect. A Texan will let you know they’re done talking to you. They’ll often say something like: ‘Well you better let me go now so I can get some work done’ even if you haven’t been saying anything and they’ve been doing all the talking.

I’ve only scratched the surface of Texas Truisms. I’ll add more as they crop up. Feel free to add your own. I’ll just end this post with the ever popular bumper sticker: “Everything is more Texan in Texas”. I don’t really get it, but then, I’m just a Yankee.


17 Lone Star State Facts

It’s been exactly 1 month since Heidi and I took off down a strange new Fork and began working for Gate Guard Services in Tilden, Texas. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know we’ve had more than a few adventures.

As with all true adventures, there are limitless opportunities to learn and discover new things. I thought this 30 day marker would be a good time to recap 30 things I’ve learned, observed or been told since arriving in Texas.

The order is random, my experience is limited to the very small area of the Lone Star State I’ve explored, and all of my information, a part from my own observations, comes from locals.

1. In Texas they have ranches, not farms. There are cattle ranches, of course, but there are also chicken ranches and pig ranches and hay ranches and hunting ranches.

2. Blue racer snakes make good pets (although they aren’t native, you can import them from Ohio) because they eat rattlesnakes.

3. It costs approximately $5 million to drill an oil well. The process can be greatly impeded by gumbo, which is a type of mud, not soup.

4. The highest concentration of scorpions in the US are found in AZ, CA, NM and of course Texas. The good news is that they’re primarily nocturnal and hang out under rocks.

5. There is a relatively high demand for chicken manure.

6. On a typical hunting ranch, you pay $1500 for one “set shot”. If you shoot and miss, it’s up to the ranchers discretion whether or not to give you another shot. If you make your shot, you pay for the buck, based on his rack. In Freer there’s a trophy buck that someone paid a quarter of a million to shoot. This one in Max’s Motel and Cafe in Tilden is only a $5000 buck.

7. Not everyone who asks for directions is lost.

For example, Heidi’s  conversation with a trucker yesterday:  Trucker: “Are you familiar with this area?”  Heidi: “No, I’m from Oregon, originally from Iowa.”  Trucker: “Oh, I was going to ask you for directions”.  Heidi: “I have a Texas map, would you like to look at it?”  Trucker: “No, that’s OK, I’m from around here.”

8. Never buy a brown outdoor carpet at Camping World for your RV. Rattlesnakes camouflage themselves on brown Camping World carpets and you could step out of your RV right onto one.

9. Axels confuse even guys. Not only do most of the big rigs stop and wait for permission to go into the site (see sign below), but I had this recent conversation with a really nice young guy in a Ford 150. He pulls up to the stop sign and says (not joking): “Howdy ma’am! Do I have 2 axels?” I say: “Yep.” He says, “I thought so,  good, in that case my name is Bobby Joe!” I don’t know what his name would have been if he’d had 8 or 10 axels.

Since they didn’t seem to know where to go, we’ve added ON IN to the sign.

10. Money you don’t work for (like the money ranchers make from their wells) is called mailbox money.

11. It’s not a real good idea to discharge a loaded 12 gauge shot gun inside an RV.

12. It’s legal to shoot an attacker with a gun but not with wasp spray.

13. Javelina is spelled with a J not an H and there are over 4 million in Texas. They become agitated when dogs bark or they feel threatened by people. The official Texas web guidelines for encouraging a javelina to go away is: “attempt to scare them off by making loud noises and throwing rocks”.

This presents several problems for me: Henry barks at all cows pigs and is unable to distinguish between a pig and a javelina; I’m not very good at being loud or throwing rocks; and javelinas have a scent gland on their lower back which releases a strong, skunk-like smell if they are upset. I’m thinking Henry barking, me being loud and throwing poorly aimed rocks might upset them.

14. There’s a whole lot of spitting in Texas (already covered in detail in Feeling Spit-less).

15. A non-portable dump is a reason for celebration!

16. An average oil well with a 64 ml choke produces 60,000 barrels of oil per day.

17. The speed limit for county roads varies from 70-75.

If you feel someone is driving too slowly, you indicate your desire to pass by driving up to their back bumper and pass (in the no passing zone) when they begin driving halfway on the berm while maintaining their same speed. Not driving on the berm is considered very inconsiderate.

18. Potable drinking water is not drinkable.

19. Most cattle round-ups are done by helicopter since its too expensive to rent a cowboy,$75 per cowboy on foot, and an additional $100 an hour for the horse.

20. There are an estimated 2 million feral hogs in Texas , 50% of all the feral hogs in the U.S.

21. Lots of folks hunt hogs in Texas. Sometimes they put them on their walls.

22. Sometimes they serve feral hog for dinner. The best way to get rid of the gamey taste is to pack the hog in ice for 2-3 days before barbecuing.

23. It usually takes several months to establish an oil well.The riggers make $25-$30 per hour.

24. There is dust covering every surface an hour after you clean, giving new meaning to True Grit.

25. Direct TV is directionally challenged (2 installation attempts in the ocean and 1 in Mexico).

26. 90% of all pickup trucks on ranches and rigs are white Fords.

27. It’s not a great idea to teach yourself how to knit with a cheap WalMart DVD at 2:30 in the morning while wearing a security vest with Velcro strips.

28. You can rent-a-buck for your field of does for somewhere between $30-$50,000.

29. The “Cleanest Little City in Texas” stays clean because if you don’t mow your yard in a timely fashion, the city will mow it for you and charge you $75. Same is true for keeping your property trash and junk free.

30. And finally, after 25 days in Tilden I have no idea why the chicken(s) crossed the road.

Spell That Please, I’m a Yankee

January 5, 2011

If all is going well in Pleasanton today, this will be my last rambling post for a while. Heidi has gone to fetch my new phone and the air card. If that grants us internet access, she will resume the main work on the blog and I’ll go back to occasionally quipping. That’s good because, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, I don’t think I can write about nothing much longer.

Heidi’s doing a super job keeping up with the daily chores of checking the oil in the generator, changing the lights in the 6 spotlights we turn on at night etc..

It’s 75 degrees this afternoon as I wait for the Kevin, the RV repair man coming to replace the bungee cord with a real door latch. Kevin is from George West, which I thought was the name of his business but is actually the name of second town NE of the Federal Prison. Maybe it’s just me, but a town baring an individual’s first and the last name seems a little egocentric. Of course, it could be heroic. Maybe he died in battle and they named a town in his honor. Without the internet, I can only speculate.

Oil trucks and Salt Water trucks (I still don’t get that one) and Bottom Vacuuming trucks (don’t ask) have come and gone. Willie, the government’s official well tester has left with his samples. Willie, by the way looks uncannily like  much like a younger Danny Glover. Even though I knew he likely hears it all the time, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from pointing out the resemblance. “Yes ma‘am, people do tell me that, but it’s OK since Danny Glover happens to be one of my favorite actors.”

Then there was Trey who was here to check on the ‘trandfuls’. We have to enter the stated purpose for each person we let in the gate. Herein lies the problem: we have 2 types of accents here, decidedly Hispanic and decidedly Southern. I’m apparently equally poor at deciphering both. Add to that my complete ignorance of things oil-welly, and I’m left having people spelling everything but their license plate. Thankfully I can still read, even though my hearing is suspect.

While I’d have been content to just smile and nod and let Trey in to so his work, I was afraid that at some point someone may look over the paper work and find ‘changing the trandfuls’ to be a questionable well activity. So, as I often have to do, I asked Trey to spell it for me. His expression indicated he was wondering just what kind of qualifications a person has to have to be a gate guard? Any schooling at all (I think the answer to that is no, by the way)?

He smiled and slowly spelled “T R E N D” and stopped. Yes, I was embarrassed but I still had to ask (Vanna, can I buy a vowel?)…“and how do you spell fuls?”
“F I L E S”. Yep. I printed this all out on the line and smiled as if I always ask people to spell common 5 letter words for me. Ever the southern gentleman, he drove through the gate with a “thank you, ma’am” and a more than a little bit of amusement on his face.

Robbie the Gauger, who comes at least once every day, must have been born in northern Texas because I can always understand him. At least I think I can. Today he was telling me about his wife’s dog that has “long shaggy ears so it isn’t a poodle, but little she talks”. When I asked what the dog says, he told me she says all kinds of things. Maybe I don’t understand him as well as I’ve been thinking I do? He did tell that George West is a town named after a man named George West who had a lot of money.