Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Aching Bones and Changing Alliances

I wasn't built for this kind of labor. I'll be the first to admit it. The Bleacher Family are long in the bone and thin in the muscle. We were bred for politics and classrooms. Maybe even priesthood. Arduous labor was not to be my lot in life but I felt it was elitist and cowardly to eat the fish but not get my paws wet. We Bleachers loved to sympathize with the poor and the hungry over gigantic turkey dinners. And ethically to be ignorant of the oil industry is intolerable since in enabled most of my adventures in life. I don't understand the science behind the H2S separators and vents and why one vent will be on fire as a dragon breathing flames and another will leak deadly Hydrogen Sulfide right where I'm trying to dig a hole. Another mystery is sour oil and how it is separated in tanks that contain water and oil and then sent back to be separated again....never mind how humans accomplish something miles underground like drilling straight down and then forcing the pipe to bend at a 20 degree angle precisely into a pocket of oil and then inject water and sand into the crack. It's all bites of the apple of knowledge I wasn't really groomed to eat.

The list of injuries I've sustained so far aren't as bad as the fatalities that occur at least once a week. Thus far I've been 2 degrees of separation from one of the fatalities. I work with a guy whose cousin died in a wreck last week. I've passed several gruesome crashes. The roads are too narrow and the trucks too plentiful. I drive slow but I'm an exception.
Anyway, a living oil field worker is better off than a dead one. I bought my boots from a pipefitter who had gout and couldn't put them on anymore. He mows lawns now. Texas is full of has-beens like bad knee athletes and welders who thought they didn't need lead aprons when they x-rayed all those welds. Speaking of bad knees, mine are worn like abused tennis balls at the dog park.
And I reached for a wire the other day and felt something tear in my shoulder. Now my neck is as stiff as a mesquite root. My fingers are arthritic and cracked skin makes me look like I'm 98 years old. One minute I'm walking the metal scaffold and the next I'm wondering who left behind all this red paint on the bannister and...oh, that's my blood and it's coming from my finger tip. When the hell did I do that? My fingerprints are going to look like an Aztec map of Mexico city soon.

That's enough bitching and moaning. The day will come when they lower me down and my aches will be gone.

I've been thinking about greed and how the oil companies get a bad rap. See, the only way a man would work 72 a week in a hazardous situation is if they were paid super well. And the companies don't argue with that. They completely look after and compensate the men who do this work. The problem is that their world view includes $3000 weekly paychecks so they have no idea how hard it is to make a buck. I was rearranging some papers when I moved my crap into my apartment and I found an estimate I had made for saving money at a job offer in Corpus. I was going to get a check of $280 a week and rent was $650 a month. So $1200 a month total income with around $900 minimum expenses. $300 a month in savings as long as I don't get a cavity or see a movie or buy the expensive toilet paper. That's the budget of most people these days unless they are unemployed and then they make even less. But the folks at Shell don't really care about that because all they know is that they reward their employees very handsomely. This is the first time in my life where I immediately buy any tool I think I need at any price. It is absolutely amazing how easy life is when you have tons of money to spend. So many decisions are already made for me. That's because Shell isn't cutting corners on employee paychecks. There are no unions out here in the oil field because we are adults who are paid like adults. Actually, it's like a reverse situation because each company is trying to bribe other workers away from their current jobs so wages keep going up! Unfortunately, it's a bubble that leaves oil field workers oblivious to the plight of the average American. I tell my coworkers that they have been spoiled and then don't understand what I mean.
I say, "Because there is no other occupation that would pay you so much to do so little."
(Looking up briefly from his handheld Zombie game as we drive around at $40 an hour each) "Huh?"


Now, flashback to my job at the trailer park. It was a family owned park and the lead daughter of the family was on site every day. I lived in my van and ate the absolute minimum and could not save more than $200 over 2 months. The lady who signed my check was driving a brand new super duty truck. When she went to buy plumbing material she stopped at the mall to shop for clothes. I reflect on my past jobs and can't find a case where I was anything but a disposable instrument of production who should be bought with the lowest wage possible and no health security and asked to work until I could not work any more in unsafe environments and then I'd be replaced. But this is not the attitude in the oil field. The attitude is to work...to do your specific job...to be safe...to stay alive. They respect and honor workers here. But the oil companies are totally indifferent to the plight of every one else in America. They don't care if you save $100 a month. More importantly, they don't care if your boss is a greedy son of a bitch who refuses to spread the wealth around. Imagine how much easier your life would be if you were making 3X what you are making now. Well, that's the situation here in the oil field and I think Shell's philosophy is that they will model good business practices. They share the wealth. They can't tell Mcdonalds to pay their workers $17 an hour. But they will demonstrate how that is accomplished...by charging McDonalds workers the same per gallon as they charge everyone else. Not everyone can work in the oil field and my spine will certainly limit my time here, but I'll honestly admit now that the mom and pop owners I've worked for in the past have been the greediest bastards. They didn't respect me and they did everything they could to exploit me. And in the same breath they called BP and Shell execs greedy bastards. No, that doesn't work for me anymore. I realize I'm in a bubble of wealth and that's why my realization comes as a surprise. I'd only defend BP and Shell if I got the chance to work for them and compare their business ethic to that of those slave drivers I worked for in "progressive" Austin. Now I see who was really fucking the working man and who was enabling the working man to buy a bigger truck and build a house. Hint: It wasn't Guitar Center.

It's a philosophical debate whether oil should be hunted and used but if we accept that nothing will change that then the next question is how equitable do you want to be with your daily affairs. Shell and BP and Halliburton certainly lead the pack when it comes to worker equity. Can you say the same thing about your boss?

Creative Commons License
Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.