Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Rigors (and rewards) of Gate Guarding Revisited

Sometimes I overestimate the reach of this blog. However smarmy it may sound, I truly hope that some of the things I espouse and write about get noticed: and hopefully inform and help others. That is the main reason I publish this blog. Having said that, I would hope that my dear readers feel free to cut and paste (or spread by any means) anything they find helpful and informative.
Before I get into what has gotten my interest peaked; let me say that my information is just as much anecdotal as factual. In most cases I wasn't there, nor did I experience some of the things the folks I am writing about did.
I have tried to, as factually as possible, describe the opportunity that gate guarding provides. Along the way I have written several blogs (and an untold number of postings) about both the good and bad it entails. At the risk of repeating myself, let me try to make some things clear. Gate guarding is not for everyone; however obvious that may sound. Until recently, most opportunities required a couple to park on a usually remote gate and one of them to be there 24 hours a day. So; hurdle one is - are you an RV'er and can you stand to live in close quarters with someone for an extended period of time? Another direct facet of this is the guards mechanical ability and knowledge of their rig(s). Finding a honest, knowledgeable and reliable RV mechanic in the oil patch is very difficult. The best way I can describe preparing your RV for the rigors of gate guarding is to treat it like you were going on an expedition to some remote outpost. All the basics need to be covered. Strong and fresh batteries, recently replaced and/or checked belts, hoses and tires along with a thorough and complete PM (oil change, lube and fluid top off). While I'm discussing preparation, you should have some cash and plenty of potable water with you. Also, try to find the time and wherewithal to get to the closest Walmart or grocery store and stock up. If that hasn't dissuaded you, let me now prepare you for what you may encounter. Bugs of every type and size imaginable will eventually get into every nook and cranny of your rig. Even though we just broke a historic drought, dust will be your constant companion; also finding its way into every nook and cranny of your rig. And; even though a lot of the patch is in a desert clime, it can and does rain. The resulting mud and muck can be debilitating. Just when you thought you were in the desert southwest, you can encounter sleet and freezing precipitation. The inclement weather seems to have the uncanny ability to strike at the most inopportune moments, trying both your patience and willpower. Depending on the security company you sign up with, you may and probably will get some crappy assignments at first. Short term and remote may be the order of the day. Even after years out here we occasionally get a zinger of a gate which tests our meddle. Overall, I have to say we have been rewarded with some plum assignments as our experience has grown.

As much as I and others have tried to forewarn candidates about the rigors and rewards of gate guarding, we still get folks who can't hack it. We have had candidates simply disappear in the rear view mirror of their escort as they headed for a gate. We have had folks simply drive off and abandon a gate. There have even been excuses as inane as not being able to cope with the mud and/or mosquitoes; or the infamous guard who asked to be moved or relieved in hopes of getting better cell phone or satellite reception. I implore you to give it at least a day or two and think things over. Give your security company the opportunity to find and get a replacement in place. Remember, if the room and environment allow, the departing guard should be off the pad and ready to depart when his or her replacement arrives. It has been our experience that very few opportunities exist for fulltimers that pay as well as gate guarding. Whenever we find our motivation or desire lacking, we think about the money. It's as simple as that.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Shortage of Gate Guards?

Don't look now; but summer is upon us. One of the things that that has traditionally meant; along with the heat, is a shortage of guards. Most winter Texans have headed North or are planning on leaving soon. One of the things I was looking for; after the fall of oil prices and over abundance of guards last winter, was whether we would see the traditional shortage of guards come summer. It appears that we indeed need guards to fill openings throughout South Texas! Now, if we could just stem the flow of candidates coming south around Labor day. While I believe it won't make a lot of people happy, oil seems to have leveled off at around $60 a barrel. Companies are adjusting, the glut has subsided and demand is rising. There are those that think $100 a barrel is in the realm of possibility. I disagree, but remain hopeful. It may do those that avoid the heat to reconsider and try summer gate guarding anyway. Use the money to hunker down in the winter where the weather is somewhat moderate.

Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season

Although it's a longshot, hurricanes can and do make it into the Gulf of Mexico and affect Texas cities and towns. While we haven't had a hurricane yet, we have had more than its equal in rain, hail and tornados. Jimmy Buffet wrote a song about how a lot of Floridians (and others) deal with it; hence the title of this posting. The only thing I might directly attribute to climate change is the wild swings and duration of some weather phenomenon. Even then, I feel a lot of what we are experiencing is cyclical in nature. I think it might do everyone more than a little good to look back over an extended period of time when trying to reconcile the weather we are currently experiencing. Droughts have come and gone, monsoons used to be a seasonal occurrence in the desert southwest and hurricanes come and go; both in severity and quantity. And that's just to mention a little of the wild things weather and mother nature can throw at us. Even now, the phenomenon known as El Nino is building in the Pacific and promises to wet the parched western United States. Why stricter water conservation measures haven't been imposed remains a mystery to me; but that's a different story. I vividly remember traveling through the south, not too long ago, and thinking the lakes and rivers might never recover from a multi year drought. Spring in the Midwest has traditionally meant rain and wild weather. Mother nature just hasn't seen fit to share that with Texas the last few years; especially south Texas. When that power greater than us all decides to turn on the tap, I'm not convinced it realizes the full power it can unleash. In it's effort to refill our reservoirs and right what's meteorologically wrong, it can sometimes sadly cause untold death and destruction. Fortunately, people are resilient, and they will prevail. I try to remember that as we prepare for another facet of the recent rains; the flooding that will come as water flows downstream and looks for a place to go. We are about a half mile as the crow flies from the nearest river and have been told to prepare to evacuate. We are not panicking and even using the opportunity to clean up and organize our "stuff". We have had guards forced to evacuate already, some reportedly having to abandon their RV's. So, in an abundance of caution (and to obey and pay heed to our exploration company's wishes) we have and are prepared to go. The latest weather predictions seem to bode well; so I don't think we'll be taking advantage of having a home on wheels.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Resigned to our Fate

I grew up believing the ethos that the man should be both the provider and protector of the home. When you fulltime in an RV there isn't much you can do when you get hit by a violent storm; especially when you work out of it in the middle of nowhere. On the surface I try to remain cool, calm and collected. The problem is that it has happened before and I know, no matter how I rack my brain, there is nowhere for us to go or hide. I guess we have been fortunate that, in the years that we have done oil field security work, we have never suffered any major damage. This year has me frazzled, as we are coming out of a major drought with a vengeance. This is the first time we have had our possessions tossed about by the wind and the mud and flooding is as bad or worse than ever. Hopefully, someone will eventually figure out how to incorporate a "safe room" in an RV. In the meantime; I will remain stoic and pray that nothing catastrophic will happen.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What a long, strange trip it's been

After years in the patch; I've been doing some reflecting. Like a lot of other gate guards we weren't sure how long this gig might last or how long we might stay. The horror stories we had heard about the South Texas heat were somewhat exaggerated; although it does occasionally get uncomfortably hot. The stories about the dust and mud were true; especially the dust getting into every nook and cranny of the RV. I think we were preconditioned by the struggle we had undergone trying to survive by workamping. Anything that promised decent wages appealed to us. We pulled into the Gate Guard Services yard with less than fifty bucks between us. Time management is the key to survival as a gate guard as far as we are concerned. We can only do this job for so long before a break is needed. We know better than to let ourselves get burned out. Either way, we still have folks that can't even make a week down here. Right now, finances and future plans only allow us to take an extended period of time off about once a year. The grand plan is to rotate out of Texas during those hot summer months and gate guard during the winter. As a lot of my dear readers know, that is all dependent on how well oil prices rebound and the general health of the economy. It has been a tense, worrisome period in the patch since oil prices plummeted. Regardless, we are well liked and respected and plan to remain in gate guarding till my health fails and/or we're shown the door.
Along the way, during this journey, we have found out a lot about ourselves, tested our mettle and learned a ton of things. To me, the main thing that thwarts the success of many a gate guard is the realization that (in most cases) one of them must be on site at all times. After all this time, we still revel in the novelty of being able to go out together. Even being in the same vehicle together is a simple pleasure. Some folks just cannot abide not being able to enjoy simple things together. Add in split shifts and not sleeping together and you have the potential for disaster. We have a credo "think about the money". For the most part we are paid a tremendous amount of money for what we do. I like to say all things in life are like a circle. This has had special meaning in our work as gate guards. We have suffered tremendously on some of the most challenging gates you can imagine. I won't bore you with details; but we have been richly rewarded for our efforts. For almost a year we have been working pipeline and construction gates. Compared to a frack, this is like a walk in the park. We have little or no night traffic and weekends are very light. Traffic is so light that it allows one of us to take on relief work and twelve hour gates, greatly padding our income. Those of you that turned your back on this kind of work after they led you down a bumpy caliche road, out in the middle of nowhere, might want to think about that, 
You know you have been in the patch for a while when you recognize and have been to places like Carrizo Springs, Los Angeles (no. not that one silly) Christine, Cotulla and Gonzales. If some one asks us to meet them at the courthouse in Tilden we don't need directions. You know it's been a long strange trip when someone says; "Take I 410 to 16, go through Poteet and Jourdanton, and turn right on CR 140 and go 2 miles and we'll meet you", and you immediately know where to go.