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.