It was Super Bowl Sunday and once again Lee let me change the schedule so I could watch the game. I was nervous about wearing my Patriots shirt in the heart of Texas but a couple of the guys actually talked to me about it and spoke with respect. Since there are some New England haters out there I thought I would take a moment to talk about my team.
We moved to New England in 2001. I was new to the area and new to the New England culture (which is quite different than the Midwest) but I did bring a love of football and an appreciation of the game. Since the New England games were always on in the area, I watched them and soon became a fan. Living right between the Bengals and the Browns I loved pro ball, but never had a team. I had the Ohio State Buckeyes of course, but at the pro level I always just appreciated good play. And I loved the underdogs. So in 2002 when this little known duo of Belichik and Brady won their first Super Bowl I was hooked.
It wasn’t even really Tom by the way, despite his good looks and amazing game play, it was Bill. He reminded me so much of my dad and his mantra of “Do Your Job” really spoke to me. Plus, to be honest, having a sports team to talk about when working in a male dominated industry is a good thing. So at first it was fitting in, then it was admiration, but the year the Brady broke his leg and the backup quarterback stepped in and they did so well, it was true respect. The same with this year. Say what you want about “Deflategate” but those coaches did a hell of a job with a 2nd and 3rd string QB that kept them in the running despite the 4 game suspension.
So I am really really happy they won. Not only won, but set so many records, first QB and Coach with 5 Superbowl wins, first game won in overtime, largest deficit (by far) overcome to win a Superbowl game. Plus it was great to see my favorite sportscaster Howie Long on the field with his son becoming only the fourth ever father/son team to both win a Superbowl. And when Tom knelt on the field at the end, I’ll be honest I had tears in my eyes. Because these players to me represent what makes this country great. Any given Sunday, anything can happen. Teams that shouldn’t win, do. Players get hurt or sidelined and unknowns step up and become stars. Grit, determination, and yes, pure love of the game can make all of the difference. And even if you “hate” a team you can admire their play. It is uniquely American and I love it. And I love the Patriots and am very proud to be a fan. (And for those of you who don’t care about football, or can take it or leave it, do yourself a big favor and take five minutes to enjoy this. – Lee)
I am writing this right after the win, so I’m on a little bit of a “high”. Thankfully things were pretty slow. Lee actually went to bed because he was tired and I thought the game was done and thankfully there weren’t many trucks so I only missed one of the two-point conversions. Yes, the world of oil drilling goes on, even during the Superbowl, although I have to wonder if they would have shut down for the night if Dallas was in the Superbowl!
It was quiet all night except for a black cat that was making one of the sensors go off. That’s a little unsettling, having the chime go off but not seeing what’s setting it off. I like cats and it occurred to me I could make friends with it, but then I realized that it would just hang around and keep setting off the alarms which is not a great idea. Frankly, I am surprised that a cat could live out here with all the large raptors and coyotes, but it is jet black so maybe that’s helping it.
– – Today started out as another pretty slow day and just to show that things can change quickly they did. Around 7:30pm we were handed a printed email from one of the company men that stated our old company man (who we liked very much) had moved onto another rig and he was our point of contact. The email stated that starting immediately ALL gates associated with this oil company were to be kept closed, and opened and closed for each vehicle. Well, that’s not good news. I keep it closed at night, at the request of the ranch owner, but the traffic is much lighter than in the daytime. Lee gets probably triple the amount of traffic I do and this will increase his task time significantly. (Right now when folks are already in the database it takes less than 30 seconds to check them in and you can usually do that while sitting under the awning which protects us from sun and rain. Going forward, the process will involve walking to the gate, unlocking, logging the vehicle into the tablet, opening the gate, waiting for them to drive through, then manually moving each piece of gate back to the center and clipping. This may not sound like a huge deal, but takes a very simple 30 second task and turns it into 90 second task, at minimum, and possibly longer. It may end up not being a big deal, we will have to see, but it kind of stinks to have things changed up when you have established a comfortable routine that works well. After checking around it’s probably the result of a new safety policy, but if that’s the case I actually feel less safe when I am standing right next to the gate when the big rigs go buy. Much better to flag them in from over by our rig. – – (We asked, but haven’t heard exactly what the point of this new rule is. To be clear, we do not make ANY decisions as to who comes through the gate. ALL we are supposed to do is log the traffic, so there doesn’t seem to be any reason for this, other than it prevents someone from “sneaking” through the gate if we go inside for a few minutes. I don’t personally care what the reason is, all I care is that it has tripled our workload. Trace has more on that, so back to Trace…-Lee)
And in case you are thinking “You are getting paid to work, so what’s the difference?”, well that is sort of fair and kind of not. As you can see from the latest spreadsheet our hourly rate has steadily gone down as truck patterns have spread out and most days even our adjusted hourly wage is less than minimum wage. One of the things that still made that OK was the amount of downtime within most hours and anything that increases the workload and consequently reduces the downtime must be taken into the equation. For example, in the time it took me to write the paragraph above that is between the dashes I went outside four times to unlock the gate and check a truck in. So it took me roughly 20 minutes to write one paragraph. Hard to get into a creative flow under those circumstances. Well, like I said, we will have to see how it goes. Here’s the spreadsheet for last week. You be the judge.
I forgot to mention yesterday that we received a call that the fuel for the generator would be a day or two late. Lee checked the tank and we were doing fine with 1/3 of the fuel still there (a couple of “solar only” afternoons helped) and we were very happy to get a heads up so we could have adjusted if necessary. A couple people have mentioned using our own generator, but while we could certainly use our generator if our batteries got too low, that wouldn’t work for the outside lights because they are hard wired into that generator. The lights are the big thing, because running this gate without them is not fun, and unfortunately there is no substitute for that. (It’s really, really REALLY dark out here when those lights are out. Not to mention using our generator eats our propane. – Lee)
Lee spent the morning with the new process in place and he was not happy. He did some time studies and for him it used to take 20 seconds to log in a truck (30 seconds if it wasn’t already in the database) and now it is taking at least 80 seconds, and if there’s any wind at all, closer to 120 seconds. This significantly reduced the amount of time he was able to do other things. The gate is very difficult to manage in the wind. You have to manually close both sides, one at a time, and the wind will push them in either direction. So you have to gauge the wind, which is gusty, not steady, and push one gate, then push the other before the first gate swings away from the center. (The gates swing in both directions.) I am actually better at this than Lee, mainly because I am willing to scamper to catch the gate. Lee not so much. (I am a little on the large side for scampering. I mostly amble. Sometimes I strut. – Lee) It’s tough to explain, so I took a series of pictures to show you. It looks kind of funny, but try doing this 50 times a day. (It’s actually more like 80 times a day.) This is all one instance of trying to get the gate closed while the wind was blowing.
First he swings the left side to the middle,
….and blows the left side open while he brings the right side to the middle.
Soooo, he walks over to retrieve the left side while the right side waits patiently……
….aaaaaand the right side gets blown open.
Anyone want to guess what happened while he was getting the right side?
Soooo, bring back the right………………
……and while you go get the left, the right swings back in the other way.
So, the above took about two minutes or so. More excitement, same money.
After the gate closing we sat down and talked about it. Lee had put a question out on our gate guarding Facebook group and the general consensus was, yes it does happen, but it is rare and very unpleasant when it happens. A few people said “suck it up” but many others said they would never take a job where the gate had to be manually opened or closed every time. One person even said to make sure I took off my rings because his wife’s finger ring got stuck in a gate and was ripped off and worker’s comp refused to pay anything because they were independent contractors. I actually had heard that story before from our neighbor down the road, but I appreciated the reminder and as of right now my rings are off. In any event, sometimes it’s the oil company, and other times it is the ranch owner, and sometimes the ranch owner can supersede the oil company, so maybe we will get lucky there. It is definitely a question the more experienced folks ask prior to taking the contract, and a big lesson learned for us. After we both spoke about how we were feeling, I laid out our options as I saw them.
- Do nothing and live with it. This might work in the short-term but we still have a couple months left in this gig and it was pretty unpleasant for Lee. (I hardly ever think that “do nothing” is a solution. There’s always room for improvement, and while I believe in balancing effort with return, there’s almost always something that can be done. – Lee)
- Talk to someone at the gate guard company and try to get it changed. Lee really wanted to do this, I thought it was an incredibly bad idea. He felt we had nothing to lose, and even thought we might ask for more money since we were on the bottom of the pay scale as it is. I pulled our contract and looked at the language and it is very specific that we have to guard the gate however the client wants it done. So not only do I think it will accomplish nothing, but I also think it will overspend what little capital we have managed to earn with these folks and possibly damage our long-term relationship. Lee was much less concerned about that. (Only from the standpoint of having a relationship where I am being taken advantage of is not a relationship which I care about damaging. – Lee) As a side note this is sort of an ongoing conversation we have been having, and although I have come much closer to his way of thinking, I can’t look at every one of these jobs as unique entities, especially not this one since there is such a tight community. (Just to clarify, my problem is not what they want us to do, my problem is that they gave us an assignment with very specific parameters for a very specific price, and that price was partially justified by the ease of the work. The parameters have changed, the work has tripled, the price should change. If I hired a contractor to build a porch, and my order didn’t involve a railing, and then later I decided I wanted a railing, the contractor isn’t going to throw the railing in for free. Not even the labor. I happen to think that “scope creep” is a serious problem, and while I agree that a little extra for free is good for building good will, I don’t think that applies here. – Lee)
- Passive/aggressively fight the rule. Follow the rule for a few days then go back to the old way and see what happens. Slow down work so it’s an inconvenience to everyone and see what happens. Lee was 100% against this approach. He simply was not going to change his work ethic in response to a rule, no matter how he felt about the rule. I, on the other hand, was surprised I was actually thinking along those lines. For many years I have been a person who handed changes to others. I have seen first hand their reactions, and although I like to think I did a better job of communicating why we were changing things, I also know that sometimes I made people’s lives much more difficult. In those situations, employees don’t have much power but they do have some and I have seen many changes simply fail to “stick” because the employees behaved in the ways I described. Sometimes it made the employers really think about what they were asking for and sometimes it just wasn’t worth the fight. It’s never been my way of handling things either, but now that I am in the situation I really get it. Everything was fine, and now it’s not, and no one even bothered to explain why. That’s tough to swallow and the “you’re lucky to have a job” mentality has never worked for me and probably doesn’t work for most people.
- Leave. The nuclear option is always an option, but in this case pretty extreme. We don’t have another job to go to, for one thing. It would damage our relationship with this gate guarding company and probably cause us future problems with other companies. Some of these work kamper jobs are like this. They aren’t all stand alone. Plus, we need the money. If we were doing this for extra money that would be a different conversation, but the first problems still apply.
- Swap our shifts. This is what we ultimately decided on. Night shift has always had the gate shut, and because there is tons of down time in between trucks it’s not a big deal. It will give Lee all the time he wants to edit, and I will go back to squeezing my blogging and recipe book project into what downtime I have. I’m not sure how great that is going to work out for me. I’ve known all along that I had the better end of this deal from a traffic and free time perspective, and it is going to stink to give that up. Still, of the options I can see at this point it is a place to start and we can always choose another one if it doesn’t work out. Plus, who knows? Other folks with more reputation and emotional coin may fight back against the rule and it could be overturned. Again, this is definitely not the norm and since it was done for multiple sites, other folks are also being affected. We will see.
I will just say one more thing though. Every time I start to think, “this is getting boring”, or “I am running out of things to write about” something like this happens. It’s like God/Universe says “Challenge accepted!!” Seriously, I have got to stop thinking that.
Update: After Lee proofread this he asked why I thought I wouldn’t like days. That was easy. I just barely think this gig is financially worth working nights and that is because of all the free time I have. If I change to days and all the free time goes away, at that point you might as well get a job making more money. Lee at this point changed his mind about swapping shifts. He didn’t see any reason why both of us should be unhappy, and he thought any benefits he might get by working nights would be outweighed by actually working nights. In that case he would rather do the gallant thing and stay on days, but he is keeping the option open to say something to the account manager. He promises not to throw a grenade on the situation but it is important that he lets her know that he thinks this sucks. So it’s status quo at least for now. (I just need to figure out a diplomatic way to put it. Diplomacy is not my strong suit. Why burn a bridge when you can take it out with a ballistic missile from orbit? Seriously though, any suggestions on how I can make my point clear without doing any damage are welcome. I’ll even make it a contest! Best submission gets a free packet of desiccant in the next package of bacon bits that they buy! – Lee)
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