Friday, August 8, 2008

Man Up: The Crude Side of Oil

In his book Don't Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs, Australian writer Paul Carter describes the highs and lows of life as a freelance oil-rig worker.

His experiences in far-flung places at the front end of the international supply chain are decidedly more lively than a turn at the convenience-store pump.

Part travel writing and part career memoir, Carter's chronological account is rife with tales of benders in the bush, bouts of boredom, colossal pranks, white-knuckle rides, workaday hazards, lawlessness, injury, and death:

The characters you meet in the oilfield are unbelievable--from full-on rocket scientists with multiple Ivy League degrees and a keen interest in painting to-scale miniature sixteenth-century military figurines on their bunks, to Billy-Bob the brain-dead redneck ex-con whose misspelt jailhouse tatts, fart jokes and new truck back home are all he can talk about.

Put a combination of twenty guys like that in a rundown backwater bar in some godforsaken corner of the world miles from anywhere remotely "civilized," throw in a civil war, a donkey, and some festering prostitutes, and anything can happen. And I think that's why it's so addictive--not the drilling, not the job, definitely not the food, but the people and situations you meet them in.

In the Philippines a few years ago I was in a bar with the boys when a gunfight started ... Everyone had a gun in that part of Manila. The time passed in super-slow mode, like recalling a car accident. But the part of the night that most sticks with me is when one of the guys went from drunk to sober in a second.

We were hiding under the table together when I saw the first flash of panic on his face. Panic is a black leopard that sinks its claws deep into your skull; it makes your body burn and shake. Some people ball up, some freeze, some focus, I tend to poop my pants.

He focused, grabbed my collar, and in a clear white moment said, "If I get shot, you have to call my brother and tell him there's ten grand buried in a coffee can in his front lawn."

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