Time

Jim Bob sat on the examination table, legs dangling. He fumbled with his reading glasses, then placed them into his shirt pocket. He said, “Look, I’ve heard bad news before. Just tell me straight up, doc. Don’t beat around the bush.”

The doctor cleared his throat and held out the paper showing the test results, as if he needed the document for support so he could say what he must. “It’s cancer.”

Jim Bob took a deep breath. He knew it. “How … how long do I have?”

The doctor shrugged. “Best case, three months.”

“Is there anything you can do for me? Anything at all?”

“Yes. I’m going to recommend that you’re sent back to the rig.”

“Is that going to cure me?”

“No.” The doctor shook his head. “But the next three months will seem like two years.”

Yes, a little humor. Some might think very little humor.

God started time with motion—the earth rotating on its axis, orbiting the sun, creating the days and years that we gauge our existence by. Then, He set a limit on how long we’d live, so we count our age. Time is time. The life we lead, the things we do, what we plan and look forward to, or dread, seems to speed it up or make it drag by, depending upon our perspective.

Ask any oilfield hand who rotates how their time off was, and you’ll hear the same one-word answer every time. “Short.”

Days off from the rig flies by like a night asleep. The days at work feel like … well, as in the joke above. Two weeks can feel like a month, one month like three months. I know people who countdown the days and mark the calendar. I don’t know how they do it. I can write down the date a dozen times a day and not know what day it is. I block the date and days of the week from my mind.

I’ve never stepped on a rig, after any length of time away, no matter which continent or ocean, that I didn’t feel like I’d just left. I’ve never felt that way when I arrived home.

One of these days I’d like to have a miserable time off just to see if they last as long as the time at work.

Deep Water Critters

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I think the oceans of the world were more of a mystery to early man than outer space. The moon and stars are visible for man to ponder, but the depths of the oceans cannot be seen at a glance. For millennia mankind had no means to determine water depths, and other than using a seine or fishing line, the life that thrives in the cold, lightless, high-pressure environment below the surface was out of reach … until now.

orange fishWhen drilling wells in deep water, rigs employ a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for various tasks, but mostly for the high-definition cameras they carry. I was amazed, (still am amazed,) at the critters and fish we see—crabs and eels and octopus and all manner of strange looking fish. You’d think, well, that’s normal until you consider light is nonexistent below 1000 feet, the water temperature is closer to 30 than to 40, and the water pressure, say at 8000 feet where I’ve drilled and seen sea-life wandering the sandy, barren dunes and rocky bottom, is 3550psi.

 

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I think about these amazing creatures, the why of them. I wonder if God might have placed them here more for His enjoyment than ours.

Feeding the Machine

IMG_0856Drilling rigs are an expense to an oil company. They consume money. As they get bigger, to drill deeper, the more they eat. Move offshore and it gets nuts—engineering, permits, rig, boats, helicopters, jet fuel, diesel fuel, wellheads, casing, drilling mud, cement, bits, cement unit, mudlogging, deep sea sub, directional drilling equipment, electric logging equipment, casing tongs and slips, a ton of food a week, all the personnel to run the above, and the list goes on.

The rig I’m on had some great success the past three years. We were slow getting started, but that’s expected when a new-built rig is crewed up for the first time. Growing pains are inevitable. Eventually, this rig became one of the best I’ve ever been associated with. I’m not talking about the iron, the rig itself, but the people. I’ve worked with very capable men and women over the years, but never so many at one time.

Ask any number of people associated with this rig why this particular group of people succeeded and you’ll hear as many different responses. I think it’s because they dismiss every pre-tour meeting with a prayer, asking God for guidance, oversight, and success. That’s 140 men and women petitioning God twice a day.

I utilized the boats and helicopters to keep the men and women out here supplied with the material they needed to do the job. I fed the machine.

It was my pleasure.

Why Us?

I’ve mentioned that I worked in the Middle East for a time. A long time actually. Fourteen years in Saudi Arabia with a couple of short stints in Yemen and Dubai. Doesn’t seem like that long now, the time there, looking back, and I’ve been home sixteen years. I hate to think about the sum of the two: half of my lifetime to date.

The experience still has an impact on me. I learned a thousand or so Arabic words, not counting counting to a thousand … in Arabic. Amazingly, I still remember most of them, so I’m able to shock-and-awe with my gift of Arabic gab the many convenience store clerks throughout our country.

I miss a few aspects of desert life in a Muslim country. I was a moonshiner and good one. If someone needs advice, I still remember the recipe and the cut-off temperatures. For the record, I sold the still.

Summertime lasted 44-forevers. In 1000BC a meteorologist said it was going to be hot and sunny for the next 10,000 years. Smart guy.

I enjoyed time around the campfire late at night with my Muslim friends, eating goat and rice or chicken and rice, talking about any and everything but religion. You cannot talk about Christianity with devout Muslims, friend or not.

The title of my blog site says what I’ve tried to write about in my posts, a walk in the patch, the oil patch. Drillers keep the world turning today, but they are a bane to the existence to some and a total mystery to others. More the latter I think. I’ve refrained from writing about Islam or Christianity or the differences between the two … until now.

Everyone wonders about God. Who is He? What does He look like? Why does He do what He does? Why me? Why us? Why mankind? I know I have many more questions than answers. Years ago I was a-pondering God as I sat around the fire, the rig in the background, the Hale-Bopp comet streaking across the starlit sky, listening to Muslim men use my God’s name in vain, in broken, accented English. I thought it was strange. Then the answer came to me. Satan is God’s enemy and man’s tempter. He wouldn’t tempt man to insult a false god. I’ve never heard Allah’s name used in vain, or Mohammed’s, or Buddha’s. Only Jesus and God. My God. And I am well-travelled.

I pray one of your questions has now been answered.

A good friend and his wife retired recently and moved home from the Middle East. They built a house a little northwest of San Antonio and moved in. One morning, my friend poured a cup of coffee and stepped out onto the back porch and sat down. The morning was pleasant: the eastern sky a canvass of colorful rays. He sipped coffee and listened to the Muslim call to prayer. All was well in life until … Wait just a darn minute. I’m in Texas. He jumped and looked around just to make sure and screamed for his wife to come lend an ear and help determine the source of the disturbance.

When he recognized the pop-pop-pop of a .50 cal. opening up on the mock Middle Eastern village erected just across the canyon, on Camp Bullis, an Army training base, he sat down and finished his coffee.

Driller’s Speak

I wrote my first story using my first computer, a Compaq something or other that took 10 minutes to start and ran at the speed of tortoise when it did. The story was short, something about chasing a Bedouin’s camels around in the desert to prevent them from eating my golf balls or some such thing. Wasn’t a bad tale as I recall, but my new computer gave me fits, underlining everything I penned in a rainbow of colors. After a little research into the problem I thought, Oh, thats what my Engish teacher mint win she told me two take good care of my back inn the future cause Id need it.

Recently I wrote a procedure for the rig to follow. I proofread it, printed a dozen copies, and then handed them out in the pre-tour meeting. It looked something like the following.

  • POOH w/ FMC LPWHH R/tl.
  • L/O DAT & service DDM, TFM, VPH as needed
  • M/U BHA & test MWD and mtr
  • RIH
  • ROV guide to WH. Give OIM & DPO 20-min notice.
  • Stab in and RIH
  • Drlg cmt, flt equip, & drl to TD w/ SW
  • Bk/rm to shoe dspl to 13.5 PAD
  • POOH to LPWHH and ck stabs
  • RIH to tag
  • POOH. Open PBL & wash LPWHH on the way.
  • L/O BHA
  • R/U to RIH csg.

Before we dismissed, I asked if anyone had any questions. No one did.

Gumption

I went to high school with a guy who aspired to own a funeral home. He worked as a mortician’s apprentice after school. I know. Someone has to do it. At least in our culture.

They make money at it—lots of money. Believe it or not, some people can’t afford to die.

Someone has to pick up trash and clean sewers and pump septic tanks and dig ditches and hold warning signs in construction areas and a mop floors and roughneck on drilling rigs.

Having said all the above, the catering company that serviced my rig for the past 2 ½ years lost their contract. These were American men and women, mostly from southern Louisiana and Mississippi, who cooked and cleaned toilets and made beds and washed clothes and dishes. Menial? I suppose … unless you’re hungry and it’s the only job available at the moment. Then maybe it’s the bridge in the gap between what one has to do until something else arises. Sometimes it’s the only job one is qualified to perform. Then, it’s making a living.

They were replaced by a crew of Filipinos, from the Philippines, who, as mentioned in a previous rambling, call me Mr. Dabid. Go figure.

There is a huge difference in the quality of services provided by each catering company. The Americans walked around looking at their iPhones, checking social media sites. When they found a moment, they mopped, cooked, and washed clothes and dishes. Most, not all, had to be prodded to do what they’d agreed to do in the first place.

The Filipinos work. Work. Work. And they have a smile on their faces.

The Americans, my countrymen and women, had and still have all the opportunities to succeed this country has to offer, but they had/have no drive—no want to.

The Filipinos have little, if any, opportunities in their home country, but they possess the want-to.

Gumption is an outdated word. I heard it when I was a kid. “Boy, you got to have gumption!” or “Show some gumption and do the right thing!” or “Better find you some gumption!”

Seems like some Americans have lost their gumption.

Holidays

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-11-51-02-amYears ago I spent time at the company’s corporate office in Singapore. That’s a big deal for a simpleminded old roughneck like myself, hobnobbing with VP’s and such. Well, Al Gore had just finished inventing the Internet and computers and emailing were quickly taking over as “The only way to communicate.” During the course of my duties I had a meeting with the regional maintenance supervisor. As we talked, his eyes darted from me to the computer screen and back. He typed and talked and scrolled and clicked. With every word and action, as the minutes ticked and he slowly forgot I was sitting there, his demeanor changed. His voice grew rough. He was clearly agitated. Finally, he let out a trail of four letter words, said, “I’ll show him,” and banged out another email. He paused, scanned the screen, abused the mouse for a second, then sat back and sighed, apparently satisfied he’d gotten in the last word.

My curiosity got the best of me, so I asked a one-word question. “Who?”

Without glancing up he used his thumb to indicate the man sitting at his desk inside the glass-walled office next to us, in plain sight a mere ten feet away, who banged on his machine, and said, “Andre.”

What?

In a way, I think we’re cursed by technology. Social media? Right. Social with anyone and everyone but family. Why do siblings fight? Because they’re secure in their relationship. They know the brother or sister they just hit or called an ugly name won’t leave them. Try treating your friends like family and see how long they hang around. Stop texting them. Stop replying to their texts. Call ‘em names.

We, my relief and I, refused to let the current drilling contractor working for us install a television in the galley. We’ve had rigs equipped with TV’s. We’ve seen grown men, manly men in coveralls covered in drillpipe dope, drool and stare at a flat-screen TV. Put on Dora, or Sponge Bob Square Pants, or As The World Turns, or it doesn’t matter. Silent and transfixed.

Today is Thanksgiving. Christmas is just around the corner. Be thankful for parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. We are all born terminally ill. No one survives this life.

Be thankful for our vets.screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-11-51-25-am

Be thankful for God’s Grace. He gave His Son for you. He is a gift one only needs to accept.

I’m on the rig. I just finished Thanksgiving dinner. Superb. Must have been 30 men seated at 7 or 8 tables. No television, no cell phones. The conversation was deafening.