Another Day in the Oilsands
Here I sit alone in my semi truck at an oilsands plant between Conklin and Fort McMurray. The cab offers relieving refuge from the scorching northern Alberta heat, with a helping hand from the prairie winds. I bathe in sweat cooking under my thick coveralls. My heart still pains from all the women who’ve left me for other men, or their feelings for such – as the oil money has kept me away from home, and away from the women. My muscles are still sore from my 3AM workout before boarding the Site Shuttle Bus at 5:30AM to make my way to the work site. “You have everything [we] ever wanted” echos though my head. Many other young adults I’ve met throughout the years have said this to me. “Black Gold” is what some of us call it. It is not the enriching paradise most imagine.
In the mornings at 4:30AM is when I venture my way to the cafeteria. Usually the lineup isn’t too bad until 5AM. That is when the bulk of the tired camp workers gather for breakfast. A cook is usually waiting at the glass compartment awaiting your food request. I typically ask for 4-8 Sunny-Side-Up eggs. This camp work rotation, I am sticking to 5 for my diet. As the cook prepares my eggs, I scramble to the fruit and vegetable self-serve kiosk with a little bowl. I usually take a bowl full of watermelon and pineapples – oranges if there are some that day. I’d make a quick mental note: “400 calories of eggs, 120 calories of fruit, and 40g of protein.” After my eggs are done, the cook asks if I want anything else out of the glass compartments. Breakfast is pretty typical- bacon, fried, boiled, and scrambled eggs, and hash browns. I usually just take the eggs. Then I head to the dining room and grab one of the round metal chairs. I’d quickly scoop up and eat the eggs as my thumb quickly acts on my phone’s Google Search. Usually I look at oil prices or oil industry news. Sometimes I look at Porsches or some other toys to see if there is anything of interest. I look at stock prices of ones I follow. Afterwards, I grab my empty dishes and stack them in the dirty dish area. The dish cleaner at this camp is pretty friendly and usually greets people. There are fridges full of sandwiches and yogurt beside a table of plastic cutlery, fruit, and lunch bags. I’ve gotten tired of eating sandwiches after 6 years of them in post-secondary and 5 years in the oilfield and road construction. When I still worked at the Cenovus plant, I’d grab 10 containers of 100g greek yogurts when I was still bulking and not concerned about body fat percentage. These yogurt containers have an extra large egg’s worth of protein each, and are typically expensive to purchase on my own. Here now, I usually take 4-6.
I scramble to the buses at 5:30AM so I can make it to the morning 6AM safety meeting. This morning it has been brief. The little safety lady has been quick to flex her muscle of authority:
If we catch you with your phone on site, you will be replaced.
When I write to pass the time and document my thoughts and endeavours, I just bring my notebook and pen(s) along with me in my work bag. Right now I’m writing to this blog what I wrote on-paper in the last couple days. My bag contains many items I consider to be essentials: extra contact lenses, hand wipes, glass cleaner, tissues, plastic cutlery, pens, ear plugs, safety glasses, phone chargers, audio cords to listen to music in my truck, bottles of water, supplement pills, allergy eye-drops, and allergy medicines. After the safety person leaves, another supervisor makes his way to the Permit Shack to acquire paper authorization to proceed with the planned work for the day.
We’ve been sitting in the shack today for about 30 minutes to await the permit to begin work. My feet tapped and my mind wanders. I try hard to contain my anger at the women who I have been through as of late, as they left me to either:
- prioritize their affection towards other men empty of ambition (usually someone they know, one of the masses found on the lonely-men-infested dating sites, or an ex)
- or to look for other easier, gullible men willing to play a game of persistence and provide them a boost of ego.
I run the numbers for my invoice to my boss/client for work performed this week. I count the number of days left of this work rotation: 13. I review the amount of cash I’m still waiting on: $8,000 approximately. By the end of this week, that will be $3,520 more plus GST. I’ve never been good at multi-tasking or paying attention to multiple events going around me, but I to thrive at one thing: focusing on one goal. When my mind is on the numbers and eyes are on the prize, somehow the loud chatter of the East Coast accents bouncing off the stained walls of the cramped lunch room shack, just goes into one ear and out the other.
“11:30AM, 5.5 hours down, and 6.5 hours to go!” I cheer to my colleague as I’m standing outside my semi-vacuum unit, monitoring the gauges to ensure sufficient vacuum strength and nothing is leaking. Just as I say this, another semi-vacuum truck rolls by and kicks up a dust storm that blows all over us. Many other workers stand around awaiting instructions or to monitor the people going in and out the bitumen vessels to ensure everything is going alright. Some of them are Safety Watch personnel that keep close eyes on those servicing the inside of the vessels, to ensure they do not collapse due to a faulty air-breathing apparatus or heat exhaustion. Though physically, apart from the long hours, this is easy work for us operators who do not have to enter vessels or perform much labour. I still prefer running on the highway though as I prefer to always be doing something and be out on the open road. Inside the truck, there is comfortable air conditioning. Time flies faster when I am on the move. Sitting around for 10+ hours daily staring at bodies, gauges, and levers gets old quick. Yesterday the labourers and some of the operators spent an entire afternoon setting up signs, ribbons, trucks, various oilfield equipment, and a few hundred feet of chemical hoses to prepare for the cleaning of a bitumen vessel. It has turned out that the vessel has been empty the whole time.
Dinner in camp is sufficient to satisfy a long day of work. Steak Night is typically held on Wednesday. I usually grab 3-5 servings, as the steak portions are small. They usually serve fries or fried prawns or other fish alongside of the steak portions. Dessert typically is cheap cake or grocery store ice cream. Drinks are always the same: grocery store juice and soft drinks out of a fast food restaurant dispenser. The populace is typical of an Alberta blue-collar one: almost entirely middle to late-aged men gazing in awe at the odd woman passing by the dozens of sexually-frustrated. The woman usually makes sure to not cross eyes with anyone and walks with a show of arrogance and “none of you are good enough for me“, or “I already have my man” defensiveness.
In my camp room, there is a small television hanging off the wall opposite of the twin-sized bed. To the bed’s side is a wall, and a small desk to the other. With luck I will have a private, though minimalist washroom with a plain, cramped toilet and shower. Without luck, the same washroom is shared between two camp rooms. I usually just read my e-mails, write a little, spend 10-15 mins. on social media. Afterwards I take my timely medications, brush my teeth, set my alarm for 2:15AM, and go to bed. In the morning when the alarm goes off at 2:15AM, usually I struggle to move for 15-20 minutes. Then I’ll take my pre-workout and other supplements and give them about 20-30 minutes to digest and produce their intended effects. I will then rush to the gym, have a quick but intense workout, and then go back to my room to shower, shave, and brush my teeth. Finally I’ll head off to breakfast for another day.
Right now as I write, it is 5:22AM. I’ll finish adding the remainder of my notebook entries when I get back from my 12 hour day. I better not miss the bus, as I still have to grab my stuff and scramble for a few minutes to the bus area.