Friday, January 16, 2015

Doom and Gloom, The Decline of 2015

It's that time again. It was a good run. Years and years of unlimited amount of work with excellent income lulled them into a false sense of security. Those that were lulled were the "30 and under" group that hadn't lived through a cycle of life in the 'patch'.  The 'patch'. Everyone that works in the oil industry is familiar with that word. No questions raised on what that word means. If you're in the patch, it goes without saying, you're involved in the oil industry in one of their many operations that are inherent to the recovering of oil and gas.

The early years of the husbands experience in the patch was when we moved to Wyoming in 1978. The boom was on, housing was overpriced, it was bitter cold and workers were scarce. The husband climbed 60 ft. into the air on ice encrusted derricks to handle pipe going in and coming out of the hole. After all, being a derrick hand paid an extra dollar an hour. This was his training ground for the job he eventually captured, never to return to being a 'roughneck'.

This new couple were in the 'struggle stage' of their relationship. Most of us have been there unfortunately. Few young folks get the order of a relationship right. It should go something like this.
1. college leading to entry level job
2. starter home and car
3. savings
4. children
I actually know a few couples that follow this order. I know many more that were like me so the struggle is on.
We had once a month "dinner outs." We saved what little we could and moved up from the 25ft. travel trailer to a 35 footer and then into a 14 X 72 footer on a lot we purchased and finally into a house. We had a plan and a goal. And then the bust hit.
Weekly visits to our house by friends that were in the 'patch' to report their layoff notices. Every week it was more and more until finally we received our notice. We moved from our house back into the big mobile home while we listened to the news of the black hole of unemployment, houses left abandoned, armed guards surrounding the banks, suicides in the prairie from owners of rigs that had lost everything and the futile effort of people trying to find any job to survive. The new subdivisions built when the boom was on, were now streets of huge homes with broken windows and hugged with yellowed weeds waist high. Street after street, it looked like the lower Ninth Ward after Katrina, devastated not by water but by the economy. Waiting time to rent a U Haul to leave town was 3 months.

We watched and listened and we learned. This was our first rodeo but it wouldn't be our last.
We didn't waste time. While we still had savings, we loaded up the 35 ft. travel trailer, hooked it to the truck,   and headed to Arizona. Eventually we ended up in Phoenix. We both secured jobs and spent off times roaming the desert, site seeing all over the area and waiting.

One year passed and one day a phone call came in. "Would you like to return back to work?" The husband was happy to be back in his field and back to the 'patch'. We loaded up and drove back to Casper, Wyoming where we collected all our furniture from storage, loaded it all up and headed to Morgantown, WV. I was devastated. I wanted to stay in the Rockies. The company thought I would be excited about going back to my home state. I said "I've always known the way back and if I had wanted to be there, I would have been!"
A beautiful state, WV, but a state that has always struggled to provide employment for their native sons and daughters. The mountainous area and the lack of roads have always deterred manufacturers from establishing any industry there as the expense to truck in and out is a long and cost prohibitive endeavor. Most of the industry there is sited on the rivers that border the state; the Ohio and the Kanawaha.  I was happy to leave soon after high school and only wanted to return for vacation visits but here we were back. Twenty two months later found us on the road to Mississippi. That tour lasted one year. Transferred again, it was 1990  and this time to Lafayette, La. which is where you will find me today. 
Between Mississippi and the first years here, I spent in college. I was officially out of the 'patch' and into a hospital as a Registered Nurse. One of us would be non dependant on the 'patch'.
We bought a house and paid it off in 9 yrs. Security. Paying off the house was my first priority. New cars followed but never incurring huge debt. 8 months and the new car was paid for. The memory of the bust was still fresh and raw for me.
As the years passed, we continued to save money, living without extravagant spending. When we could have moved to a bigger more exclusive neighborhood, we chose to stay in this house in this nice neighborhood, neither of us needing to impress anyone with a bigger home and fancy cars.
The husband worked for Baker Hughes for over 20 yrs. Eventually he went on his own as a consultant. The client would call and offer him a job that was up; he either chose to do it or declined. I have never seen him decline a job. He charges by the day and the money was excellent as was the all expense paid rate. He always said "I'll take these jobs now. This won't last forever."
His clothes were seldom unpacked. He would get a call and be on the road to the next location, to be gone a week to thirty days and sometimes even longer. Many Thanksgivings and Christmases and anniversaries were spent on the rig site.
Times were good for us and this boom was going to be ridden to the end and we would be ready when it happened.
It has happened. The bust is here as we knew it would be.
Utilities and insurance and food; that's the extent of our bills. The savings are hefty. We can now relax and do some traveling. We had a plan. We followed the path that helped us get to our goal. We are there.

The young folks that we tried to caution on their lifestyles lent a deaf ear. They were clueless. Big homes, bigger trucks and Escalades for the wife, the money was rolling in.
This is their first lesson. It will be a tough one but one they need to learn.

We are on the sidelines watching this one roll out. Hang on, it's gonna be a rough ride.

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