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.