Ask a million kids what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll hear any number of answers. Fireman, doctor, policeman, rocket scientist, roughneck … Um, no parent has ever heard the last one. Today, they’d be more likely to hear jihadist first. The poor kid who dared to utter roughneck would find himself in therapy, taking a daily dose of don’t-be-dumb pills, and lose his Xbox until he came of age. Most adults don’t know what we do for a living, including those in our government who regulate our business, (a good subject for another day,) so I doubt any kid would.
I didn’t aspire to be a roughneck. I was hungry. Not long married, two young kids, and a pack of money-hungry wolves sniffing around my malnourished piggybank, I was looking for a job, any job. A drilling rig chose me. After 35 years, I still haven’t decided if I like it or not.
When I began roughnecking in west Texas, the job was like working in a shooting gallery … as the duck. My driller only had one tidbit of advice for me that cold, rainy morning. “Try not to lose a finger today.”
Lord, have mercy! He wasn’t kidding. What didn’t cut ‘em off left ‘em mangled and broken. Drill pipe tongs and spinning-chains and catlines, all the things that are all but legislated out of existence today, were the tools of our trade.
Feelings were harder than rig iron. “If you’re not a bull don’t beller!” “Can’t is used twice out here. Can’t get it, can’t stay!” Sympathy meant they’d help you tie your pant legs tight around your ankles to keep the sugar ants from crawling up to your candy-rear.
Well, the times are a-changing. We get all kinds on the rigs these days, and they’re from all over the country. Years ago, most roughneck types, drilling hands I call them, hailed from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Now we’re getting them from Maine, Illinois, Indiana and Rhode Island. That’s like hot salsa from New York City. I accuse them of falling off a watermelon truck on the way through.
The other day I asked a young man if his mama knew he was out here. He was 30. My goodness. Seems like yesterday when an old toolpusher told me he had 35 years of experience. I thought That’s forty-four-forevers. How did you do that? Now I know.
I know, too, the job fits me like a glove, a sock, to a tee, all the clichés. I believe I was hungry for a reason, and God placed me right where I needed to be.