Monday, October 28, 2013

This is Definitely not Burger King

We get a lot of folks who think they have found the proverbial Shangri La when they hear about gate guarding. They can't wait to get on a gate and start making the big money that had been promised. Unfortunately, for a lot of folks, disillusionment soon follows. I (along with others) have tried to enumerate the reasons folks leave the vocation; mostly to serve as a reminder/warning to those contemplating coming to South Texas. The tolerance of most gate guard companies to bear the complaints of noobs is not one of their hallmarks. You should carefully read up on gate guarding and/or contact folks who are actually doing the work before making any other move. I have always maintained that we were extremely grateful to have found work that actually put food on the table. A year or two of scratching by and living hand to mouth will do that to you. We barely eked out a living as workampers. Every purchase decision was agonizing and balanced against what we would have to give up to acquire the item(s). I had no other income and retirement was a ways off when I embarked on this adventure. If nothing else it has taught me to have an appreciation for the freedom that an extra nickel or two can provide you. That; in a nutshell, is why we have remained in this profession and are grateful for the work. It is also perhaps why, early on in gate guarding, we adopted the motto "If we call you had better answer the phone and come running, because it's urgent or an emergency." Your comfort (or discomfort) is not at the top of the list for most gate guard companies. Most do not have the personnel  to act as your concierge. A lot of them do gate guarding as a secondary operation and their priorities reflect that. If there is any way at all that you can do a little troubleshooting and; even better, minor repairs, you will last a lot longer down here. If you did your research as suggested you should know what to expect in regards to response time and subsequent repair work. Don't misunderstand this as a rebuke: I am merely trying to let you know what to expect. We have been fortunate and had little trouble with our equipment. We have never waited more than twenty four hours for any major/important repair. Unfortunately, that is not the norm in many cases and I have known guards to be without power or water for  good while. Let this serve as a reminder that this is definitely not Burger King and you can't always have things your way.

Friday, October 25, 2013

I Don't Know Where I'm Going

I get the "I don't know where I'm going" quite often in the oil patch. After I ask if he can call someone (or if I can peruse his directions) (and/or his phone doesn't work out here and I offer to let him use my home) the reply sometimes is "Why; he doesn't know anymore than I do?" Really? Then comes the looks and berating because I won't allow them to drive around on the lease and try to figure out where they belong. If you have business to do on my lease, at the very least I would like you to give me your name, the name of your company and the name and/or number of the well you're going to. I also have a similar discussion that becomes more and more earnest when someone insists they're going to a site that I know is not on the lease. Even more irritating is our lack of knowledge. I have repeatedly asked for a map for our lease so that I at least have a rough idea where everything is to no avail. Today I had a company man come in who didn't bother to slow down long enough to introduce himself. Turns out he was in charge of a work over rig that no one bothered to tell us was coming in. Our primary focus is on knowing who is out here and where so that an accounting can be made should something happen. Since we're here to help protect the folks that are working out here; you'd think they'd be more appreciative. I really don't mind helping folks out; it just gets out of hand sometimes. Most GPS devices have the capability of locating using latitude and longitude; something the exploration companies have used for some time since lease roads rarely exist on a map. I'm left to wonder how they end up on my doorstep. Finally, at the risk of being redundant, here's a typical example. A truck rolls up and I immediately notice that it's painted with unfamiliar livery; so I am pretty sure he doesn't belong here. When I query the driver he starts to bristle and takes exception to my questions. As is often the case he says he doesn't know the well number or location that he is going to. After looking at his directions, I find he belongs on the lease next to us and I direct him to turnaround. After some "select" comments the driver departs and I called his dispatcher. The dispatcher also had some "select" comments for me and said he'd call back. Turns out he was upset with his driver and he apologized when he called back. He had given the driver directions and a well number and specifically told him not to turn down our county road. That driver was one of several that had committed the same error that week; hence my pursuit of the matter. I truly believe that if someone could quantify the amount of diesel wasted by wandering lost souls in the oil patch it would be alarming. I have actually had drivers roll up to my gate and say they have been looking for our site for hours! I never cease to be amazed at what goes on here in the oil patch.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Third our Backyard

We had an incident (which I will not go into detail about) that involved the release of LOTS of potentially dangerous gas from the lease next to us. It took a little time, but the powers to be thought it would be best if we evacuated-NOW! Luckily, I had had the foresight to put our truck outside the gate because the gager put a lock and tag on our gate before I knew it. I ran inside and told Missy to grab the "go bag" and off we went. It soon became apparent that we would be "homeless" for at least the night. We made arrangements to pick up the dogs; left food and water for the cats, and headed to a hotel in Cuero. It was called the Wildflower Inn and was the cheapest and closest hotel that would take us and the dogs.
Let me digress just a bit so you have a little perspective. I am a Air Force brat and a former Marine. I have travelled extensively and have slept in a lot of places; from out under the stars to some of the fanciest establishments you can imagine. So, I have a lot of tolerance for room conditions. The worst "room" I ever had was in a little village in Brazil. It was a mud hut with holes knocked in the side for ventilation and leather flaps to cover them. Light was provided by a single bulb in a socket attached to a wire that was strung across the ceiling. When you turned on the light it illuminated hundreds of cockroaches which geckos were chasing and eating. The beds were of rough wood with straw filled burlap as mattresses. My father slept much better than I did that night.
Now back to the Wildflower Inn which, though not a mud hut, has made my top ten list for awful hotel rooms. I do not mean anything prejudicial so please do not send hate mail. The owner checked me in and was obviously from a third world country. That might explain the condition of the room and property. In his country if a room had running water it probably sufficed for luxury accommodations. I'll let the e-mail I sent him describe our accommodations.
We checked in on the 13th and left the next day and stayed in room 120. I have lived in many countries and seen my share of motel rooms, but this was one of the worst. First, the room was filthy, with trash strewn about. Additionally we found numerous problems which included: the lamp shade was off and the attaching hardware was missing, the carpet was sticky and filthy, the fluorescent lamp wouldn't work, the bed linens were stained, the hot water was barely hot, the tub leaked and; along with the sink, was rust stained and covered with calcium deposits, the floor leading into the bathroom was weak and soft, the divider strip into the bathroom had sharp edges and hurt your feet, the toilet was difficult to flush, and there was a floor "repair" in the bathroom made out of electrical tape. There may have been a few other things, but that about sums it up.
I dealt with the owner while checking in and found him to be a very nice gentleman. It was surprising to find he owned a hotel as bad as this one. This room at half the price would not have been worth it and we'll not return.
Suffice it to say that we do not recommend the Wildflower Inn in Cuero, Texas.

In fairness let me say that the owner of the Wildflower Inn called me to discuss my complaints. It is as I suspected; very much a cultural issue. He was very grateful-not apologetic-for my e-mail and promised to do better as money allowed. He went into a long winded explanation about how he started as a worker there and ended up taking it over in an owner financed deal. His explanation for the hotel conditions was purely financial. I realized that trying to explain our standards to him would be futile and allowed him to repeatedly thank me for my e-mail. He also asked that I pray for him in his endeavor. I might pray for him, but  unless he obtains and accepts outside advice, I think he is doomed. He surely won't last after the oil boom.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Some comments on the so called Budget Crisis.
The Good
Saner minds seemed to have prevailed as State and Federal Authorities are getting together to figure out ways to get National and State Parks reopened.
The Bad
Trying to keep veterans of WW2 from visiting the monument created to herald their exploits and heroism due to budget closures.
The Ugly
Denying the families of recently deceased veterans the funds due them as a death benefit and the wherewithal to travel to Dover AFB to witness the return of their loved ones.
And the Inane
Allowing the clocks to stop in the Senate and House because the "winders" were furloughed. I mean really-can't someone there wind a clock? Or do you suppose time is of little importance to them?
More of the Inane
Leaving directions on the Social Security Office phones to call another number which tells you to call another number...
Even more of the Inane
Pigs are stuck in their pens, cattle aren't leaving the pasture for market and corn is stuck in the silo. All because the Agriculture Department  isn't publishing needed reports which help set prices. BTW-that means they're "playing tiddlywinks" in the commodities market.
More Ugly
The disinformation and rumors that are spreading in regards to the debt limit and fiscal cliff. The financial markets won't fail (at least not because of a date on the calendar), our country won't default and payments will continue to go out.
There are tons of examples, but the whole "budget crisis" is really overblown. The wheels are still turning and the government is still operating-albeit more slowly. IMHO what we really need are rules or laws with teeth. The threat of a REAL shut down might get these folks to put their differences aside and act rationally and decisively. Instead we have a comedy of errors reminiscent of high school where barbs are tossed back and forth and "band aid" legislation is passed to limp things along. We already have workers being recalled and talks to raise the debt ceiling. Apparently sequestration hasn't taught us anything. For example; we may not have flyovers for sporting events, but the military marches on (no pun intended). I had hoped a light would go on and someone would realize that painful cuts are doable and maybe downsizing isn't such a bad idea. I am very apprehensive that my worst fears will occur and the electorate will put these pols back in office.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Chill in the Air

As a fulltime RV'r and a gate guard it is easy to get lulled into a sense of complacency. Day after day of sometime tedious and monotonous duty can do that to you. A lot of people's concerns over maintenance of their RV fade onto the back burner; especially with little or no rain and seemingly endless sunny days. Now there is a change in the air; rain is coming more frequently and the temperatures have moderated. Hopefully the maintenance and care for your roof was not one of the items on your back burner. Down here in South Texas I try to have things prepared in accordance with our mostly two season year. The cooler months are the time to start thinking about cleaning and resealing the roof. It's also prime time to start thinking about air conditioner care and maintenance. Missy may have thought it humorous that I was working on the fireplace a few weeks ago, but she enjoyed it this chilly, wet morning. I also check the back or outer side of the on board furnace and operate it periodically throughout the warmer months. You would be surprised at how many folks out there just flip switches and expect a system that has set for weeks or months to operate. You do not have to be a certified mechanic to properly maintain your RV. Most of the systems you operate on a regular basis and it is easy to make a list of the ones working in the background. By utilizing the Internet and asking a few questions you should be able to point out all of your RV's systems and where their access ports are. This is some of the easiest money you will ever make! There are hundreds of stories of folks calling a repairmen out only to find out a circuit breaker had tripped, a filter was clogged, a battery had boiled itself dry-need I go on? There are a myriad of places you can go to that will provide you with a list of things you should be looking at on a regular basis. Besides, it will give you something to do on those boring days and the furnace will more than likely work when you flip that switch when there is a chill in the air.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Working Together

Certain facts do not bode well for folks looking to make this gate guarding thing a winter vocation. For one thing a lot of the guard companies try to make keeping their year round folks working a priority. That may rub some folks wrong, but it is a fact. We have also previously covered the financial impact of the final fiscal quarter(s) of the year plus the annual hunting season. More disturbing to me; and something each of us can help with, is the trend towards eliminating gate guards all together. I am not going to try to tell you what to do or how to comport yourself as a gate guard. What I will tell you is that when the bean counters are looking to try to cut expenses we are a target. Trust me, anything not directly tied to production is a target when the discussion of cuts comes up. The folks that go through our gates rarely know what company we represent. They just see another impediment to there getting to the workplace. So what can a little old gate guard do to help things along? I can only speak for myself; but the first thing I do on every job is try to get in contact with the powers to be. That would be the company men and my primary target, the field superintendent over the job. I try to make his priorities mine and acquiesce to his desires as much as possible. The good thing about establishing dialog early is it allows the principles to work out any area of conflict. You would be surprised at what a person as important as a superintendent wants. Simple things like don't allow traffic to back up onto the county road and remind folks of the speed limit. I again will not try to tell you as a guard what to do when traffic backs up, but trust me when I say we keep it moving. If you're older and your memory is suffering, keep a notepad and pen with you at all times. Scribble now and make a neat log later I say. Also try to memorize the plates and names of your regulars-or keep a list of them. That's good exercise for the addled brain I previously mentioned and; not only will things flow better, it will be appreciated.  Another disturbing thing that has come to light from my discussions with company men and superintendents is that they all almost universally would rather not have to deal with gate guards. So the next time you consider chasing someone down or raising the intensity of a discussion; take a moment to collect your thoughts and consider the ramifications. There is a way to conduct yourself in a manner that will garner you respect and make you a valued member of the team.