Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Not So Haunted House, Oilfield Time, And Wedding Dress Ruffles

The curse of Miriam continued on to the end of my hitch. My flights home were both delayed and I was starting to consider human sacrifice to appease the gods of the oilfield. However, I made it safely home even with the drunk and disorderly conduct of the man sitting in front of me who made in flight phone calls yet somehow was still served more alcohol and never had his phone confiscated. He was amusing when he couldn't tell that the plane was still in the air and he kept emphatically yelling about how smooth the landing had been. Other than that, my flights were uneventful. I was just saying a few days ago that I'd never had my credit card or account number stolen. Ironically, my account had been stolen a few days previously. Which racked me up well over a thousand dollars dollars in charges and fees. I discovered this fun fact the same day I discovered there was an issue with my paycheck and I had only about half of it in my account. It was the perfect ending to this cursed hitch.  Luckily it's over, I managed to not get sick, and now I'm enjoying some off time.

I planned on grabbing lunch with some of the guys in Anchorage during my layover there on my way from the slope to Washington . It was at this point that I was nearly tricked into going to the strip club. If not for the fact it was not open that early in the day, I wouldn't have seen it coming. Earlier in the week, I sent out a group text to a few friends about meeting up for lunch, asking for suggestions. And since I don't know Anchorage well, they sent back a few strip club names. Me being the sometimes gullible and oblivious person that I am, didn't catch on that they were joking with me. Instead I just agreed that, "Sure, the Bush Company sounds fine." No one confessed the fact this was a strip club until I had already been picked up from the airport. These are the perils of working in the oil field, you meet such nice people. But I have to give it to them, they flawlessly pulled off the trick without so much as a smile to give themselves away.

Sadly, the new house is likely not haunted. If any house would be haunted it would be this one; 100 years old with the funeral home in the backyard and the black cat that appears often on the property. We even have a creepy attic door in the office that I have yet to venture towards. But generally the deer are the only visitors.

Roxi was very concerned about these intruders. They were not impressed with her ferocity. Also note, the building in the back right corner behind the car, that's the funeral home. 

Travis's new theory to explain the lack of haunting is that the townsfolk are immortal. Apparently no one has been at the funeral home the entire time we have lived here. And he claims statistically speaking, we should have about one death a month. But maybe the immortality will wear off on us. While the non haunted house has been a disappointment for me, I have made one exciting discovery. I found Bigfoot hair. It was on display in the local secondhand shop and apparently found nearby in 2012. The one disappointment; it is not for sale. I'll have to keep looking for my own.

Speaks for itself.

Other than immortality, the people here have been very friendly.  I only met one odd man who seemed to think we were all turning into cyborgs because of smart phones and we were being spied on by the government through our contact lenses. We have attended a "new grass" (apparently the genre for newer blue grass music) concert at the local brewery already, Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys, a band from Michigan.  They were really good and entertaining, I was totally impressed. We bought several of their CD's and found a song we might use in our wedding.

Now that I'm home, I have unpacked the rest of our stuff in the new house and discovered the movers did an impressive job. Impressively odd that is. Somehow they did the packing in the most random/disorganized order I have ever seen. They packed everything, including all the things we thought they would refuse. The one last bottle of unfinished bottle of alcohol was packed with the spices. I found my shotgun ammo in a box with my Harry Potter books. The kitchen magnets ended up with the bathroom things. The legs to our couch disappeared entirely but we somehow ended up with the legs to a chair owned by our previous land lady. The couch thing is almost an improvement at least. So last year we bought our first couch.  I fell for the sale couch trick, it was incredibly cheap since there was a three inch barely noticeable rip on the back. We decided we could overlook the fact it didn't have any arms. Lesson learned. By the time we got it home (the memorable six hour drive from Anchorage where we managed to fit the couch, six chairs, and a dining room table into the Trailblazer), it had a noticeable tilt from the snapped board on the underside that must have happened in transit. It is the most uncomfortable couch in existence. Which was weird because it was wonderfully comfortable for about a month. But now without its legs, it sits flat and almost feels like it provides more back support, I do thank the movers for that one.

The couch I detest, its lack of arms and legs makes it rather useless as a couch. 
The scariest thing I found was the propane tank we had next to the garbage in the arctic entry (luckily it was empty) that ended up in a box of office supplies. I found an empty tissue box, thank goodness we didn't forget that. And the coffee grounds were still in the coffee machine. But the house is coming together well now and we are getting all the life essentials together finally. Like I said, it was impressive. I finally have my coffee table and end tables. They are made out of old barrels and the we put a chalkboard top on the coffee table. The chalk paint works splendidly.

Painting the coffee table with chalkboard paint. An end table is in the back right corner, we put gold pans on the tops.
The chalkboard table works great! The spiral in the middle will soon become a cribbage board.

A new nerdy buy, a 200 mL flask.
I filled it with gold and silver colored gravel and sand.
Now it is a nerdy vase for dead flowers. Totally my style.

We also have an ancient washing machine named Thor who stands guard on the front porch. He came with the house, the owners were hoping not to have to move him, as they aren't sure its possible. The landlord used to repair washing machines. But luckily we think he's pretty cool. We do have a working newer washer and dryer inside though.

Thor, the beastly ancient guardian of the house.
Thor's handle, hence his name.

This weekend I'm getting my wedding dress!!! I'm starting to experience the weird health condition (mental condition?) caused by wedding planning. The condition that makes you irrationally worried about weird things and causes odd dreams. I dreamed the other night about having to develop wedding pictures with my mud lab rheometer. A combination of work and wedding nightmares. Travis dreamed about finding all the wedding invitations returned to our mailbox. He's always the practical one. As of now, I am the only one who has fallen prey to irrational fears. Like this one about my dress. My wedding dress has layers of overlapping organza (it is a sheer fabric) ruffles, one layer is pleated, one layer is straight, and they repeat back and forth like that. During my initial dress fitting, I was told to steam the dress before I wear it, but to be careful not to straighten out the pleats. So I started to worry obsessively that sometime either in transit to Michigan for the wedding, or during the steaming process right before hand, the pleats in the ruffles were going to come out. My rational mind says, "Miriam, why are you even thinking about the pleats in the ruffle on your dress? It shipped from Colorado just fine. This is a little much in the worrying department, you sound kind of like a crazy person.What kind of strange sounding word is pleats anyway?" My irrational mind says, "The pleats are of utmost importance and your dress with 100% not work if you mess up those pleats, and everyone will notice and then mock your lack of ruffle pleats."  But we only have two months to go! Real time months, less than one month of off time. So I feel justified in getting a little crazy as time moves differently for me.

To explain, working in the oilfield is sometimes like working in a different dimension or a different suspended timezone. I have started calling it oilfield time. Since half of my months are spent on the slope, working most of the time, I don't get a lot of time during those two weeks to get home/wedding things done. Often, Travis and I can't talk much because we sleep and work opposite schedules. The same goes for friends and family. So my personal life and tasks get condensed into the two weeks I'm home. It makes my time fly by in odd chunks. And it means I have only four more weeks off until I am married. Just three before I fly to Michigan for the wedding. So really it stretches out the "Just two weeks!" type excitement out for twice as long. So I really should stop talking and get back to business. Three weeks to go!!!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bodily Function Truck Driver

From my scientific (ish) observation of the world, I have come to the conclusion that being held in isolation or near isolation in a small box will drive normal human beings completely bonkers. The prime example of this phenomena and focus of the following post is Bodily Function Truck Driver. Here on referred to by the acronym, BFTD.

I first met BFTD while on the first well I worked on. I believe it was even my first hitch. He started out normal enough, as truck drivers go. A little awkward maybe, but I put it down as a quirk of sitting in the truck cab alone all day. Can't exactly find fault in a guy for being awkward when you're engineer.

See how awkward I was? My parents claim I picked those glasses. I ddon't agree. Luckily, I'm wearing a neon pink hat so you can't see the crooked bangs that go all the way to my ears. And my adorable little brother is almost blocking out the gaps in my teeth.

Yep, still awkward
Anyway, it was clear BFTD was trying to be nice, his execution just a bit. Then things begin to get weird. 

One he comes up to the lab for a chat about H2S. He wants to know what it is and how it's formed. Certain bacteria form it, Mr. BFTD. It is a byproduct of decomposing organic matter.

"So bacteria poop it out?"

"Well, I've never heard it put that way exactly, but sure."

Another time we called BFTD up to tell him we would be emptying a tank out to our cuttings box outside and he needed be ready to clean it out. BFTD seemed to have difficulty processing this.

"So it isn't going to trickle in steadily? It's just all going to be there at once?"

"Yep, the tank filled up, now we are going to empty it all to the box."

"Huh. So basically the rig has a bladder and now that it's filled up, it needs to pee?"

Silence for a few seconds while we process his thought process.

"Uhhhh....Yeah? I guess so..."

This is the point we dub him Bodily Function Truck Driver, because he relates everything a bodily function.

Eventually BFTD disappears and becomes just another story we tell around the rig. Until yesterday. I go to fill out a manifest to send a truck driver out for disposal. I hold normal conversation with this guy for a minute or two before it dawns on me. BFTD is back! I immediately run to tell my mud cohorts who he is and why he seemed familiar and spend the next minutes recalling ridiculous tales of BFTD wondering what he'll come with next.

Let this be a cautionary tale for those who think they prefer solitude the company of others. Don't be bodily function truck driver.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hold Onto Your Hardhat

This past work hitch has been awful. Even during the trip, all the little things that could go wrong, did go wrong. It was the first time I flew out from Washington. Side note...I realized that it now takes me three plane rides, a ferry ride, and a three hour car ride to commute to work. But back to the cursed hitch. Travis was driving his rental and I had the Trailblazer, the plan was for him to drop the rental off, then take the Trailblazer from me so he could head home. Naturally, the fog was so bad that I got lost for a while first. Then as I tried to go through security (The TSA lady was in a foul mood and was incredibly rude to me for no reason.) I heard over the loudspeakers, "Travis Howard, please return to (couldn't understand this word) to pick up lost items." So I called Travis, trying to figure out what he left behind and where it was. This delayed him for another hour as he drove back to the airport to collect his house keys from the rental car company. On my first flight, someone had apparently left gum in my seat. Of course I didn't discover this until I had gum all over my pillow and sweatshirt. So in my extremely short forty minute layover I had to go buy a new pillow and sweatshirt. By that point I was extremely disgruntled and frazzled.

Since I was thinking I would be working nights, I stayed awake through my overnight flights to try and adjust. However, upon arriving, I discovered I was working noon to midnight. So I braced myself for just stopping by camp and getting coffee before work instead of sleeping all day. Normally to get to camp, I have to drive past a checkpoint and scan my work badge. For background, we classify weather up here in three phases. Phase one being normal travel, phase two for travel only in convoys of multiple vehicles, and phase three for "Have fun being stuck at your current location." It must have turned to phase two during the few minutes I stopped at our mud plant and didn't have radio on me. So I was stopped at the checkpoint and not so nicely informed by security that I was missing a convoy and had to wait there. It took a good half hour before I found a convoy that took me as far as the camp across street from mine. I could see my camp but I couldn't get there. After more than an hour of phone calls, a convoy from the mud plant came get me. We tried to make it to my camp, but the roads were blocked by snow drifts. So we convoyed out to the Halliburton main camp. I hadn't slept more than two hours in more than a day and I was starting to hate my life. Or at least question my career choices. I borrowed a bed at the Halliburton camp for a few hours until the phase was over and then I swung by my normal camp before heading work.

Up until this point, work has been non-stop busy and chaotic. We finally have a break today but I odoubt it will last. My third day here may have taken the cake for worst day. I came out at noon (having had only one normal night of sleep thus far) and worked until midnight. At that time it looked like we would be cementing the casing for that section of hole within two three hours. So I stayed to watch that. Twelve hours later we were finally cementing. After that twenty four hour tour (oil slang for shift, it is pronounced, "tower" and I know it doesn't make sense), my fellow engineers took pity on me and let me sleep for sixteen hours.

In addition to all these things, I have been locked out of my room, broken a glass flask, and had evacuate the rig after a fire alarm went off. The wind has also been brutal. It will rip things out of your hands. And don't try and go outside without a firm grip on your hard hat or it will fly off. I dread the walk into the rig up three large flights of stairs. You can see exactly how far up you are through the grating and rails and the wind pushes you towards the edge of the rig before you turn the corner around to the rig. I'm afraid I will actually accomplish human flight soon. The black death has also invaded the slope. More accurately it should be described at the Spanish flu or something. But really, everyone is getting sick and I try not to go near anyone or touch anything that hasn't been disinfected the recent past.

We had another phase two earlier this week and I convoyed back to camp with the rig crew. It is a completely disorienting and eerie sensation to drive in total darkness but somehow still whiteout conditions. You can see just the taillights of the car in front of you and one or two side of the road markers. The road is curvy and you are trying to stay on it while snow is blowing across the road constantly. The movement makes to want to drive with it instead of perpendicular to it like you need to. It is almost like driving in midair because all you see is white, no differentiation between the road and the air.

The other terrifying event of the hitch...putting pesticide in the mud pits to ensure no hydrogen sulfide forms. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is the rotten egg smelly gas that forms when organic material is decomposing. It's lethal in relatively low concentrations and it's fast. So you want to make sure no bacteria can grow and create H2S. So I had to suit up in rubber apron and gloves, and put on a bulky face mask, all in addition to normal PPE like hard hat and coveralls, and go dump twice my body weight of this stuff in the mud pits. And even in the arctic I got overheated carting all the jugs around in three layers. And I had had enough of this ridiculous hitch by this point so I was solidly grumpy. I felt like Dexter the serial killer stomping around angrily with the giant wrench I was using to open containers. The rig hands thought it was hilarious to see me all worked up and angry for once.

I keep wanting to say, "At least it can't get worse," but I know that's asking for trouble. I just hope I can make it through a few more days. As my wise friend David once told me, "Sometimes life just gang rapes you. But it will get better soon."