Friday, August 7, 2009

Taft: the "other" hell

Once again it has been a long time and once again I apologize. Instead of writing Part 3 of the what I really do trilogy, I will instead give you a brief update on what I am doing now. And let me tell you, it has started me thinking about my job and do I really want to keep doing it.

For the past three months I have been here. (the project is done for now... it ended up being almost 7 months) The Navel Petroleum Reserve of Elk Hills, outside the city of Taft. For those of you who know California, it is even grosser than the armpit (Bakersfield) which is about 45 minutes northeast. I, along with my co-supervisor with our crew of minions, have been surveying out here in the hills (which can be like scaling a cliff), the flats (which look flat and easy but aren't - stupid drainage's), amongst the deranged cows, deranged locals, weird guys from Texas, 114 degree heat (it cracked our windshield), toxic and lethal gasses (hello hydrogen sulfate), and some other things I won't mention. It's a good thing I never really wanted to have any children because after this job and the who knows what I have been exposed to, if I did have a kid it would probably come out with three arms, one leg, half an eye, and be a total Debbie Downer.

Let me see if I can sum up the project in as few of words as possible. It is a 3D seismic project which means these doofus Texan's are basically "taking a picture" of the underlying strata (earth) to find more oil. To do that they lay out what are called geophones which pick up the vibrations from the vibe trucks (which are really really really big tonka trucks with huge "pads" that when placed on the ground can shake your intestines right out of you. When they are not allowed to use the vibe trucks (steep or unstable terrain, biologists spotted endangered species, or us archaeologists found yet another brick ruble pile from 1929) they use drills and stick dynamite in a hole and blow it up... well, not up but down. It's very comforting hearing a boom boom boom off in the distance. So anyway, we walk the "trails" the trucks will be driving, and the geophone lines, and source lines (which are the lines the vibe trucks will shake or blow up). We walk and walk and walk. To date we have located over 500 archaeological sites. Now don't get your panties in a knot. Most of these sites are associated with the production of oil and oil like products. People started drilling here in the early 1900's (anyone see that Daniel Day-Lewis movie called "There Will Be Blood"?? It was based on the first oilers in Taft). So we find glass bottle fragments (most of the whole bottles have been looted), tobacco tins, lots of beer, dishware. Basically there are two types of sites: domestic refuse and remnants of abandoned oil wells and there associated out buildings (sumps, furnaces, broilers, etc.) Sometimes it is interesting, like finding medicine bottles for hemorrhoids. But it also gets pretty drab after the two hundredth brick scatter.

So i'm not sure what is keeping me sane.... maybe i'm not. The environment is very unforgiving. It is desolate, dusty, toxic, and at times smells like a rotten egg threw-up in a sewage pond. The pay sucks (don't get compensated for overtime because i'm salary, not compensated for the drive to and from my house to Taft which is a 4 hour drive each way. I think I should get something for having to drive past Harris Ranch), the best hotel in Taft has a cockroach problem and a semi-creepy manager and horrible internet, the rental car place doesn't know squat when I tell them a minivan will not work for me, what part of 4-wheel drive do you not understand, and I could go on.

But what I realized on my way home today was this; i'm isolated and alone. I'm surrounded by people all day and I have to interact all day, but i'm alone. I'm in charge and I have to act like i'm in charge which means I cannot ever be just one of the crew. I'm with them, but not one of them. Does that make any sense? And what is freaking me out is that everyone knows my name and who I am, but I don't know their name or what they do half the time. With the seismic crew alone there are over 70 people.

I don't like being in charge and responsible for all these people (I have 4 crew members and that will grow to 7 on Tuesday). Unfortunately I do ok at it, and therefore get more stuff to do and more people to manage. So i'm isolated. I'm also isolated from the world around me. I'm only home 7 days out of the month (you have no idea how much a person can miss the simplest of things like your own bed sheets), and it's not like I can go take a class at the community college or a gym class or book club, or god forbid try and schedule a doctor's appointment when there is only 2 days in the month you're available.

*I wrote this while in Taft in month 3. We were there for 7 months. My co-supervisor and I really did almost go insane. Both of us contemplated (seriously) quitting right then and there. We had to deal with cranky crew (mostly they kicked-ass), very stupid clients, extremely long hours 10-12 hour days, micro organisms, rashes, aches, pains, and all around misery.

*as a result of this project (it is still ongoing, but most of the field work is done) I will be leaving for a month to New Zealand. I will be away from the job for over a month, since it also over laps with the christmas holidays. Hopefully the time away from the job will help give a better perspective on my life and my job (do I really want to do this job questions). And if i don't want to continue, what do I want to do? My hope is that I will come back happy with clean lungs and a new appreciation of well, everything.

1 comment:

Anthroslug said...

For what it is worth, you did an excellent job and were a good manager of crews. You kept us on track, and, as your co-supervisor on the project, I really, really appreciated having you out there.