Emotional Struggles of the Alberta Oilfield
Still fresh in my memory is the driving and moving to an oil town with a population of around 7,000 where I knew nobody, and the company parties where I stood in front of everyone like a stranger ghost nobody had seen. I’d then another day gaze into the cold blue eyes of a pretty blonde lady I would hold in my arms, thinking I’d have finally found someone who actually cared about me, nevertheless would then learn that’d be the last time I held her. To this day I still could not forget the beginning bitter days spent dancing with the freezing mistress of Alberta, whose promise of gold and glory to turn my life around was the only motivation to keep me Alberta bound.
After hearing about the glorious earning potential of Alberta’s oilfield – in particular that of the Fort McMurray oilsands, an old friend of mine and I threw our belongings and ventured there in our vehicles in the late spring of 2013. However, knowing nobody there and having no industry-demanded skillset and experience, this was mostly strategic ruse on our part- especially myself being only useful as labourer at the time – a role almost anyone could fill. We did indeed find work, but saved little to no money, and made income only close to the bottom end of the area. I knew nobody and was very lonely; days off were spent on my laptop at the library looking for better work, only to not prevail. I usually trained at the gym everyday to strengthen my body and mind.
Being an oil town with mostly men, women were a very rare sighting, and if they existed, they were usually taken or didn’t look at you unless you were a taller older man who made a large oil income. The only company I had was a French woman who was also into fitness and initially hit on me thinking I was her age, and a single mother who thought the same. I stayed over at their homes a couple to few nights and trained with them at gyms. Unfortunately they both moved away eventually. The single mother was particularly colourful; she was one of the very few people I met throughout my life that shared a similar mindset and I could relate to. To this day I am sad to no longer be in touch with her, as she was always a delight to catch up with periodically and hear her story. (She deleted me from Facebook and never responded to her phone again, perhaps because her boyfriend later did not like me in the picture, as in the past most attached women and/or their men saw me as a threat)
Companies we worked for continued to promise us lots of work hence money and opportunity, but it was to only keep us excited and largely a false promise. Favouritism was rampart; the ones in the inner circle were given favourable treatment, while the others were used to install fear into their eyes. I once joked after standing almost all day in one spot that a chair would be nice; the co-worker immediately gossiped to everybody else what a lazy person I apparently was, as if I were serious about that comment.
The following winter I packed my bags, threw them into my pickup, and drove to Drayton Valley to start a new job roughnecking on the Service Rigs. The climate was bitter and windy; temperatures frequently stayed under -35C; some days were as cold as -48C in the bush out of town. A bottle of water I carried in my coveralls to drink while I worked would be completely frozen in less than half an hour if I did not drink it fast enough.
Again I knew nobody and spent my non-working days training in the gym. At the company Christmas Party, few people apart from my Rig Manager (“tool-push”) and Payroll Person talked to me. I got along well with and was favoured by my Push, so he was one I could always talk to. Fresh in my memory was the applauses for those who earned prizes and walked up in front to receive them; I received mostly just a silent moment when it was my turn to collect mine. I met an (initially) sweet young Swedish woman who fancied me and kept me some company, but one day she suddenly found another man and we never spoke again.
Misfortunes with work consistency and workplace politics then drove me to Edmonton admist threats to “send people they knew to go after me” if I did not agree in writing to give part of my last paycheque to one of the other workers there who damaged his pickup truck, but later tried to get me to foot the whole bill after I slid it against a snow bank one day. Before venturing to Edmonton after throwing my bags in my pickup and spending the night packing everything, I collected my last paycheque first thing in the morning when only the Payroll Lady was there. The first woman I met there I spent a memorable night with, only to tell me the next morning she then fell for her “friend” who she thought did not like her at first.
My first place I lived in after moving to Edmonton was shared with a younger blonde lady student who was studying to become a teacher. She was friendly herself, but her family was the stereotypical Vancouver/BC-like wealthy child-spoiling bunch – bought their daughter an entire condo, paid for her education, and did not even say Hi to you when they came by to look after the place. The only time they talked to me was to rant about the messy kitchen area. I worked about 10-12/hours a day at my first Edmonton job for a construction company, and was working on my Class 1 Trucking license after work before I went to the gym. So, the lady and I did not had many opportunities to get to know each other. Once the lease ended, I went up north to Rainbow Lake to run a Hydrovac Truck before I came back to Edmonton for another construction job to run heavy equipment and haul them with a low-bed semi truck and trailer.
The following winter was even more bitterly cold than the last; one night I was told to run a vacuum truck with tires constantly leaking air, and to just re-fill them with air once they got low. Needless to say when I was fully loaded with mud that night, the tires completely gave in and the heater in the cab stopped working. It was -57C that night.
The following year I had a few different sour dates who I didn’t miss too much. I remember one distinctively bailed on me 3 times in a row – sometimes less than 30 minutes before our planned date. I responded with an angry text message and we never spoke since. Sometimes that memory to this day makes me a bit sad, as I feel I was a bit harsh with my criticism – perhaps she had anxiety and horrible but non-intential organization issues. Another decided I only wanted sex just because we kissed on the first date and decided she only wanted men who “took things slow”. A third was an extreme example of playing “hard to get”; eventually after too many excuses to not meet again, I never spoke to her again. I later learned that that was just her nature and she actually was interested in me at the time.
I then was offered a job with a well-known large oilfield services company. Most of the people there were from the East Coast who knew each other and were like a large family who you could clearly tell were inexperienced and new to industry. If you did not act like you were just grateful to have a job, you were shunned. Those favoured were allowed to act as they please; I was seen on my phone while in a waiting room and sent home promptly. I didn’t miss the company too much as their pay was horrid and the people mostly brainless. One day then I was invited to try work with city road cleaning maintenance. The crew I worked for did not like me at all; my trainer used the excuse of briefly peering at my phone while we were stationary as unacceptable cellphone usage and thus I did not work again until 6 weeks later.
The oilfield roads and sites were a nightmare to drive in and walk in not only in the bitter cold of winter, but often in the wet spring and fall as well. Mud slides and traps even the most capable trucks and feet, and attracts flocks of vicious mosquitoes. One day, I counted 48 mosquito bites on my arms. Sometimes I’d relentlessly scratch until my arms bled.
Some time later I dated a young University of Alberta student. Spending time with her and her friends made me very lonely, as being new to Edmonton and Alberta in general, I knew almost nobody and missed having a family and friends circle I had back home. One day right as I finished my rotation at a CNRL site and was headed home, she deleted/unfollowed me on all social networking and never answered her phone again, deciding to end things because she did not like me working out of town and needed to be with me physically all the time. Another woman in Red Deer I never heard from again with the same critique – only difference was when I did hear about her again, she was unemployed and pregnant after crashing her pickup drunk.
Gradually I gained the perception that most women in Alberta were just thirsty ones non-respectful of the working man, and constantly looking for other easy men, given the gender imbalance here. I then met someone from BC. After speaking on the phone every night and getting along well, I hopped on a plane and met her. She was a very nice woman and her family also nice. Unfortunately after I left back to Alberta, she then found another man, decided we would never work out due to distance, and we never spoke again.
I met another woman off the dating application Tinder. We immediately felt chemistry with each other upon meeting, and slept together the same night. She was a rather interesting character, but skilled in bed. Then one day broke down in tears and told me she was just on a break with her boyfriend in his Mom’s Basement. Later then she told me she could not be with me anyways because she needed to be “laid every night”, and I worked out of town half of each month at the time. The guy had serious attachment problems and would call her several times everyday. Originally I thought this was just some crazy crush she had. (Many women favoured desperate men with no direction in their lives here for some reason)
Last winter as I was completing my 2nd Year Electrician Schooling, I met an older blonde lady in Calgary who I connected with. I periodically stayed with her at her place as I studied in the coffee shops during the day when she was working. At first she seemed like a nice mellow lady I could be my joking self with and be comfortable. But she never offered to pay for her portion of any meal we had; I was automatically assumed to pay every bill. I drove her to and from work everyday whenever I stayed in Calgary with her. One day she just told me she lost interest when I left back to Edmonton.