Miles past the middle of nowhere

My job has changed somewhat. More management duties. More duties altogether.
The transition has up-heaved my live gigs somewhat so I’ve done little traveling lately. I did have a gig in Irving two weeks ago but then again, who cares about Irving? I live here and I don’t.

I’ll give a synopsis. A 25 mile commute on a motorcycle, every day, down the Bush tollway. It’s a fantastic highway, not unlike the autobahn. In the mornings it’s like mad max – 80MPH or faster.Thrilling on a muscle-bike. On the way home it’s like good old fashioned DC area traffic. Murder on a bike.

My bike is great for what I use it for. Fun on this or that blast down the highway. Every day freeway commuting is way tough and I really felt the arthritis in the hips after a week.

This last week was spent in the Permean Basin. Otherwise known as the Oil Patch, or Midland TX.

From where I live, Midland is a five to six hour drive. This is right on the edge of whether it’s worth the hassle and expense of flying or not. After the headaches of parking, arriving early, and the flight, I’d only save an hour or two for the trouble. I haven’t seen much of west Texas from on the ground, and this wasn’t a training gig so having tools would be handy if things went pear-shaped. Packing telecom tools means checked bags. So in this case I opted to drive and picked up a car. Lately I’ve been shunning Avis and going with Hertz, and true to form they hooked me up again. They also have a local office near my house that doesn’t stock crummy GM cars. I get cool Japanese ones, in this case a brand new Altima. It also helps that the dudes in that office know me by name now. When we have family road trips we rent cars. They have newer cars that get better mileage than my own. So these guys have seen me quite a bit in the last few months.

Breaking out of the metroplex on I20, I hit the open highway blasting tunes on the ipod hookup and grateful for the people in the hinterlands that understand how to drive in the right hand lane. West Texas has some hills, but then it starts looking a  lot like New Mexico with lots of scrub prairie right out of a Clint Eastwood western. Around Big Spring windmills popped up like daisies. Was this our stimulus “green” dollars at work? Honestly, they pollute the scenery. Then again, there’s not much out there to see anyhow. Not to drift off topic, but I read a study that the peak output of these windmills is inversely proportional to need in Texas. It seems that when it gets real hot, like it does in the summers here, the wind stops blowing. The breeze picks up in the evenings as the temperature cools. So when power demand is highest, output of these things is lowest, At least in Texas. As I passed them mid-day, maybe half were turning. Slowly.

Having traveled a fair amount through east Texas I wasn’t surprised at Midland, which on first glance wasn’t much different than any other small town in the southwest.  Once there in the downtown area, one thing became painfully apparent. There was nowhere to eat. A downtown dry as toast, devoid of the normal mom & pop places or even chains. I’m guessing some of the office buildings had cafeterias. To make it more spooky, I’ve been all over the country and in every place I’ve been you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Starbucks or a McDonalds. When I hit google maps, I found two Starbucks- way out of my way. Astonishing. Maybe this is a result of the common sense culture displayed by nearly everyone I met. Why spend two bucks or more of coffee when we have a pot right here for free?

This dearth of restaurants turned a normal engagement into torment. For a variety of reasons, each day was 10-12 hours in a computer room, freezing, hungry, and waiting for something to happen. The lack of close by options and security hassle of getting in and out of the building made it tough to slip out for a quick bite. And I don’t drink coffee, so that pot in the kitchen was utterly worthless to me.

No high octane Tea. This’ll be a long trip

Midland sports some of the worst street lighting and signage that I think I’ve seen outside New Jersey. So, tired, bleary eyed, hungry and frustrated, making my way to a restaurant or the Hotel was a chore. And it wasn’t just me, I noticed more than a few people stumbling around like me. Didn’t help that for most of the time it was rainy and cold.

However, Midland is booming. Mostly due to the energy industry. My customer told me it was tough for him to score a hotel, but being an “E-Lite” Marriott member, I had no problem whatsoever. The Residence Inn was the fullest I’ve seen a Hotel, outside of a convention. And judging by all the pickups in the parking lot there was little wonder who was there and why.

Total West Texas, working windmill, oil pump, and cold front.

When I found a place to eat I got a hoot out of the West Texas waitresses. Unlike Baltimore, they use the full “honey” as opposed to “hon”. A sugar sweet “Can I get you a drink honey?” cracked me up. No one calls me “Honey”. My mom never did, and my wife doesn’t. However, after a day of waiting for people to get their crap together, I’ll put up with anything (and probably find anything funny), even crappy chain restaurants with big hair waitresses named Flo.

Pro services work has a total opposite “after work” phenomenon than training. After a day of training I’m pretty anti-social. So picture being in an anti-social hateful mood and adding an hour of 80mph-STOP-80mph traffic in 96 degree heat, commuting home on a bike. Thankfully I have a tolerant family. Either that or they simply are used to me. After spending 10-12 hours in a computer room, freezing and starving, you feel like you’ve been let out of prison.

Friday, God smiled, the heavens opened up, the sun came out, and the network guys had a “wasn’t our problem, but it’s fixed anyhow” moment. Customer happy, he shooed me out the door. It was a sunny day, I got a cool car and many hours of tunes on the iPod.