Thursday, December 25, 2014

Were You Listening? Are you Listening?

What a tangled web we weave; at least I think that's how it goes. Recent police shootings, in predominantly black communities, have galvanized folks who allege that the shootings are racially motivated.  This despite our judicial system exonerating the officers involved and the fact that the victims all had criminal records and/or were involved in criminal activities. Ill informed citizens combined with a vigilante mentality fueled by what has now proven to be outside agitators were a recipe for riot(s) and mayhem. Sometime back I posted a blog alleging that Al Qaeda and their ilk might eventually penetrate our borders, especially the Southern one. What I forgot to mention is that the internet and fundamentalism do not know or respect borders. It now has come to light that ISIS agents and its followers were intermixed with the rioting mobs. Now we have had two NYPD officers assassinated by a lunatic and fundamentalism has again reared its ugly head.
There has been a widespread ad on national television where celebrities appear to struggle with how to speak out about the issue of spousal violence and rape. We have the same problem when it comes to race and ethnicity. We just can't seem to get the conversation started. Activists like Al Sharpton and others are not helping in this regard and the news media; hopefully legitimately in search of a story, perpetuates it.
There are all kinds of ideas in the mix. Reporting standards and their sources are going to be changed. The very essence of how we police appears to be heading for an epiphany and dramatic change. None of this changes the systemic problem of a lack of morals, education and ethics by our citizens. You can stir in all kinds of outside factors, but that fact remains at the heart of the problem. Without respect for authority and each other this cycle will not end. I submit it all starts in the home.

Merry Christmas!!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas 2014

As most of my dear readers know, I am a Grinch this time of year. I have long chronicled my distaste for the commercialization of Christmas. That, combined with the unfortunate coincidence of the loss of several family members around this time of year, dampens my enthusiasm. I really feel the pressure to gift something that will be both appreciated and useful.  I feel, and hope, that I adequately show my appreciation for everything I receive; but I struggle coming up with something of equal or greater value (not just in dollars) in return. I also am part of a family that has gift giving down to a science. The women of my family, like my mother niece, daughter and sister, seem to come up with the most thoughtful and useful gifts. Don't think I'm crying in my beer or that I'm on my pity pot. I think I have made progress and am somewhat at peace with the whole process. Now I endeavor to give gifts that are useful, thought out and (hopefully) appreciated. For the last few Christmas seasons I have adopted the Hanukkah tradition of gifting throughout the season. No one knows when or what may come along and nothing is expected in return. Finally; and here's a hint, we thoroughly enjoy the gift cards we receive. You really find out what you know about a person when you're trying to figure out what store or restaurant someone frequents. Perhaps the innumerable unused cards are an indication of this.
The advent of winter and the holidays usually casts a pall on my mood, especially having to work and live in the Texas pucker brush. As I said previously, I think I'm making progress. I decorated the truck grill and actively participated in the decoration of the RV and surrounding fence and pad.
What Christmas means to me is an amalgamation of all the traditions of the past and fitting them into something I can both tolerate and enjoy. Christmas has evolved into a commercially driven monster and I find myself longing for those days when it was much simpler. We used to always get pajamas around Christmas time. You know, the ones with feet on them. Mystery and hope ruled the day as my sister and I waged war with my Mother, trying to figure out where our presents were stashed and what could possibly be hidden in the wrapper. We'd get up at the crack of dawn on Christmas day and putter around under the tree, looking for and sorting out the presents. When we couldn't stand it any longer we would finally wake our parents. It is odd that, as much as I protested then, I now enjoy going to Christmas candlelight services. Whatever your beliefs, Christmas is still the time that we celebrate the birth of Christ. It is also the time of year when many other faiths celebrate, such as Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights. Whatever your belief(s) I hope you use the time to reflect and maybe forget all the commercialization and hub bub. Here's hoping you and yours have a wonderful and happy Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Dreary Outlook

I have learned a lot when it comes to gate guarding and there are few, if any, constants. Those that I am sure of are; singles will always have a hard time finding employment, winter is always a slow time of year and the "boom" will eventually peter out. Every year since we started in the patch things overall have slowed. It is cyclical-we got here when things were willy nilly, oil was selling at almost $150 a barrel and organized chaos was the rule of the day. Now oil is at almost a third of that and most holes follow a similar pattern; from spudding to production. OPEC has it in its head that it must make oil recovery from shale deposits economically unfeasible. If they succeed, most of the bounty reaped from directional drilling and fracking will be for not. And "big oil" can expect little or no sympathy or aid from Washington and its "enviro Nazis". Dirty fuels like gas, oil and coal are universally reviled by our government. If we are still here as gate guards when summer finally comes around, our employment should be secure till year's end. I think most, if not all, workampers looking for gate guard work next winter should look elsewhere; unless they have locked in a gate. THE OPPORTUNITIES WILL NOT BE HERE ANYMORE. As the opportunities dwindle, security companies can and will be extremely choosy about who they employ and the current rate of pay will disappear. Since I have put this in print, it should be interesting to see how prescient I was next winter.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Finally, I Can Tell the Story!

For over three months my sister has been planning a surprise party to celebrate our mom's eightieth birthday. Everyone in the family; including distant relatives, were informed. How precocious great grandchildren (and others), could keep such a secret remains a happy mystery. There were some stumbles along the way but the secret remained intact. One of the biggest secrets was our attendance at the event(s). Along the way pictures and other memorabilia were" taken" from my mother's house (so that a scrapbook could be made) and a lot of stories were fabricated. We arrived the Wednesday before the big weekend and passed a couple of days in Homestead, Florida running around with my sister, before we all headed to Naples for the celebration. Adding to the difficulty of keeping the secret was the fact that a lot of us are active on social media sites; including this blog. Happily everything worked out. Well deserved kudos go out to all who were involved; especially my sister and niece, who did a yeoman's job of putting everything together.
Part of what I wanted to pass along to my dear readers could not be disclosed till now, for fear of disclosing the aforementioned secret. I can now share the story of our preparation for our vacation and the 2700 miles it was composed of. Tales on the internet and other media have made me very paranoid about a blowout. So we looked into and finally bought a TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) for the 5ver. The $200 we spent for it couldn't have begun  to buy the peace of mind it brought us; much less the damage it can prevent. We also invested in a programmer for our diesel engine in hopes of both improving performance and fuel mileage. Our results have been mostly positive. In order to gain the maximum benefit from the programmer we really need to improve the intake flow and modify the exhaust; all of which are in future plans.

All in all we had a great time in Florida and were pleased with how our new (to us) truck pulled our 15000 pound 5ver down the highway. Speaking of weight, you should at least weigh your truck and trailer, or motorhome wet once. Wet means full of fuel and other fluids plus whatever "junk" you carry around. It tells you a wide variety of things, especially the weight on each axle. With a TPMS and the proper tire, blowouts should rarely happen. Here's .hoping some of this may save you grief on the road

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The 2014 Markies

The 2014 Markies
The Why Can't We Get Along award goes to the folks in Ferguson, MO.

The Dumbass award goes to whomever led or participated in the destruction and burning of cars and businesses in Ferguson. I'm not sure why their ire was directed that way??

The Indecisiveness award goes to Roger Goodell and NFL management.

The You Can No Longer Get Away with Anything in a College Town award goes to the Tallahassee police department. Surely an accounting was in order.

The Shame on You award goes to the Greek society that makes up the fraternities in our collegiate system.

Along those lines the You Shouldn't go to a Party Dressed Like and Acting Like A Tramp award goes to those coeds foolish enough to go to a frat party where alcohol is served. (I wrote this before the latest independent investigations have the co ed's story falling apart)

The Lying Without Compunction award goes to Vladimir Putin.

The How Not to Win Like a Gentleman award goes to both of the leaders of the House and Senate.

The Hot Air award goes to President Obama.

The How Not to Lose Like a Gentleman award goes to President Obama.

For the second year in a row the Missed Opportunity award goes to the Republican Party.

The "Oh Shit" award goes to Virgin Galactic - a sad testimonial to the fact that even the best make mistakes.

There was a tie in the Perseverance Award between Virgin Galactic and the searchers for Malaysian Air flight 370.

The 113th Congress is eligible for every award imaginable; but the one that stands out has to be the Colossal Waste of Money award for continually bringing up impassable legislation.

The Portend of Things to Come award goes to the Islamic Caliphate (you may know it as ISIS).

The Depravity award was closely contended. I awarded it to the Mayor, his wife and, (at least) the police Chief of Iguala, Mexico, They were instrumental in the kidnappings and deaths of dozens of students. The Mayor was reportedly concerned that the students might have demonstrated at a speech his wife was to give. (I can't make this stuff up folks!)

The No Surprise There award goes to the aforementioned city officials. They are on the lam and a subsequent investigation has proven they were using their positions to run a criminal enterprise and that they were involved with (wait for it) the cartels.

The close contenders in the Depravity award were members of a terror group called Boko Haram. They abducted at least two hundred Nigerian girls and young women. Supposedly they have converted to Islam and have been sold off.

Unless I'm mistaken; and that will make me happy, Americans in general should receive the Ignorance is Bliss award. Somehow no one seems very upset about all the aforementioned depravity.

The Not Once But Twice award goes to whoever was driving the 2015 Corvette prototypes. Somehow both the coupe and convertible were involved in accidents.

And finally, here's a nod to the troubled soul that was Robin Williams. For once we can universally agree that he brought joy and happiness to us all.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

I used to attend a church in South Florida which had a very dynamic preacher. Every year, around Thanksgiving, the church held a service where the congregation was asked to share what they were grateful for. Whatever a person's reason for attending that service or no matter what they may have thought of it, it still made you reflect and appreciate what you had.
I have travelled and lived in some remote locales. It gave me a perspective on life that the average person never gets. I have seen people living in a dilapidated shack no bigger than your average closet. I have seen those same people dread the annual rainy season for fear that their hovel might not remain attached to the hillside it was perched on. Their day to day existence was a struggle, yet they somehow remained upbeat in a literal sewer of crime, with hunger their constant companion. The army had to accompany the cops if and when they ever penetrated the warrens and narrow streets. Despite all this, the people of these slums lived for and looked forward to the annual Carnival celebration. A great chunk of  their annual earnings went into the purchase and fabrication of their costumes. Makes you think; doesn't it?
While I am not living in anything remotely resembling a hovel, I still very much appreciate what I have. I am in the autumn of my years (hell it might be the winter), suffering from heart disease. Although there are mornings where I don't act like it, I cherish every day that I am above ground and breathing. I had even hoped to spend my final years in an RV. Health and other circumstances accelerated my schedule and I would prefer to be travelling a bit more; but, all in all, I am happy with my life.
I keep a wary eye on those folks in their hovels and have a deep concern as to where this world is going. However, I am grateful for what I have, especially the ability to travel a bit now. I am grateful for simple things; like not having to count my pennies every day to get by. Every time I see change in the coin holder (or our little Tupperware bowl) and dollars in our ceramic "retirement" jar I smile. When we started this adventure, it wasn't even remotely like that. My wish and suggestion for you this Thanksgiving is that you take stock of your situation. Surely you can find something to be grateful for. If not, just reread the part of this dealing with those folks living in a hovel on a mountainside.  Then start working on your costume...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I Warned You

If you've read my blog for any length of time you know I have written many posts about South Texas weather. If you haven't taken it to heart or just joined the rest of my dear readers; last night should have been a wake up call. Learning to adapt to these wild variations of temperatures, wind and rain are an integral part of surviving in South Texas. Last night deserves mentioning; if for no other reason, because of the wild winds. We have brought the slideouts in only once in the time we have worked in the patch. Last night came very close to being the second time. Despite the wholesale assault on the traditional American family structure, I still consider myself to be the De facto head of the household. As such, I feel it necessary to remain stoic and calm during storms. This even while our 5ver is rocking and rolling and the slideout toppers are stretched to their limits (and yo yowing in and out); all the while flapping horrendously. Truth be told, I am kind of fatalistic about the whole deal. After all, I have nowhere that I can go. It is also the reason we insure everything to the max. If the rocking and rolling are too much for you to bear, you may have to look elsewhere for work. By the way, did I mention it is going to be around 80 degrees today and near freezing tomorrow morning? At least we don't live in Buffalo!

Friday, November 21, 2014

News from the Author

If you are on Facebook I have started a page titled Gate Guard Info and RV Maintenance Tips, which coincides with a lot of what I write about here. Simply shoot me a request (via Facebook) to join and you can use the page to ask questions, start discussions or just peruse the entries that hopefully will eventually fill it. Unlike so many other administrators; I have started the page for every one's benefit and promise to rarely, if ever, censor entries.
I was very pleased this morning to find out that Steve Kroft (one of my favorite reporters) will file a report this Sunday on 60 Minutes concerning the condition and degradation of our countries infrastructure. I'm sure some of my dear readers have grown tired of my crusade to increase awareness of this problem. Of course, politics rears its ugly head in the story. Somehow, the federal gas tax has become the primary resource for funding to attack this cancer. Unfortunately, the mere mention of raising said tax spells defeat for any politician. Surely we are better than this and can come together with some sort of a solution. I personally look forward to the report.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Necessity Makes Strange Bedfellows

There is never an opportune moment for a refrigerator to break down. When it does a wholesale scramble begins to find a cool place to store all of your chilled goods. We are fortunate in that we have a small auxiliary freezer, so the frozen goods were stuffed in there. We also had, earlier this year, also bought the high dollar Igloo equivalent of the Yeti cooler. That gave us a place to put the refrigerated goods. We also used the opportunity to thin out the refrigerator. The technician that came over to diagnose the fridge, did not engender a lot of confidence. However, the evidence of ammonia leakage was readily apparent and the unit was declared unrepairable. We managed to get the technicians fee cut in half-he wasn't there long enough to merit any more-and got a rough quote of $1200 plus installation. Before he was out the door I had a business on the phone willing to sell me a refrigerator for $300. It turns out the salesman that sold us our 5th wheel was willing to help us out. I didn't care for him as a salesperson and my judgment was right on; he now runs the parts department for them. Missy and others have made fun of my hours spent poring over the internet. Let me tell you something folks, I have saved thousands of dollars (if not more) and learned a PhD's worth of free information doing it. Part of our problem with RV techs (besides the trouble of finding a knowledgeable one that will come out) is that we possess more than enough knowledge to tell when the guy knows what he is doing; or doesn't. It's frustrating; pure and simple. Another thing that I refuse to do is to pay the original quote; unless it is reasonable and fair. Anyway, every deal comes at a cost, and the cost of this one involved a trip to Houston to pick it up. Even so, with a quote of $1200 for the refrigerator and another $300 to install it, I believe we are money ahead. We had to get a little help manhandling the fridge; but then it was simply four wires, a propane line and a few screws. Add a tank of diesel for the truck and a few hours of our time and the $1500 fridge was in at less than half the quoted price.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Salute to Those that Served

I have mixed feelings about the theaters our military have (and are) being deployed to.  Some of my dear readers have read some of my rants viv a vis this very subject. I am a military brat and a proud, former Marine; so I don't say this lightly. In fact, never doubt my support for our troops, wherever they may be deployed.
Besides the obvious nod that I wanted to give my fellow veterans, I especially wanted to salute my father. Other than his immense joy for regaling others about his many exploits, he was not given to boasting about his accomplishments. He enlisted as a private in the Air Force, as low a rank you could enlist as in those days. My father had an intense "curiosity bug" in him ; something I inherited. He also had a mechanical aptitude (something else I inherited) second to none. Those qualities and a bright mind got him into the "Bootstrap" program as it was winding down. The "Bootstrap" program basically allowed enlisted men to test and qualify to become commissioned officers. A commission was also a prerequisite to being able to earn your "wings" and qualify to serve as a pilot; something my father dearly wanted to do. My father was one of those that transitioned through the end of the prop days into the jet fighters of today. He flew jet fighters in the days when just piloting one was taking your life in your own hands. You know, the guys with parachutes on their back and a white scarf around their necks. He married his high school sweetheart; had us kids and drug us all over the world. In the meantime he finished his education and rose to the rank of Colonel. Though it irritated him till the end, I oft times referred to him as Colonel out of respect. My time in service to this country doesn't even merit a comment when compared to his service. In the autumn of his life, my father continued to travel. He was a member of the Explorers Club, a fellow in the Royal Geographic Society and his name can be found in many publications. He now rests in Arlington National Cemetery where he was interred with full military honors.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Warding Off the Chill

It looks like a Polar Vortex is getting its act together and should affect folks as far south as South Florida. Most of us should see temperatures in the forties, if not lower. Sometime ago I advised my dear readers to get out the heaters and check them out. If you didn't do that, DO IT NOW! I also recommended that you run your on board propane gas; we call it our big ass, heater. However; we also recommend that gate guards use the free electricity we enjoy due to the high consumption of most propane heaters. Unfortunately, most RV's are not wired for that kind of amp draw, so gate guards should get creative in that regard. If you are fortunate enough to have both a 30 and 50 amp plug on your support trailer or generator you can buy an adaptor from Amazon to plug extension cords into. Then run a heavy duty extension cord through the slideout seal for the heater(s).
RV's are generally not built or suited for extended periods of cold weather. We suffered through a winter once (with some days at or below zero) in our Class A and will never do it again. If you have slideouts, they are notorious for leaking. Sometimes it as simple as ensuring that they are fully extended. For some reason it seems easier to note the leakage in cooler weather. I can feel it seeping in, particularly on one slideout. Everyone's situation will vary, but strips of foam placed in the opening may help. Finally, get your "long handles" and other winter apparel out, or bought. If you're like me you'll resist getting out of shorts and clogs for as long as possible. The other morning I had a hoodie and shorts on. Unfortunately, the cold will win out so prepare now.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Shocking Story, Building an Ark and The World's Longest Vehicle Purchase

The temperatures have moderated and we have even occasionally been going without air conditioning. While closing up the house a couple of evenings ago, I attempted to close the main door. Like many RV's the main door is held open by a gust lock to prevent the wind from slamming it closed. When my hand touched the gust lock I received a substantial electrical shock. We called the folks from Progressive Industries; they built the surge protector, and they ran me through some troubleshooting procedures. They admonished us to be very careful and to call an electrician. Our service person promised to be out first thing the next morning. That morning I took the hounds for a walk. When I returned with the Beagle and she hit the metal entrance steps with her wet feet, she wailed and cried like nobodies business. Getting the eighty plus pound Husky up the steps proved nigh impossible till I shut the power off. At that point, I decided to remove and check the surge protector out. I should have done that earlier as it smelled distinctly like burnt electrical wiring and components. The folks from Progressive Industries are first class and stand behind their products. Their equipment has a lifetime warranty, provided gratis for the original owner. We are sending the surge protector in for them to repair. The service person showed up as promised and checked things out; even though the RV was not showing any voltage on its externals. We moved on and I had him check out my security lights. One had fallen during the last storm and he replaced the bulb. He began to check out the other light and finally plugged it in. Meanwhile, I was on the other side of the RV and reaching to open a basement access door. When I made contact, a strong shock flowed through my body and they say I wailed like the Beagle had earlier. I remain unconvinced that that was the problem, as the folks at Progressive Industries think it has something to do with the generator. The RV is no longer "hot" and I eagerly await news from Progressive Industries. Meantime, we are looking at purchasing an upgraded surge protector that is supposed to "kill" power to the RV before these types of anomalies occur. The phenomenon is apparently known as "hot skin" and fairly common. Even though we have a grounding rod connected to the generator, I plan to put one in for the RV.
Occasionally in the fall, in South Texas, we get flows of moisture laden atmosphere emanating out of the Mexican Pacific coast. When they stall out they can produce epic amounts of rain. This time the air was fueled by a hurricane in the Pacific, but the front is moving. We have had copious amounts of rain, ranging from an inch to a half a foot or more in the last forty eight hours. Work is proceeding on our Ark as I feel this event may not be the only reason we 'll need it. Seriously, getting anything done outside is problematic as there is standing water and ankle deep soft mud everywhere.
On August 22nd, I took delivery of a 2005 Jeep Wrangler Sport. It was plagued by a "check engine" light, seemingly impossible to extinguish by the dealership's mechanics. Although I had had a satisfactory previous buying experience with them, the deal was soured by a wide variety of factors. You can read about it in previous blog entries, but it was an epic journey. I made the purchase at a new branch of the dealership that was woefully unprepared to sell vehicles, mush less repair them. My salesperson was either ill, hung over and/or suffering from some malady. He was eventually let go. Management seemed uncaring and they were unresponsive. The manager and several sales people were transferred during the process. An epic amount of contracts were signed and the Jeep made many trips to and from the shop in San Antonio. When the Jeep was delivered for the final time and the light illuminated yet again, I said no mas! I had noticed a 2010 Ford F-250 4x4 on the dealerships website. It was a four by four, which is what we had primarily wanted, and it had less than 50,000 miles on it. During the odyssey of the Jeep purchase I was told that EVERY vehicle goes through a thorough intake check and any anomalies are repaired before it goes up for sale. Not! At least not in my experience. The F-250 ran well but had a panel conspicuously missing from the dash and several trouble lights illuminated. Not again, I thought. This time; even though it took about a week and involved some teeth gnashing, we got everything we wanted and the vehicle was delivered with everything replaced and/or working. Since we took delivery in New Braunfels, in the late afternoon, and had to navigate through San Antonio in pouring rain, the truck got a thorough shake down cruise.  After getting management involved (even though they refused to communicate with me) and using my experience with the Jeep for leverage, we got a pretty good deal. Believe it or not, I still like and recommend H&R Auto Motors. There are a few good souls that work there.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


I have suffered through an amazing amount of weather phenomenon while working in South Texas. The closest I ever came to throwing in the towel was a cold, sleety night near the border. Boy, that was miserable. I rarely, if ever, complain about the weather in this blog. Yesterday was an exception. I conservatively figure we received two inches of rain, with most of it falling within an hours time.
In the middle of the deluge the area surrounding our huge, heavy 240 volt Halogen bulb washed out and it crashed into the trailer; scaring the bejeebers out of me. Fortunately, the damage was minor, especially considering the noise it made. Shortly after that, our service person showed up, hoping to provide us with water and fuel. After several tries (the support trailer is about 100 feet off the road, in a corn field), we finally had to give up. Both of us were soaked and the truck and trailer had almost gotten stuck several times. I had water and mud marks just below my knees that bore witness to the deluge. To add insult to injury, the service trailer blew a tire in the process. I can count the times on one hand that I have not been able to receive fuel and water out here. I desperately need to get some lights going, but I can't get through the soupy mud surrounding the trailer. Now I am facing the dilemma of how to get at least enough fuel to last a few days, or until things dry out enough to get a truck in. Talk about stymied!

Breaking News!

If our government has made an effort to secure a release for Sgt. Tahmooressi, it certainly has not been publicized much. I'm sure there are a wide variety of stories, if not more excuses, as to why this Marine had guns and ammunition in his possession at a border crossing with Mexico. He said he was confused and unable to turn around in time to avoid crossing into Mexico. I don't know if the signage has improved, but I can say that I suffered through the same confusion near a border crossing. Fortunately, I was able to get turned around before finding myself committed to cross. Today word came that this Marine was finally released. As far as I am concerned, Mexico should never have held him any longer that it took to verify his story.

Have you read the story of Boyd Bushman, a scientist formerly employed by Lockheed Martin? In a near death video he purports to not only have proof of alien life, he also has photos. More is surely coming out of this story.

Finally; and this is truly scary, a reporter investigating the Benghazi incident has video of her computer seemingly being acted upon by an outside force. Sharyl Attkisson  is a reporter, formerly working for CBS. If the allegations and video are indeed factual, the perpetrator(s) need to be found and punished. If it was an act by our government, it is outrageous and should have all Americans up in arms.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hopefully Nearing the end of an Odyssey

I am going to use this blog altruistically to chronicle the adventure that acquiring a four wheel drive vehicle has turned into. As my dear readers know my last blog entry started a thread dealing with this issue and the colossal failure the acquisition of the Jeep turned out to be. While writing that entry, I realized that I didn't recall all of the details and that perhaps I could use this blog as a pseudo diary. If this story fails to entertain, let me apologize in advance.
Phase two of the four wheel drive acquisition started with the drive (after a full day of work) up to the dealership in New Braunfels. It's important to note that we both are currently working and time off is difficult to arrange. Add to that the round trip drive is nearly 200 miles. Missy returned the Jeep and picked up it's replacement, a 2010 F-250 Supercab with under 50K on the odometer. We signed a conditional release (I think that's what it was called) allowing us to test drive the vehicle and to make sure we really wanted it. The first thing that Missy noticed was that the TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) and wrench light were lit up on the instrument panel. Also the panel and switch that controls the passenger side airbag was missing. As before, the dealership promised to correct everything before delivery. Several days have passed and the truck has exceeded our expectations. It is world's beyond the 2005 model we currently own. There seems to be an epidemic of folks these days that just don't take care of their vehicles. Back in the day my mother and father revered their cars and lavished attention on them. Not so much anymore. It was obvious this truck needed a little TLC, but it seemed promising. The next step was to return the truck to the dealership to allow them to correct the problems. That would mean both of us would miss work (and the pay!) and have to arrange for substitutes. A minor hiccup occurred the day before we were able to get everything together. While working the multi function switch (the stalk that controls the high beams and turn signals), Missy had it snap off at the steering column. A cursory inspection revealed that it had broken previously and someone had used super glue to repair it!?! It was apparent that we would be in for an adventure, because we needed to traverse several counties, the heart of San Antonio and cover almost 100 miles without turn signals. Plus we needed to make a stop along the way! Since we held out little to no hope that the dealer would put new tires on the truck we had our almost new tires (and wheels) swapped over from the old truck. As it turns out the tire store determined that the TPMS transmitters were missing from the wheels. Even though it is illegal, (like removing or circumventing pollution devices), people do remove them. We also took the liberty of swapping out our almost new batteries. Anyway, we eventually made it up to the dealership and dropped off the new (to us) truck. Now it remains to be seem whether they'll come through and return us a repaired vehicle. I truly believe I have been patient and that my expectations are not too unrealistic. The vehicle needs to be delivered with all of its systems working; simple as that, or I am not signing the bill of sale.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Those Pesky 80 per centers Again!

In early September, after Missy spent over four hours waiting to be extricated from the mud, I began, in earnest, to look for a four wheel drive vehicle. We are working the pipeline and, although it is the best job we have ever had as gate guards, the workplace environment leaves a lot to be desired. Parking pads are virtually non existent and 95% of the work is off road and literally in the middle of the Texas scrub brush on some ranch or property. Gate guards and their necessities are an afterthought. At our last post we had to park on ground softened from rain and the 5ver's tires sunk up to the wheels. I only parked there after all parties agreed to either help in the extrication and/or pay me to sit till it dried out enough to free it. The extrication of the 5th wheel is a subject that could fill another post. Anyway, you get my drift-we needed a four wheel drive vehicle.
I contacted a salesman that I had worked with in the past at H&R Auto Motors, located in San Antonio, and began my search. The vehicle market is very convoluted in South Texas, with pickups and Jeeps commanding silly money. The "exotic" Jeep market is a whole different animal with 20 year old, hopped up Jeeps commanding top dollar. Geez, all I wanted was a bare bones, four wheel drive vehicle that didn't cost an arm and a leg. A compromise was needed, so I pared things down. I wasn't going to pay mid 2000 money for a 1990's Jeep. I really wanted air conditioning and reliability was a necessity. The salesman offered up a dandy 2008 four door Jeep Unlimited and Missy went up to drive it. Now Missy is no Jeep fan, she has a friend that owns one, and she wasn't enamored with it. The four door rode much better and had a roomy interior to boot. She returned after short test drive all ready to close the deal. When it comes to shopping, especially during the commercialized holiday season (another story), I don't mess around. I have an agenda and once it's fulfilled I close the deal. As soon as the negotiations began, it became glaringly apparent that something was missing from the vehicle. There was no four wheel drive lever! A Jeep without four wheel drive? I didn't know they made them; at least in the iconic Wrangler models. Strike one, and the hunt continued. Shortly thereafter, the salesman called with a Jeep he had found and bought from another dealer. With days off as scarce as hen's teeth (especially with both of us working) we paid to have it delivered. Overall I was pleased with the vehicle, except for the huge wheels and mud tires and the lack of cruise control. Now, don't lecture me with the cliché, "it's a Jeep, what did you expect". I was correct, the tires deafened you at any speed above 35-40 miles an hour and cruising above 60 miles an hour was an adventure. It would, however, suffice as a "get to and from work and slosh around" vehicle. The first time we took it out for a shakedown cruise to Wally World, the check engine light lit up and an odyssey began.
Used car dealers generally buy a lot of vehicles, at auction or otherwise, and turn them as quickly as possible. Most used vehicles have little or no warranty so the lots do not have a service department and farm out the repairs. H&R Auto Motors is a family operation and does have a service department of sorts. One sibling handles the vehicle end and another runs the service department. Unfortunately; like a lot of service departments and repair shops, they are primarily good at replacing parts. Anything involving troubleshooting of any kind tends to stymie them. Add in that each sibling ferociously protects his or her turf, and you have a problem. My mother said to always get the name and number of the folks you deal with in a dispute; a diary of sort, chronicling what transpired. I don't do that enough, but I'll try to convey the story as accurately as possible. Besides, you don't need or want to hear all of the minutiae.
The first time we sent the Jeep to be repaired we agreed to meet and drop it off. I signed a contract at that time. The wheels began to fall off the tracks soon after that. My salesman had recently moved to the new New Braunfels store, where he claimed to be residing while they waited for the alarm system to be installed. Shortly thereafter, calls went unanswered from him. When we finally connected, he said he had been on a bender and apologized. Soon after that, I could not get in touch at all. This time the salesman was supposedly sick and in the hospital. I found this out after days of not being able to contact him. When I finally got a hold of someone at the dealership, they had to rustle around to find both the Jeep and the paperwork from the transaction. A week or so later we drove all the way to New Braunfels, picked up the Jeep, and signed another set of papers (the originals had now expired according to the finance company). Five miles or so down the road the check engine light came on again. We drove it home and had them come out and pickup the Jeep at their expense. That took almost another week. All along I had no central point of contact and I was dealing with both the finance and floor manager. The dealership attempted to return the Jeep with supposedly all new (4) 0/2 sensors. A couple of miles from the house, the light again illuminated and they returned to the dealership. But not before they gave me another set of papers to sign. A week passed and there was no news so I started calling. The shop dealership said they were going to send it out to have the catalytic converters changed. I started an e-mail campaign to the owner of the dealership at the behest of the New Braunfels store, as they seemed as fed up as me. Eventually someone called from the dealership, claiming to be the new Quality Control person. He asserted that the Jeep was at some troubleshooting shop and that I would have it by the end of the weekend. Monday came and went as the porter and salesperson that were supposed to deliver the Jeep could not make it. Tuesday came and the Jeep finally arrived home; with a new set of papers to sign.  It was filthy! I called the Quality Control guy and told him he obviously had a job ahead as the interior of the Jeep looked like a construction yard, with wires and fasteners strewn about; there was even a license plate and frame on the floor. On top of that, the fuel cap was missing. Missy drove the Jeep to work and the very next day; you guessed it, the light again  came on. In the meantime the dealership sent someone all the way out to the house to have me sign yet another set of papers. I wrote a vitriol fueled e-mail to the owner telling her I didn't want the Jeep and to come and get it with a full refund in hand. Again silence. I finally called the New Braunfels dealership and they told me that the owner had given them carte blanche to resolve the situation. Geez, when were they going to call and inform me of that? They first offered to take the Jeep to a specialty shop and have me deal one on one with the management there. At this point, Missy was fed up and I really had had enough conflict and stress out of the deal. The dealership had a 2010 Ford F-250 4x4 Supercab with the long bed. It is an XL instead of an XLT, which basically means it doesn't have all the bells and whistles. As a tow vehicle it will more than do the job, plus it had under 50,000 miles on it! I offered them the same deal as on the Jeep with my current truck tossed in and they accepted. We now have the F-250 conditionally-they want to be sure we are happy with it. It runs great and seems to be a solid truck. However; the "wrench" and TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) lights are illuminated and the tires are shot. I won't accept it till all that is resolved. I'm sure a follow up is coming!
                                                           In memoriam
                                      In with the new (to us) out with the old!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Independence in an Increasingly Structured World

There are any number of subjects that raise the ire of a gate guard or the gate guard community in general. However; restraining their independence is about the quickest way to do it. I have watched the gate guard world in South Texas lumber towards a more structured and organized business over the last few years. Some of it was unfortunately brought on by gate guards themselves. Poor hygiene, mussed and torn clothes, a pad that looks like a hobo camp (or worse), lackadaisical attitudes, to name just a few things. For the most part gate guards are an independent bunch (less so these days IMHO), thus the allure of being a contractor. From the start of our tenure as gate guards the issue of being a contractor or employee has been a hot button issue. Then the non disclosure agreement, or NDA, came along. Now uniforms seem to be at the forefront. Simmering in the background are guard shacks and the whole movement towards making gate guards into run of the mill security guards, paid by the hour and treated like employees. Fear not, all you independents and abolitionists out there! I have it on good authority that; at least till the exploration stops, there will be twenty four hour gates with guards manning them in RV's. There probably will be less of them, but if you have done your job well and find yourself in good favor, you should have nothing to fear. The problem, as I see it, is that someone always seems to be willing to take a job, no matter how draconian the rules may be. I cannot (and will not) counsel you on how to behave in regards to these demands by security and petroleum companies that seem to crop up more and more frequently. When we first got to the patch, we probably would have accepted any number of demands in order to get cash coming in. Missy and I are both independent minded folk, somewhat set in our ways. We like the independence and faith that the security company we contract out to provides us. We realize and accept the fact that our employment is dependent upon a certain amount of decorum and professionalism while performing our duty. However; if we start getting uniform demands, pay adjustments or NDA's coming down the pike, you'll probably see these wheels turning. This is in no way to disparage those of you that enjoy being an employee and conforming to the demands of your employer. My hats even off to you. I; however, did not become a workamper and/or gate guard to do that.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Musings yet Again

Buckle up, I'm feeling introspective; so here comes some more musings.

My friend and fellow gate guard's recent blog dealt with the subject of change; he has changed guard companies and is dealing with all that that encompasses. He was instrumental in getting us to make the leap into gate guarding and his blog and forum have been instrumental in our adjusting to life in the patch. If you are reticent about accepting aid and advice from people this may not be the job for you. The learning curve can be steep and the adjustment in lifestyle formidable.

I am sitting here, relaxed in my recliner, enjoying satellite TV. It is a drastic change from a typical drilling or fracking job. It is also world's away from the typical gate guarding gig we have endured for the last few years. Back to my friends blog and forum-simple suggestions have reaped huge rewards. Things like be "on point" when answering the bell/alarm; don't keep folks waiting, ingratiate yourself with the folks you are working with; get to know the basic procedures and goings on and get to know the key personnel. If your smart you'll extend that on up the ladder and get to know the field superintendent and other "movers and shakers" that pass through your gate. Try to be as presentable as possible; practice good hygiene and look professional. There are a ton of little things that make up the big picture. We feel as if we don't do anything special to engender the respect and admiration the exploration and drilling companies have for us. All you have to do is show a little initiative and do your job well and you will stand out. Some may wonder the point of this. I can tell you that that crossed my mind more than once. One rocky pad (if there was even one) after another, endless traffic and the accompanying dust, a monotonous, never ending routine, mud and more dust, picking up and moving like a nomad-you get the idea. Occasionally there would be a light at the end of the tunnel; a veritable oasis of a location. Some trees for shade, a relatively flat and level pad, close to town and manageable traffic. And then Shangri La came along and we ended up where we are today. Based on past experience, we know it will eventually end and we'll be back in the daily "grind". Meantime we are both savoring the experience.

I knocked out my morning routine fairly quickly this morning. One of the ways I deal with the doldrums as a gate guard is by having  a system I follow. I have chores that I divide up and accomplish in the morning and evening. It's a way of keeping me occupied with the added benefit of keeping things shipshape and organized on and around the pad and house. It's still a wonderment to me and a source of frustration that there always remains stuff to do.

Although we are on the gate of a lifetime, we know when it's time for a break. Some folks seem to be able to do the gate guarding thing ad infinitum. We are not like that. If we even get a day or two between gates we are out of the patch pronto. We like to go into town, unwind and shake off the dust. The first week of December we plan to hit the road for 10-14 days and take a little break. And NO!, you can't have our little slice of paradise. We have found someone to "gate sit" while we're gone and plan to return to the same roost.

One of the side benefits of gate guarding is the ability to get caught up on finances and, hopefully, set a little money aside. If you get nothing more than that out of it you are still ahead in my mind. Here's hoping you are not only able to do that, but that you also find your own Shangri La of a workplace.

Monday, October 13, 2014


RVs as a rule are not built for a nomadic lifestyle. There are some companies that cater to and advertise their offerings for fulltimers; but, for the most part, an RV was conceived as a weekend warrior or vacation vehicle. Living and working out of your RV is a whole different ball of wax. If you also dump your stick and brick home, it becomes an even bigger challenge. I feel fortunate that my father taught me that everything has a place and should be returned to that place if used. We also are a nautical family that knows about limiting and stowing everything you bring on board. I try to be the voice of moderation when it comes to acquiring things; even though I had the hardest time shedding all the things I had acquired over a lifetime. As a gate guard most of us soon realize that one of the limitations of an RV is the size of the refrigerator and freezer. Going weeks at a time between the normally long trek to town makes it imperative that you have a place to store extra groceries. We bought a small freezer that unfortunately doesn't fit inside our 5ver. We have to load and unload it every time we move. Getting a system in place is imperative if your going to live the nomadic lifestyle of a gate guard. Otherwise the whole process of setting up and breaking camp will become and even bigger chore. Although I help with the heavy lifting and do a few things to help out, we generally divide the chores between inside and outside. Missy stows and preps everything inside and I "rig down" outside. Speaking of that, if you expect to get relieved it is good etiquette and a courtesy to your replacement to be off the pad when they arrive. So, to summarize; limit what you bring, organize what you bring (totes and boxes help) and put a system in place. Additionally; no matter how long you expect to be somewhere resist the urge to accumulate "things". Just remind yourself before you're tempted that you'll eventually have to pick it up and pack it away somewhere.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Peeps Rule

After my short and unabashed exhortation to my dear readers to help me achieve 40 followers; we achieved that goal in a day or two. I am both proud and humbled that I have that many readers. Thanks so much!!

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Quick Note from Me

Hey gang!, Mark here. I had hoped to write this when I reached 40 subscribers. I got motivated when I saw that I am up to 38. It is a quirky milestone I have been aching to reach for some time. Believe me, I am extremely grateful that anyone reads this drivel. It allows me to not only express my views, but also to know that there are like minded folks out there. Anyway, right below the Followers widget is an icon that says "Join This Site". If you click on that you become a follower and get the added benefit of having my latest missive show up automatically for you to enjoy. I guess we can call this my drive for forty (or more) subscribers. Either way, as I have repeatedly said, I am extremely grateful for my peeps out there that support this endeavor. It's the primary reason I do this. THANKS!!

How Things Work (or how they should)

Along with being contractors, we both act as recruiters for our security company. I'm a little more active than Missy who is a little leery of recommending a "dud" to someone. To me that is part of the challenge, vetting someone based on e-mails and a conversation or two. We don't do this for pay; we both just have a deep belief in giving back and paying it forward. Also, as I've said in the past, the help I received from Andy when we were looking for work was invaluable and literally saved us from the abyss of financial ruin. That will make you grateful, let me tell you. (Andy publishes the blog and also has a online forum.)
If you've pursued gate guarding as a job you are aware of how difficult it can be to communicate with the security companies. There are a few that have an office and staff, but even those get swamped by the number of calls they receive. The crappy economy and poor pay for most workamping jobs combine to provide a steady stream of folks looking to try this gig. The lengths that people sometimes have to go to get employed as a security contractor are legendary. This results in a very active social community on the interweb, where folks can get the inside scoop on job availability by networking. Yes; the "good old boy" network that your dad used and you probably looked down upon is alive and well in the virtual world. Like everything else in this new frontier, things like boundaries and etiquette are still being worked out. To me, common sense and social norms should apply, regardless of the medium you're using. Unfortunately that just isn't true and I have written about it, especially the rudeness that pervades the digital communication world. Anyway, I digress, sorry.
Over the years that we've been contracting as gate guards Missy and I have worked extremely hard to establish a solid reputation. There are a lot of comings and goings in the gate guard world for a variety of reasons. It's not the kind of job that appeals to everyone. It takes a special person/couple to endure the conditions that we put up with on a daily basis. The very nature of contracting doesn't always engender a lot of loyalty, especially when the face of the company is either a sales rep or service person. Independence and initiative are highly regarded and rewarded by security companies. As the years have gone by and our reputation has grown, I have fostered many contacts in the oil field security world. Unlike the rest of the world; and just like the Old West, your word still carries weight in the oil patch. Fail to show up or perform as an 80 per center and you'll not be here long. I take pride in the fact that I can get the phone answered when most would be lucky to get voice mail.
The other day I answered a plaintive cry for help on one of the forums. Seems this couple had been through the hiring process and were getting antsy waiting on a gate. Like a lot of folks who come down here, their money was running out and they needed to get to work. I established contact and told them that I would put the word out. I made a call or two and passed the info on to them. They said that they had poor phone reception and that they'd call if something didn't happen in a day or two. What? Didn't you just tell me you were tired of sitting and waiting? I told them at the very least they should call the company I had put them in touch with. I had also gotten in touch with another highly desirable (and hard to get a hold of) company and informed them. No reply was forthcoming and a short message remained unanswered. I know I put myself out there, but I don't take these things lightly. Some decorum should be observed, like at least returning calls. I admit I like a little "sugar" now and then, but thanks isn't a requirement. Short story long; I will continue to gladly help folks out there. However, if you expect me to make the call, you better be serious. A little decorum would be nice too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Little Clarity

Folks unfamiliar with life in the oilfield seem confused about how the whole contract thing works. My family seems especially confused about who we actually work for and still seem anxious every time we are released from a job. It is all pretty simple and almost like the hierarchy you encounter in any construction project. The difference is that we are not building anything and rarely have sub contractors. Our job security is dependent on land owners or companies needing property and equipment protected. We have an underlying responsibility, which is tracking traffic in and out of the project we are working on. This record is primarily intended to serve as an accounting of who is and isn't on the premises should an emergency occur.
Here's a quick synopsis on how it all works (and I am no expert). Exploration companies determine where they feel the best chance is to find oil or gas. There are "land men" who serve as the liaison between the exploration companies and the land owners. Once permission is obtained to drill on the property a formal contract is signed between the land owner and the exploration company. Where it gets interesting (and testy) is when the mineral rights and property belong to two different people. That's a whole different issue with all kinds of legal ramifications which are not germane to this story. South Texas is unique in that it has far more gate guards than any other area of the country. There are many reasons for this from illegal immigration to exotic animal hunting and collecting. The truth is, I'm not actually sure of the exact reason. Back to the story. Once all parties agree that a gate guard is needed the call goes out to a gate guard company. As you can imagine, this is another area of contention, as the contracts are sought after and coveted. This is yet another area I am not familiar with. Some guard companies work for a particular company or two and others take what comes along. Gate guards can work the same way, contracting out to who ever offers them employment; but most seem to find a place they feel comfortable working and remain there.
What seems to confuse folks is that when gate guard(s) complete a contract and are released it doesn't mean they are let go (or fired) in the traditional sense. Technically we are kind of "in limbo" between contract opportunities; not unlike a painter, plumber or any other contractor. Most gate guards are also self employed, responsible for their taxes and health insurance. Also confusing is that, while we may work for the same company on a regular basis, gate guards do move around frequently. Thus you may find gate guards sending their loved one(s) many different mail addresses. Just like full timing, this confounds folks to no end. There is a tremendous value placed on having and maintaining a permanent address. Full timers (which gate guards essentially are) get around this by establishing a permanent address/mail drop in one state. This allows them to establish a domicile to use for residency and licensing purposes. There still remains a necessity to "go around" the drop box (for important papers and boxes; for instance), thus the use of local P.O. boxes. Just like fulltimers, there are vocations that require one to move move all around the country. Apparently the anomaly of not living in a "stick and brick" home is difficult for some folks to comprehend.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Taking Stock

This could be a prelim for my annual Markies awards. So much has and is happening in the world that I think it's time to look back and take stock. A lot of our attitude(s) are molded by perspective and, boy, does our perspective seem a little skewed these days.

This marks the sixth month since the disappearance of Malaysia Air Flight 370 and still nothing has been found. While I'm inclined to believe it's on the ocean bottom somewhere, the fact that no debris attributed to the jetliner has been found makes me wonder. While we are on the subject, it is apparent to me that I was correct in that no one will ever be brought to task for the shoot down of the other Malaysia Air jetliner. How tragic both incidents were.

If there ever was any doubt that race relations in this country were (and are) in the toilet, the incident in Ferguson should have erased it. On top of everything else poor leadership was shown by all involved. Even worse is that small business owners suffered mightily at the hands of their own customers. Have you heard of anyone being arrested for looting or destruction of property??

How ironic that depression would stifle the voice of one of the funniest men ever to inhabit this planet. At the very least it should serve as an example of how much work still remains to be done in regards to treating mental illness. The fact that we lost one of the funniest women ever to inhabit this planet soon after is also sobering. Perhaps caution on all of our parts before committing to out patient procedures is warranted.

Where oh where do I go in regards to the appalling lack of leadership in this country. It's like kids in the school yard threatening each other, knowing that neither would follow through. Shame on Congress for threatening the President with a lawsuit (and wasting tax payer dollars) when the Constitution clearly provides  for it in the form of impeachment. Shame on the President for getting on the bully pulpit and then backing down when Congress called his bluff. Where are we when both parties back down and agree to disagree and get nothing done? The double edged sword of term limits gives voters the opportunity to invoke change while at the same time quashing any continuity in policy(ies). You better believe that other countries are watching this all unfold.

Meanwhile terrorists/religious zealots seem to roam the world at will, undeterred in their ultimate goal to establish an Islamic caliphate, or state.  For some reason many still fail to understand that they have no respect for man made borders and that you cannot deal with them in that respect. They see the world as being run by infidels and they won't be satisfied till they are wiped out. I still maintain that we have to slow or stop the trade and sale of weapons before any progress can be made. Surely a government of a fairly large country must be involved; because the last time I checked the local convenience store didn't sell plastique or automatic weapons. 
Hopefully all of you will take at least a moment out of your busy lives and remember those we lost in the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Please also keep in mind our brave men and women who have given so much since that day.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


When you work out in the middle of nowhere, oft times down a dusty gravel/caliche road, it's sometimes hard to keep up appearances. All of us are guilty (including me) of looking a little disheveled now and again. Some guard companies have addressed this by issuing and requiring uniforms or setting certain personal appearance standards. Vests are a universal requirement, both for safety and appearance. As the winter Texans roll in and the number of gate opportunities dwindle, it behooves all of us to take a little personal inventory. If it helps, imagine you're a person going through a gate and encountering a gate guard. Does your appearance engender an aura of authority and professionalism? After dealing with hundreds of oil field workers of all types and appearances it is easy to fall into a sense of complacency. You should NEVER forget that you are also a security guard and that you have a responsibility to protect life and property under your charge. Look, I'm not your parent (nor do I wish to be LOL), but it is apparent some of you need a wake up call. It never hurts to take a little pride in your appearance. It might even improve your attitude and serve to jerk you out of the doldrums that come over all of us at one time or another. You might be surprised how much a difference it makes when it comes to both placement and longevity with a gate guard company.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Seasons in the Oil Patch

We definitely don't have the traditional seasons in the oil patch. Every once in a while Mother Nature can show her capricious side and you'll get a wintry mix all the way down to Laredo. You may see snow flurries, but I've never seen a coating of snow. Suffice it to say that, even in deep winter, we rarely use the big on board propane heater-space heaters work fine. Having heat pumps on board and/or electric heater strips in your air conditioner can also be a plus. Since electricity is part of our pay package it's a no-brainer. You should; however, make space for a winter outfit or two. A long, cold night on a gate in the rain and sleet will quickly convince you of that. More common are the thunderstorms that normally signify the onslaught of hell; or the South Texas summer, and the break of the grip of the heat, usually in mid September. Unfortunately, we are in the confluence of several weather factors in South Texas, so anything can and will happen. We have Gulf moisture, the winds off the mountains just South of the border, the Pacific Ocean and Baja California weather, whatever the Rocky mountains can throw at us, plus the jet stream! What that all means is that we can and do get thunderstorms, heavy rain and extreme wind events. Tornados are rare, but straight line winds of over 70 mph are a fairly common occurrence. A few gate guards have had their rigs damaged and even totaled from these events. Some brave souls strap their awnings down and ride out most of the weather. The rest of us rarely put our awnings out and, instead, buy a cheap pop up like an EZ Up. If you're a winter Texan, it makes your packing fairly easy. As I said previously, a couple of full winter outfits will get you through the winter. Some long underwear and hoodies or sweatshirts should cover the rest of the time. Although it can be difficult, even I have to occasionally give up my clogs for the winter. A pair of boots and mud boots are also a great idea. Don't forget a light pair of gloves to keep those fingers warm!
The other seasons we have in the oil patch are of man's doing. After you spend a little time down here, you will notice a rhythm in regards to how things are done. January though April the drilling and fracking plod along, picking up speed and quantity when the budgets start pouring money in for the fiscal year. May through August things are pretty busy which also coincides with a shortage of guards since the Winter Texans are gone. However, the seemingly unorganized chaos of a few years ago has eased quite a bit, lessening the demand for guards in the summer. September; especially Labor Day, signals the return of the winter Texans. Every year the best time to arrive for winter work seems to slide back. While school starting and other obligations dictate arrival times, it is always better to be early. The last couple of years have been challenging for winter gate guards (and gate guards in general) in regards to gate placement. The demand just isn't there and the end of the fiscal year budget constraints have a direct impact on contractors. Add in the hunting season and you inevitably end up having folks sitting around. And, yes, they do shut down drilling and fracking for hunting season. Traffic is also restricted and some gates are even shut down. If ever there was an impetus to do a professional job and make a good impression, it is winter in the oil patch. Quality guards are coveted and rarely find themselves without work. Keep all this in mind and come prepared and you can have a pretty uneventful time in the oil patch.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sad State of Affairs

Perhaps most telling of where we are with race relations today is my reticence in writing about such matters. Expressing your views or engaging in dialog with other races makes most of us uneasy. Basically I feel if I speak my peace I will alienate and anger someone out there. And that, in a nutshell, is why we're not going to ever get along. A lot of blacks or African Americans appear to feel that they are repressed, treated unequally and not allowed the opportunities afforded the rest of us. Regardless, we keep having these incidents and subsequent cries of protest. In almost every instance there are underlying and eerily similar circumstances. I AM NOT TAKING SIDES HERE! In New York and Ferguson, both suspects refused to obey the instructions/commands of the officers. Let me ask you, "Would you or I not do what an officer instructed us to do in the vast majority of instances?" At least one of the suspects had run afoul of the law, the suspect in New York at least thirty times. The suspect in Ferguson; clean record not withstanding, refused to obey the officers instructions/commands and even struggled with the officer. Unbeknownst to the officer in Ferguson, a person strikingly similar in appearance to the suspect was caught in a security video robbing a store just minutes before the fatal confrontation. Cigars gathered after the incident at the scene of the shooting were the same brand as those stolen earlier. I am not even going to begin to comment or argue about the justification for the use of deadly force. That despite the fact that I firmly believe that was not the intention of the officer in New York. I have often said that I could not be a police officer. Besides the fact that I wouldn't do the job for the pay, I also don't have the temperament needed. This is a tragic conundrum that we as a society need to address and work out. The police in Ferguson were faced with a difficult set of circumstances. You cannot allow folks to run amuck in the streets, no matter the perceived justification. As it turns out almost everyone agrees that the majority of the protesters are outsiders. And who else is seen at almost every one of these tragic incidents? In my opinion all Al Sharpton and his ilk do is ratchet up the tension and bring unneeded publicity to these incidents. Then the President thought it necessary to get involved. How ironic that we usually find him at the golf course or at a fundraiser when his leadership is sorely needed. It is telling that the temporary solution to the situation was to remove the local police from responsibility for the security and policing of Ferguson. Now the black saviour (why did he need to be black, by the way?) from the State Police has been shown incapable of mollifying the malcontents and the Governor has called in the National Guard. A telling video interview of one of the family of Michael Brown, showed an intelligent, knowledgeable man both embarrassed and out of patience with the rioters and looters. This while he helped cleanup the damage inflicted on a grocery store in Ferguson. Folks, this is not about race. This is about a small percentage of the population that continues to roil and foment an easily angered black community. Ne'er do wells looking for a place to spew their vitriol and opportunists looking for an easy score. And, I suppose, there are some socio and psycho paths that derive pleasure from being involved in social upheaval. As I have said before, very few of us aren't of mixed race. More than likely some of my dear readers have African American blood coursing through their veins. You think about that.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Clear as Mud

The question of licensing requirements in regards to operating an RV seems to come up periodically. In fact there was a post on a Facebook page today and I had been looking into it because I was wondering if I could use a semi tractor to tow my 5th wheel. The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) is responsible for overseeing commercial vehicle operation. Like any other federal department it is rife with innuendo and bloated, confusing regulations/rules. Further confusing the issue is that each state is responsible for the enforcement and interpretation of the rules. It would greatly simplify things if the FMCSA would issue a rule exempting vehicles used for recreational purposes from its oversight. That is not the case  and, since the states are responsible for enforcement, the law/rule varies. Further compounding the problem are ignorant law enforcement and DMV personnel. While we're on that, NEVER accept the word of someone from the DMV without double checking it. Laws and rules are subject to interpretation and they are human, after all. As a trucker I lived a life of confusion and frustration trying to comply with laws that varied from state to state while operating under federal rules. CDL's or commercial driver licenses are issued for folks who operate vehicles weighing 26,000 pounds and over (combined or total weight). Commercial adds to the confusion as the requirement for the license is weight based. Most CDL's also have endorsements to cover the wide variety of commercial vehicles; such as tankers, air brakes, doubles and passengers. Some states also have varieties of their "regular" licenses. such as a "B" that are issued for Recreational Vehicle operation. So, the final answer and/or determination of whether you need a special license to operate your RV remains murky. You should seek out someone very knowledgeable in the DMV to get a straight answer. Basically, the vast majority of recreational drivers will never have to worry about it. If you are operating one of those monster Class A diesel pushers, I would make some inquiries. Finally, it is my opinion that some sort of CLEAR regulation should exist in regards to RV's. At the very least you should be required to go through some sort of training or a course should be available for neophytes in the RV world. No one should be able to hop into a 40 foot motorhome or 5th wheel combination and drive on public roads without some sort of familiarization. After years of over the road trucking experience I was fairly confident operating a diesel pusher. When we converted to a 5ver I was (and am) very uncomfortable with the whole hitching procedure and operation of the combination. Perhaps we are safer due to my uncomfortableness, as I am constantly checking the connection and other things. Think about that.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Too Good to be True

There is an adage that states, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is". After close to three years in the oil patch I can't even begin to count the times that we have been told that the job we were being offered was a "piece of cake" or "a walk in the park" or "easy pee zee" - you get the idea. The next thing we knew we were in a living hell. In life I believe that if you stoically accept the inevitable difficulties or challenges that come along you will eventually be rewarded. It may not seem to always happen and it most likely won't be the easiest path to take. I have found that to be especially true as a contractor in the oil patch. We all know that this is not the easiest of ways to make money as a workamper/contractor. I've pointed out how a lot of contractors are viewed as an expendable commodity, basically a tool to be used as needed. So the question becomes how to make yourself stand out and be more valuable to the guard company that you contract out to. Ironically, one of the best ways is to remain unnoticed. Virtually nothing is more appreciated than a guard who can fend for himself and not pester the guard/security company with frivolous calls. Almost as important is to accept the initial gate or job that is offered, unless given a choice. Placing unreasonable demands on the guard/security company is a quick way to find yourself sitting and waiting. While I'm on that; making you wait is oft times the subtle way a guard/security company lets you know that your antics are not appreciated. In today's litigious environment it is also a way for them to tell you to hit the road; something to keep in mind. If you simply "cowboy (or cowgirl) up" and do these things you should eventually reap the rewards for your effort(s). I know a lot of you may reading this with a healthy dose of skepticism. I even wrestled with it and mentioned it in a blog or two. By making ourselves available, accepting every challenge that came along and keeping complaints down; we found ourselves going from one crappy gate to another. We became the "go to" couple for every nightmare gate you can imagine. Hey!, I never said that it would be easy. The adage that there is an exception to every rule applies here to. A lot of times the folks with the shiny shoes and ties have no idea what your daily struggle is all about. Trying to maintain a balance by knowing when and how to voice your discontent is perhaps the hardest thing to do. Maintaining a healthy, open line(s) of communication is a good first step. After several fracks in a row or a gate or two with high traffic counts, you might want to politely mention something. No one said you had to be a doormat. This is one of those times where the difficult decision to move on is sometimes mulled over. Yet another adage comes to mind; "that's why our homes have wheels". You don't want to start a precedent of moving from one company to another; but sometimes it is the only way to affect change or better yourself. After many challenging gates we started to get an occasional "atta boy" or two from our employer. The exploration, pipeline and drilling companies started requesting us on gates and efforts were made to retain us with financial perks, paid sites between gates and  a choice of assignments. Now we find ourselves on a pipeline gate with little or no traffic. That has opened the door for one of us to take on extra work, essentially doubling our pay. It hasn't been easy and it didn't happen overnight; but it certainly has been worth the wait.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

In the gate guarding world you will normally live a pretty nomadic life, changing gates and location fairly often. There are a few guards who have a found a long term place to "roost"; but they seem to be the exception. We have had our fair share of gates and; like Forrest Gump said, they were like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. We learned over time how to get a pad expanded and leveled or to get more rock brought in. It's surprising what you can do with a little bargaining and patience. We have also had to accept a wide spot on the side of the road, bereft of any improvement at all. Currently we find ourselves making very good money, but the nearest grocery store is almost fifty miles away. Additionally our gate is located over nine miles down a dusty, teeth rattling road. Our worst gate, by far, was near a power plant. We were on the side of a dusty gravel road which was adjacent to a haul road, which was used by giant dump trucks to haul coal to the plant. The dust rarely settled and the surrounding air was thick and opaque with it, making it difficult to breath. I wore a mask (Missy feels they are too confining) and drank copious amounts of water to get through a shift. Every once in a while the power plant company would send a water truck down the road, but the relief rarely lasted. How odd that from there we ended up at one of the best gates we ever had. We were just outside of Gonzales, about a mile and a half down a smooth gravel road. We had no pad, but we were parked on a flat, smooth and treed grassy meadow-a rare thing in the gate guarding world. It almost seems that there is always a trade off. Major bucks equals a busy, dusty gate; probably miles from civilization. Which is precisely why we try to contract out for as much money as possible. I don't know how many times I have passed by a gate, just down the road from ours, where a guard was making half of what we were. We have also worked gates that we didn't think were worth the money offered. Whether you consider varied, temporary assignments as a plus or a negative, you still have to deal with it as a gate guard. The places you park your rig will vary from a grassy meadow to a mud pit that will try your soul. It won't take long for you to know when you have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. If you haven't, it's only a matter of time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Preparedness for the Road

Sometimes I hesitate a bit when writing about the care and maintenance of the RVs that I and a lot of my acquaintances live and sometimes work out of. I don't want to come across as some haughty know it all. As some of my dear readers know, I am a licensed aircraft mechanic and have had tools in my hand for as long as I can remember. Additionally I went to my fathers mechanic "school" where I learned most, if not all of my basic mechanical knowledge.
A lot of the misfortune on the road can be traced back to the owner of the rig. Here are just a few examples that are sometimes overlooked.
All RVs are sensitive to weight and tire pressure. You should endeavor to weigh your rig (fully loaded) before heading anywhere. The gross weight of your rig is the determining factor in the amount of air that should be in your tires. There should be a data plate, manual or some reference you can use to verify the cold tire pressure of your particular rig. Incorrect tire pressure causes a lot of tire failures. Here is a tip. Most manufacturers err on the side of caution, so you should not have to sacrifice ride comfort to conform to posted tire pressure recommendations. It has been my experience that five pounds either direction will not overly tax the tire. If you have any doubts, consult a tire shop knowledgeable about RVs or talk to the manufacturer. If you are still in doubt, go by the inflation suggestions on the tire side wall.
If, despite your best efforts, you suffer a blowout you need to be prepared. The majority of Class A owners will have to call a road service. The tires and wheels are of semi truck size and weight, preventing the owner from performing a tire change. You should check your spare's condition and inflation pressure regularly. Additionally, I recommend an emergency road service club of some kind-it will pay for itself over time. If you're in a tow behind or 5ver you should be able to change the tire yourself. I'm not as strong as I used to be and suffer from heart disease; however, with Missy's help, I can change the tires on our 5ver. More than likely you will not find a jack or lug wrench in your RV; so make sure you buy them. If your trailer is a dual axle you can improvise by cobbling together a ramp to run up on and raise the flat tire for change. You can also buy a ramp which is available on Amazon and at other retailers.

Both RVs with their engines buried in the rear and your tow vehicle suffer from hard use. The RV is especially problematic since most vital components are buried in the back, typically beneath a small access panel. PAY A MECHANIC IF YOU CAN'T OR DON'T WANT TO PERFORM SOME OR ALL OF THESE SUGGESTIONS. Let me insert a quick tip to you noobs out there along with new or first time Class A pushers and tow vehicles. If the maintenance records are lacking or non existent, change all the fluids, including fuel and water separators (where applicable). Also have a mechanic do a once over of the engine and drivetrain, paying special attention to the hoses, belts and clamps. I recommend that any hoses or belts over two years old or that you have any question about be changed. A lot of Class A's (especially diesels) have air dryers which are designed to remove the moisture caused by condensation from the air lines. These dryers have filters and cartridges that need to be changed periodically and they tend to get forgotten. Lest you think that is not important, remember that a lot of diesel pushers rely on the air for brakes and suspension. Another often neglected task is to regularly inspect your fuel filters and drain the water separators. When we owned a diesel pusher we kept spare fuel filters and separators along with a filter wrench onboard. Typically, most RV owners fail to accrue any significant miles on an annual basis. This raises the question of when to perform periodic maintenance which a lot of times is based on mileage (usually 5000 to 7500 miles for gas rigs and 10,000 to 15,000 for diesels). The simple answer is to set a date and change the oil and other fluids, regardless of the mileage, every twelve months. Refer to your manufacturer recommendations otherwise.

I regularly hear reports of folks who have broke down on the road and found themselves stranded. You can add us to that list. A good road service is invaluable. You can lessen your chances of being one of those by performing periodic maintenance on a regular basis.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Incompetence, Questionable Privacy Concerns and MS13 Mastering the System

If you've still have doubts of at least someone in the Obama administration being complicit in the current Mexican border crisis, just look around at  I don't know about you, but I doubt anyone is that prescient.
 Mayors and city officials throughout the United States are awakening to find tens of hundreds of illegal, unaccompanied minors housed in their municipalities. Cries of protest have been countered by the Obama administration, citing privacy concerns for the minors trumped notifying the cities in question. I can't make this up folks.

Finally; and this is scary, it turns out that a lot of the unaccompanied minors are gang members. Please tell me you are not surprised. Not only are they gang members, they are members of MS13, a group that has proliferated throughout the country. Identifying them has not been difficult, as they are proud of their affiliation, sport distinctive tattoos and regale anyone who will listen of their bloody exploits. Frustrated officials tell of encounters with stone cold murderers and their inability to do anything due to their minor status.

All around the world we continue to find countries ruled by terrorist organizations. Hamas and Gaza come to mind, for one. Are we that far away from having cartel's rule and run countries just south of us? Call it a stretch, but groups like MS13 have me wondering if that fate won't befall us sooner than later. You think about that.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

In Memoriam

We lost James Garner (one of my faves), Elaine Stritch (consummate star of stage and film) and Johnny Winter this week. May they rest in peace.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sounds of Silence

After the shoot down and murder of almost three hundred innocent passengers and crew on a Malaysia Air 777, I was too stunned to write or say anything. Unfortunately, it's happened before, with the aggressor at least taking some responsibility. I think a variety of things have me wrangling over this incident. I'm trying to understand what it takes to gets folks riled these days. The mass murder of children seems to still do it; but all the rhetoric resulted in little or no change in regards to safety in schools. The day of this latest tragedy all the powers to be paraded on the media expressing outrage and indignation. All of this concern for the preservation of the crash scene and recovery of the black boxes will be for naught. All the voice and data recorders and debris will tell us is when and where this doomed flight met its end. We already know most of the useful information that can be gleaned from it. The most important goal should be finding and prosecuting those responsible. Unless something extraordinary occurs and the world is offered a "sacrificial lamb", I fear that will never happen. I have long said that all the rhetoric and goodwill in the universe will not result in peace as long as your average "Joe blow" has access to instruments of mass (and indiscriminate) murder. We are seeing and experiencing what should be a "wake up call";  weapons capable of raining unimaginable death and destruction in the hands of zealots and radicals. I have known some shady characters and never have been offered a machine gun or plastic explosive(s). I have no idea how to get the genie back in the bottle. The news last night finished with a poignant overview of the missile system that purportedly took down the Malaysian Air jetliner. It showed how the operator is ensconced inside the vehicle with no view to the outer world; simply a radar screen and some switches and buttons. Death and destruction at the flip of a switch; indiscriminate and without remorse.  There are at least forty conflicts currently in progress in the world today. Like a forest fire I see it eventually spreading and us getting caught up in the conflagration. Like a lot of you out there, I'm not sure how to express my outrage. But I refuse to be silent-hopefully this blog expresses that.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

An Adjustment in Lifestyle

Our boss has always been more than fair with us. We have taken exception to his management style on occasion, but all in all we have had a pretty good relationship for over two years. As some of you know we have ventured off a time or two, but we always seem to end up back at J&G. Our return to the fold this time was problematic, to say the least. We had two false starts and an extremely short emergency call out. All along, Justin (our boss) assured us he would make it up to us. In fact, after the second false start, we were given travel money and a paid stay at an RV park. Perhaps you can see why we find it hard to find fault with J&G.
We have finally landed at what will hopefully be a fairly long term gate. It is not your traditional oil gate, although there are wells and facilities here. There is also a guard on the main gate who controls that traffic and will also be allowing our traffic in. Our traffic will be for the construction of a pipeline. There are a lot of benefits to having someone else opening and closing the gate, plus the pipeline does not have near the traffic of an oil gate. The pipeline also rarely works at night and usually has at least one weekend day off. It has been and is quite an adjustment.
With the time we have at hand, our boss suggested that we work some of the pipeline's ancillary gates, which would help him and supplement our income. That "day or two a week" job morphed into an opportunity for Missy to oversee the "day gates" (essentially gate openers on private land, most of whom also have to record their traffic) and the night watchman position.  Someone had to ensure the gates were covered, people were in place, those people got paid, etc. Someone also had to be available to liaise with the company representative. That all became too much for both Justin and our field manager (J&G also has a flourishing oil gate business, in case you forgot); hence the offer to Missy. So much for all our free time; but the devil loves idle hands-right? We still have nights and Sunday together. We are also making a ton of money, since we have more than doubled our income-the most we have ever made in the patch.
So, here we are, back on a gate (or close to one) and working in the oil patch. As I have said in past posts, we have been unable to find employment as fulltimers that pays as much as the oil patch. To be able to make that money without monitoring a gate or having to deal with fracs or drilling will require an adjustment in lifestyle. You'll have to pardon us if we do it with a smile on our faces.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Preparedness and Peace of Mind

I know most of us have discussed in one form or another the things needed to perform the duties of a gate guard. Even so, I continue to get questions and continue to share my thoughts on the subject. Today we were placed on a gate and; oddly enough, as we wound down this seeming endless caliche road, my phone rang. It was the service person in front of us and he half seriously queried whether we had stocked up on groceries, given the distance we had covered. When an experienced person makes a comment like that, you know you're in the boonies. I replied that we were indeed prepared and had at least a weeks worth of groceries and more on board. I didn't even have to think about it. If we are not going on time off and have a day or two between gates we always shop and prepare ourselves in case we get "the call". It's second nature. We shop, we clean and we relax. We try to eat healthy; but that can be difficult, given the distance we sometimes are from stores and fresh food. Some guards buy in bulk, some buy freezers and stock up, some buy prepackaged/dehydrated foods; the options are endless. We like the meals in a box and have a small freezer we lug around. All the equipment in the world is not going to help slake your thirst or quell your appetite. Just as a quick example, we always go to a gate with a case of water, a five gallon jug of water, a variety of juices and teas, fresh bread (we sometimes make our own), a wide variety of canned goods, frozen dinners and vegetables, snacks, dairy products-including milk, and boxed meals. (Don't forget the PB&J LOL) We stretch the on board foodstuffs by occasionally purchasing fresh goods, including something to put into the smoker. We then split that into several meals. We rarely go into town between paydays or every two weeks or so. It's a lifestyle and it requires discipline to implement. Once you are forced to do without or travel 100 miles or more to get to the market and back, you'll start to figure it out. After a while it will become second nature and you to will have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are prepared.