25 March 2008


If the trouble in Santa Barbara was cost of living, the problem in New Orleans is finding decent quality. I've been looking for a car for the past week, and keep running across decent cars with major mechanical issues, especially where CV axles are concerned. After driving the city for only a few weeks, this comes as no real surprise (the roads here are terrible-more potholes than MN after the spring thaw). There's a funny character trait I've noticed though, talking with people about their cars for sale, and maybe it would be the same anywhere, but I've experienced it at least 3 times now, with 3 different cars. When asked if anything is wrong with the car in question, I'll get no for an answer, unless it's an obvious physical flaw. After I drive the car, hear whatever clicking, whirring, pinging noise the car offers up in the few minutes I drive it, and go back with questions, they'll readily admit the problem. It's strange, it doesn't necessarily feel dishonest, per se, but I don't understand it. It doesn't help that I'm pretty limited in how much I can spend, because I'm obviously scraping the bottom of the Craig's List barrel. My co-workers have been really helpful though, keeping their ears open for something good, and I'm sure I'll find something in time.

Today is the 2-week mark since I arrived in New Orleans. I'm spending time in the shop this week, reading up on ROVs, tomorrow I'll learn some basic trouble-shooting techniques. I'm spending time with the engineers and shop techs, learning the dos and don'ts of the trade. There's so much to learn just about the ROVs, and then so much more to learn about flying the wee buggers, and even more about the actuality of working in the oilfield.

Saturday was my first day out in the Gulf. We were only out for a day, but it was a really good intro. We left the shop at 2am for the 3-hour drive to Fourchon (pronounced FOO-shon), which was a little like the Holy Grail. Many times I'd heard the name of Fourchon, from the stories Geoff would tell us in class; I could only hope for the day, so quickly!, when I, too, would set sail from the place.

Robert, LA to Port Fourchon: the stuff of legend.

We loaded the boat and set out, arriving 2 hours later at the rig. We tied off, and waited for the company man to transfer to the boat from the rig (via Billy Pugh basket, maneuvered by crane) to meet with us, and give us more info on the job. When we had a decent grasp on what to do, we put the ROV in the water, swam it around the rig for a while, got some video of what they needed to see, and landed the bugger back on deck. Once the ROV was traken care of, we hopped in the basket and headed up to the rig for lunch. This was a first, but it felt sort of familiar in a way, having seen so many pictures of barges and jack-ups, and having listened to so many stories from instructors and friends. I mean, obviously it's bizarre, being on this production platform in the middle of the wide, blue gulf, with no land in sight, and eating lasagna in a construction trailer-type mess hall, but I was more acclimated to it than I thought I'd be.

us, and them.

personnel transfer.

ROV console, plus Jim.

ROV's eye view.

21 March 2008

good friday.

I guess I wasn't quite clear in my last entry. The helicopter simulator videos were similar exercises to the ones we performed in class this week. Underwater helicopter egress is necessary because crew is sometimes transported to the rigs/ worksite via helicopter, and in the event of a controlled or semi-controlled emergency landing, I'd need to escape, which I'd be able to do, having completed the helicopter underwater egress training (HUET). Does that explain it? It all makes sense to me, so I'm never sure if I'm explaining things adequately.

I finally finished my offshore emergency/procedural training today, and left Houma, LA early this afternoon. I was meant to leave after yesterday's class, but the office called as I was driving away to let me know they'd scheduled one more class: BP's own offshore safety training, a prerequisite for working on a BP rig, which I'm leaving to do in just a few hours. So, tomorrow's the big day! My first time offshore. I'm curious and excited and a little nervous and freaked out, but I'm basically too damn tired to really feel all of it, which is good, because if I could sense emotion, I probably be over-thinking and mind-f*&king everything. As it stands, I'm getting up at 1:30am to drive to the dock, to take a boat to the rig. The job tomorrow is a one-day inspection, most likely no more than a few hours on the rig, then back to the dock. A good intro, I think. Good to have a look around, but not too intense.

Fun Louisiana tidbits from this week... Apparently the whole of LA is Catholic, or enough of it that Good Friday is a holiday, and everyone takes the day off. And everyone has a crawfish boil on Good Friday, which sounded kind of gross (boiled. crawfish. Huh?), but is actually extremely delish, and totally addicting. I don't know if you've ever seen a crawfish, they're just wee little clawed lobsters, that grow in the rice patties and in the swamp (on my way back from Houma, I kept seeing groups of people with nets, near the marshy roadside ditches. I finally realized they were huntin them up some mudbugs, mmm-hmmm.) Since they're not so big, you need to eat a lot of them to get a good meal. So you put a lot of them in a pot, with some boil seasonings (which are cajun flavor, mais oui), and maybe a little sausage and maybe a little corn (I'm not sure if it all goes in together? It all gets served together, though.). Then you serve a huge pile of them with some dippin' sauce. To eat, you sever the tail, suck out the cajun-flavored juices from the head (best accomplished by sucking whilst biting down on it), then peel the tail and eat the meat therein. You can also eat the meat in the wee claws, but it seems more trouble than it's worth. Also, you must always roll up your sleeves when eating crawfish, says Miss Margaret, my crawfish tutor and dining companion.

18 March 2008


Did I forget to mention I got a job?

Actually, I didn't forget, I just wasn't ready to make mention of it. I didn't want to jinx it, or just wanted to get comfortable with the idea, and celebrated it a bit myself before I shared it with anyone. I'll be working for a little ROV company called SeaTrepid. I've gotten some mixed reviews, but mostly no one's ever heard of them down here. I like the company because it's small, so I feel like I'll be able to gain experience, plus it's not so scary starting out as it might have been working for a bigger company. They also sound to be heading into new and bigger applications (bigger ROVs, also potentially designing and marketing their own ROVs). That it's a smaller company also puts me a bit on edge, as my experiences working for smaller companies haven't all been great. But, it's a good start, I think.

In order to go offshore in the near future, I need to have a bunch of new certs (more cert cards- yipee!), so today through Thursday, I'm in Houma, LA, at a training facility. Today was Offshore Water Survival (for sure the funnest of the classes), tomorrow is Rigging (useful), and Thursday is Safe Gulf (which I've heard is a snooze). Half of today's class was in the pool, and this gives you an idea of the day's last drills, to simulate an underwater helicopter egress:




Per usual, I'm the only woman around who's not working admin, but I'm meeting a few good guys, learning more about being offshore. Surprisingly, I feel ok holding a conversation with these guys, like I actually picked up a thing or two during my MDT training. Admittedly, most of it was from Geoff's rambles, but still pretty useful.

I was also issued my very own hardhat, and bought my first pair of steel-toe work boots. I am my parents' child after all.

Red Wing 1170: steel toe, waterproof.

14 March 2008

elysian fields.

I was just thinking that it's not even been a week since I left Santa Barbara.

My first couple of days in New Orleans were a bit jarring, but I'm slowly coming around. I'd been here once before- for Mardi Gras 1998, for a long weekend. But most of what I saw then was seen whilst a bit tipsy, or in the dark, so I actually didn't see a whole lot. I'm certainly seeing a whole lot now.

I've been doing a ton of thinking, and processing, and I'd love to share my thoughts with you; however, it's Saturday morning, and I would really like to get out and see some stuff. There are historical plantations here, and parts of the city that I'd like to see, and I want to do some shopping. So, a quick update will have to do.

Wednesday I laid around, went to Target, then later for drinks at a local bar with Rob. Thursday we ventured into the French Quarter, which was so cool to see, and parts of which were ridiculously obnoxious even on a post-Mardi Gras mid-afternoon. We wandered around and ate at a hotel restaurant (we wanted better, but we were getting HUNGRY!), where the bartender suggested that New Orleans is a city that grows on you (which I'm already noticing- I reach my threshold for the post-hurricanes desolation, and have to retreat, but something pulls me right back the next day). Friday I had an interview, and drove around a few areas of town.
Today I might go buy some steel-toe boots (a necessity in the offshore environment), and drive the river road to look at the plantations.

I had a funny thought while I was driving around town yesterday. Up to this point, I've not been so great at committing to things. This endeavor to work in this industry is the hardest I've worked to get anywhere, to do anything. And the follow-through, that's also new for me. Previous incarnations of myself would have finished the program, but might have flitted off to Peru for a few months, rather than actually finding a job. And though amazing in its own right, living in SB was no walk in the park. But yesterday, as I was driving down Elysian Fields Ave., the idea occurred to me that maybe, after everything is said and done, maybe it was all worth it.


11 March 2008


Happy to say I've arrived in New Orleans, safe and sound. Everything went well with the train and luggage and getting picked up at the station. I have lodging for however long I need, a car to use for the next month, and some cash in my pocket.

This is definitely a change from SB.


My train chronicle, from Sunday leaving Santa Barbara, til Tuesday nearing New Orleans.

On the train now, running parallel to my favorite stretch of the PCH. I’ve driven it a hundred times, but have never seen it by train. The scenery’s not much different, it’s just that I’m not driving, as is usually the case.

Long week, this past. Finished working my temp job a week and a half ago, then went to Death Valley with Chris for a long weekend. 4 good days in the desert was enough to steel me to prepare for the move. A few weeks ago, someone suggested taking the train to NO, and at first blush it seemed completely implausible. As time wore on, however, the idea grew on me, and I started realizing I could make it happen. My ticket cost $138 with my AAA discount- that’s 3 days by train, Sunday morning at 9:30 until Tuesday at 4pm.

Somewhere in the desert now. I met my neighbors, who are lovely, and who help break the trip up a bit. Jerry, from Tucson, seems to know everything about the train, and is an excellent ambassador for the Amtrak brand.

Feeling better after a snooze this afternoon. The week has been stressful and wearing. It’s good to sit back with my feet up and nothing to do.

The trouble with being on the train is never being sure of your exact location. We came upon such a beautiful valley, but I have no clue where it might be located on a map. I only know that it’s somewhere between Ontario and Palm Springs.

Nearing Palm Springs we’ve come upon fields of power-generating turbines.

My neighbors suggests that the fruits and veggies I’m carrying with me for snacks explains my attractive figure. I muse that living in southern California for too long warps a person’s good sense of body image.

I’m getting excited to make a new start. So much attention has gone to getting ready for the move, I’ve not thought much about arriving, and what comes next. But, here’s what I decided a few days ago whilst being gripped by the assumed futility of purging, organizing and packing my way-too-many belongings: deal with it as it comes. Now, I realize I already mentioned this idea, by way of AA reference in an earlier post. But the idea struck a note at exactly the right moment when I could apply it, right when I was feeling debilitated by the magnitude of the task at hand, as well as the myriad tasks to come, and once having applied the philosophy, I carried on, rather than turning unproductive circles, wondering where to begin. Not the most original idea, per se, but it’s been helpful in being prepared, on time, to get on the train and go.

The sun just went down, and it’s a soft twilight over Palm Springs. I've tried to stare out the window for as long as possible, leaving until later the reading and other busy-ness that distracts from the lack of view out the dark window. The sunset is beautifully pastel, soft, with white fading to pink fading to blue.

It’s my first morning waking up on the train, and I actually feel like I slept pretty well. My seat mate disembarked in Tucson early this morning, leaving his seat for me to stretch out on. The seats are surprisingly comfortable, with a decent amount of leg room. I may treat myself to dinner this evening in the dining car, though I have quite enough food to sustain myself for the next day and a half.

I spent last night reading a travel guides about New Orleans. It strikes me, even just being on the train and seeing the people headed in the same direction, how very different a place I’m going to. It’s funny, I loved California when I got there, was always sort of in awe of it. I don’t know how or why or even when I got over it, because it was never a very forceful, obvious sense of not liking the place anymore. Maybe it was money, or wardrobe, or being brunette, or being more shapely than your average Cali girl, or living in a place as bucolic as Santa Barbara. It may have been all of it, or nothing. It seems I always felt just a bit out of place. It was beautiful, but I don’t think the stress was worth the beauty. A friend, who also travels, and is moving away from California, suggested that we’d been to far more beautiful places, where one can actually afford to live; that we knew there was more out there in the world to sequester ourselves in a place like California.

Other things, too. Like feeling isolated. Like not knowing very many people my age. Like feeling a bit old and ugly in a town like SB. Like worrying about money every spare minute. Like working my ass off for dodgy small-business owners. Like feeling stuck.

But good things, too. Like my boy, Chris, and friends Ale & Dada, Eric, & Claudia, Ruth & Sam, Deckhand Aaron, and the random people who’d come out of the woodwork just when I thought there wasn’t anyone authentic left to meet. Like driving home from work along the PCH as the sun sets. Like sitting on the beach, watching surfers in the afternoon. Like afternoon hikes. Like 80 degrees in February. Like riding my bike everywhere. Like seeing the Channel Islands in the distance. Like dolphins on the bow. Like sunrises on my way to school. Like all my stinky boys and my instructors.

Like having accomplished what I went there to do.

Yesterday was 100% desert, but today I find myself in the swamp. My first sight out the window was of trees and swampy trenches along the side of the tracks, immediately followed a huge expanse of water on both sides, which turned out to be Lake Houston. It’s grey and cloudy here, which reminds me that other parts of the world have weather, unlike Santa Barbara. It looks like it just rained here perhaps, the trees have little green buds on them, There are puddles in the fields. It’s a good thing, I think. It was weird living in a place where the weather conditions never coincided with the season. For example, summer in SB was foggy, and kind of dismal; autumn was sunny and beautiful; winter was cooler, with rain sometimes, but also with 80-degree days; spring was… I’m not even sure. There was also a lot of sun, maybe a little too much sun. It’s exhausting when there’s so much sun, like you never have a reason to lay on the couch and read a book, or you always feel guilty about sitting around watching TV, because, even when the weather is bad, it’s never so bad that you’re forced to stay indoors (except for the 3 days a year when it rains). I don’t think I’ve made a very good argument here, but then again, I’ve only just woken up.

The train is quiet today. Only about 5 hours left to go now, as we are supposed to arrive in New Orleans on time. Per usual, I start to get a little uptight about the details and logistics of arriving: how to deal with all my luggage, will Rob be there to pick me up, will there be carts to move all my stuff around, etc.

I am getting a bit nervous, I guess. But then, I’m thinking too far ahead. If I focus on what’s happening only within the next few hours, I feel ok. If I think about the rest of the week, I get a knot in my stomach. Et voila, I’ll just focus on what’s happening now. There are fields and trees and lots of water around. When passing the water-filled trenches beside the tracks, I see disturbance at the surface, as if a fish has just nipped at an insect, or a gator has just submerged.

Passing through southern Louisiana now. Next stop is New Iberia, a town that is familiar to me because some of the diving companies are based here. It’s sort of the end of the world, mostly industrial, with trailer homes up on blocks scattered about. I kind of like these funny little towns.

I’m almost ready to be done with the train. The toilets are getting a bit funky at this point. I don’t think everyone knows how to locate the flush button (think of the toilets on airplanes).

For some reason, I’m finding a lot of solace in being back in the same time zone as friends and family. Strange I should find comfort in that, though it seems very strange not to have to recalculate the time at the location I’m calling.

Getting very, very close now. Feeling nervous about arriving, but also excited. New Orleans is a city I’ve been to, that I even speculated would be fun to live in for a while. Something about its history interests me, I’m curious to explore the place, excited to start over again, to see how what I can find here.