Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sick of politics so here's a pic

There I am in Tremley Point, New Jersey in December 1987. I had just started my new job as a field engineer with BP. In winter, I was always getting sent to the coldest goddamn places to figure out shit like where to run the wires for tank lighting. In summer, I was always getting sent to the hottest goddamn places (like Mobile, Alabama) to do specifications and inspections for shit like industrial tank painting.

The Mobile plant was right next to a paper mill. The air was so acrid with chemicals that, on top of a sunburn, I would get this weird tingling rash on my arms and face. It would take me DAYS to wash the smell of paper chemicals and jet fuel from my hair.

Good christ.

Later in my career, I worked for retail. One of my biggest projects was refitting all the station pumps with those credit card readers. We installed some of the very first ones in the country on the coldest goddamn night you ever saw in Lima, OH. My fingers froze solid as I programed the damn things and ran diagnostics. I was always the one they sent to eff around with new or broken electronics because I had such a knack for it. The site technicians loved me or hated me.

There was one guy whose field office/shop was wallpapered from floor to ceiling in photos of naked women. And I'm not talking Rigid Tool calendar pix, I'm talking glossy Penthouse-type photos. Every square inch of wall space was covered with that shit. I hated going in there but didn't dare say a word to anyone because a) no one cared about that stuff in the '80s and b) I didn't want to rock the boat and make my life harder than it already was around the techs.

I once got sent to a meter training seminar (I am not kidding) with a bunch of the techs including that naked picture guy. It lasted A WEEK. I think it was in Erie, PA. Anyway, we were all drinking beer at some shit hunting bar in the middle of nowhere one night and that guy asked me to dance. There were a few other people dancing, so I said okay. I still remember how he kept trying to wrap his arms around me and pull me into him.

I have a lot of stories like that. But there was plenty of good, too--like eating steamed crabs at a picnic table in Gunnings after freezing my ass off all day programming Acculoaders at the toploading deck in the Baltimore terminal. I also met the Goat at BP. He was a tanker truck dispatcher. Now he works at a pipeline terminal full of tanks like the one in the pic, swinging valves and keeping track of all the gas. I pack his lunch every day (ham and cheese sandwiches, hoagies, homemade pepperoni rolls, fresh apples, celery sticks, potato chips, soup, sometimes a nice chocolate). The Goat is so cute in his fireproof uniform with the name patch!

One last note about the massive storage tanks. I've been on top of them (the Goat is on top of them all the time), I've been inside of them when they are empty (very, very weird). And there was always one thing in the back of my mind when I was around the tanks. Since the human body is essentially all water, if you ever fell into a storage tank full gas or oil, it is impossible to swim. You immediately sink to the bottom. This is all but impossible now due to safety measures, but years ago, I'm sure there were guys who died that way.

I can't imagine a more terrifying death than drowning in millions of gallons of gasoline, falling through it, sucking it into your lungs.


The Fool said...

G'morning Erin. I worked on the Pipeline when I first came to Alaska, and have a few oily stories, too. It's a crazy business. Death by oil submersion sounds horrid (shaking head to rid myself of ths final image). Thanks for sharing this side of you, Erin. You're quite the character.

And congrats on 20,000. Write on!

Anonymous said...

Holy crap Erin! I never knew this side of you! I actually got a thrill when I saw the pic. I was a petroleum/chemical surveyor and inspector for 7 years and a gasoline blender at a refinery for 3 years before they closed down in 2001 under pressure from the Illinois and US EPA. Remember Clark Oil?

I have probably climbed 12,497 tanks, give or take a hundred or so, in my life. I've strapped them and all of that fun stuff too.

I remember when I first started in the early 90s you were still allowed to go onto the roof of open floaters. I always used to think, "What if the roof tips over?" Not like that would happen but still.

Yep, I did it all back in those days, from NY harbor to Kansas City, been to every refinery and terminal along the way.

Nice Nomex Erin!

The Trailer Of Love

Anonymous said...

I think I remember a scene from "There Will Be Blood" of guys dying like this...being knocked over into the oil. Horrible.

Anonymous said...

Death by asphyxiating in oil. It's sort of a nice metaphor for what's happening to the world now.

Anonymous said...

Jeezus, what an image of death.

I lived in South Alabama on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay and traveled in Mobile frequently. I am quite familiar with the paper mills and the stench.

But...did you know that at the time (August, 1864) The Battle of Mobile Bay was one of the largest naval battles in military history.
And, not far from the mills on the river there was a community named Magazine Point.(Africatown in the 1860s) It was settled by descendents of slaves on The Clotilde, the last known ship to bring slaves from Africa to America in 1859.
This moment in history brought to you by BP.


Erin O'Brien said...

Hell yes I remember Clark Oil!

And yes, I remember being on top of an open floater. God, what a creepy feeling that was.

Remember the Ashland tank failure in Floreffe, PA near Pittsburgh in 1988, Wasn't it tank #103. Sorry I can't do a click link, but here is the URL for pix:

Erin O'Brien said...

hey! everybody else showed up while I was effing around with that comment above.

Hi peeps!

Anonymous said...

Erin, that pic of you reminds me of a job I did for BF Goodrich back in 1998 for Y2K remediation. It was my job to go around the plant and test computers for compliance. (I think it's safe the 8086 boxes weren't, and I actually saw one running Windows 2.0.)

Out on the plant grounds, everyone dressed like you do in that picture.

Norm said...

I can't imagine a more terrifying death than drowning in millions of gallons of gasoline, falling through it, sucking it into your lungs.

That's what we're all doing to the planet, Erin. ;)

Zen Wizard said...

This must have been from back when BP still made petroleum products.

Now they just grow corn that these little butterflies fly around to form the logo.

(I saw it on a commercial during "Face the Nation.")

deangc said...

I did some work at some paper mills a time or two, and I decided that I didn't want to work in a place that required you to carry an oxygen mask in certain places. And that required you to be cleanshaven so that said mask would seal properly.

philbilly said...

I, too, am a hydrocarbon geek.
Check this little number out, and forget about endo-exothermic dilemmas.

Here is the future, children, relax, and concentrate on getting President Cheney in prison;

Louis said...

I second Algae's motion. In a perfect world, Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Wolfowitz, Rove, Petraeus, McChrystal et al., would be extradited to the Hague to stand trial for war crimes.
Don't get me started!!!

Lou Pumphrey