Sunday, November 10, 2013

And Into The Oil Patch I Go...

It took a few days but after orientation and the picking up of some gear that included PPE coveralls, hard hat, rubber steel toe (well composite toe) boots, some good gloves, warm socks and Helly Hanson underwear I was ready for my first shift with Fraction Energy Services.

I did have a moment of "Good god, what have I gotten myself into". I have never done a real big boy labour job before. There was the time I was lugging newspapers as kid through all kinds of weather but that's another hardship all together. Anyways I am to report to the company production yard tomorrow to help get it cleaned up and sorted out for a security inspection that is up coming. As with any job or anything I have done it's eyes and ears open, mouth shut and just follow directions. I can usually figure out the process and procedures quick enough. Learning the skills come with time and I have proven that when I actually put my mind to task I excel. Now I just need to move that mind in a whole new direction....well that and this old body because this is going to be hard work.

How did day 1 work out?. I did some sweeping, cleaning and lugging of 6 inch hoses that weighed about 100lbs. Firemen have nothing on me now. I was learning about the systems and had just about as good a first day someone could have. However it was off to Edson Alberta and a real fracking site. I was about to enter the big time of the oil patch. Well enter the Oil Patch I did! On a piece of leased land (rented to drill) there were every type of rig, truck, container, tower, hose, cable and lights. There were also firemen, EMS and Environmental groups. Be careful what you ask for because you just might get hit smack in the face with it and be completely out of your element.....but that is what get the heart pumping and mind racing right. (It's apathy and complacency that kills you, not change.) Just don't do something stupid Ken, listen to what your told and shut the fu** up. You have no opinions today.

After briefings and security meetings the horn went off and we all went to our stations. It was a bit unnerving but nobody else was panicked so I held a brave face. Our job was to fill the massive water tanks (which we did already) from a man made pond that was being refilled by remote water trucks (something I was about to become very familiar with).  The pond was barb wire fenced off because one slip and it would be tough going. We worked inside the fence but used ropes, tethers and had life jackets. We also practiced rescue procedures in case something went wrong. No more dangerous then driving and hitting a moose right? This was a 36 hour process. Oncestarted we monitored the pumps, the hoses and tank flows. It was actually mindless. Sit in a warm truck for an hour or so, get out and walk the line, then repeat. Just a though. Fracking uses quite a bit of water and if we fail the entire Frack shuts $100,000 and hour. That scary thought kept me on my toes.

The next day I was sent to LodgePole, a town near Drayton Valley.  Just north of Lodgepole is the North Saskatchewan River and unless I get called to camp in Ft. St. John,  this is going to be my home for most of the winter. Oh man its going to be coooold! Water for fracking has to come from somewhere and its out job to pull it from the river. This is all regulated by the government including quantity per hour taken.  A large floating pump pushed water about 500 to 750 metres to our station and its emptied in to a large C Ring tank. I do not know how much there is but will find out the volume. This holding tank had drains and returns that run to a multiple valve system from which there are attached 4 inch hoses. Its from these hoses that we fill up the water trucks.

Now I am talking about transport trucks, sometimes lined up 10 at a time. We can fill up to 4 if necessary but for safety we stick to 3. The job is not difficult per say but there are some specifics you have to remember. Example, if you open one valve you must close another and vice versa, always walk the hose and drain it when your done so it does not freeze, and don't fall on the ice! Well I got the hang of it pretty quickly. The trucks pull in, you hook up and chat with the drivers if need be. It seems most are from the East, New Brunswick to be exact so it took no time to start a Maple Leafs/Montreal argument. Anyways, day 2 it was time to do nights. 530 pm to 700 am. There is always 2 during a shift and nights in particular. Well my partner was doing paper work (smoking) and I was out loading a truck when 3 more pulled in. I did not think about it, I just started directing these transports and they fell into line. I was out there standing in the lights of the trucks, attaching hoses, pumping water and stopped for a moment. HOLY SHIT, I was doing it. I am working the Oil Patch Man you can do something if you put your mind to it. Now it I need to get good at it. I have life and work experience on my side and the labour side I can learn. I can excel out here and as it's only going to be a short run here in the patch I am going to get as good as I can as fast as I can.

You can do anything folks. Deaths Coming, Lives Foreplay

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Railroad Engineer, An Oil Worker and A Doctor walk into a bar....

Wait, where is the doctor? Ron Barron is sitting in Cleveland waiting for his orders to move to Ottawa and take of a medical practice there. What a loser!!

But what a great surprise to get a text from my old friend Steve Penygie. He was in town for the day and I needed to get to the pub at the Quality Inn for a pint!. Steve, like so many of us came West from Ontario 3 years ago to find work. He landed a job with the railroads and after a good run he was ready to go home. "We are not 25 year old kids anymore are we Ken". The old Sensi is a wise one. It gave me a good vibe because I have no intention of staying out here for even 5 years so its nice to see someone else not get sucked into the lifestyle and stay the course. Bama and I have a plan and that plan is what keeps me going.

Well during our days in Collingwood as ski bums and bartenders and there was never a pint to be refused. The good Dr. Barron was not far behind when he was not leading the pack. The Blue Mountain years were good years.

Bama now keeps both my feet an my heart warm.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

810 km Red Deer Alberta to Fort St. John BC

Well hello British Columbia, I never thought I would see you on this trip. Goes to show you that anything can and will happen. I have not gone 4700 km and now when I turn off the engine I swear I hear my truck go "holy man, thank god dude". To put that into perspective, Port Dalhousie, to Fort Lauderdale is 2250 km. This is Florida and back my friends.

Red Deer was good and there were lots of opportunities however I received a call from Fraction Energy Services in Fort St. John British Columbia that was to interesting not to explore. So I packed up the truck and off I went. I passed through Nisku and Edmonton where there are jobs a plenty, then on to Grande Prairie and I will say it again. THERE IS WORK HERE IF YOU GET OFF YOU BUTT. I am like you, I thought sure there is work out west but is it really all they say it is and lots of jobs. The answer is think of a number an multiply it by 100, or 1000 and you might scratch the surface. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta were busy but now I sit in Fort St John and this town puts the BOOM in oil boom. Now add to that all the road construction, building construction and the icing on the cake. A new dam is being built on the Peace River that is an 8 year project. They are begging for guys here.

On the drive I passed through Mayerthorpe and made a quick stop at the Fallen Four Memorial  As with all tragedies you watch it on the news or read about it online but it becomes very real when you visit the site  I also passed through Dawson Creek (no not Dawson's Creek)  which is Mile 0 of the Alaskan Highway. The start of the Alaskan highway, good lord.

Well I walked into the Fraction Offices for what I thought was my interview and it turned out it was my orientation. They hired me on the spot!! I went through a full day orientation and training. I received new tickets including Transportation of Dangerous Goods, WHIMS, Bear Alert, plus company specific tickets that allows me to be outsourced to the big players like Suncor, PetroCan, Husky and Halliburton.

I will be a Water Tech 3, basically entry level position to learn the trade. I was told that my history in management and leadership will play a big role in advancing my career here. Now I need to learn the trade, easy peasy. Its all about opportunity and making it happen.

I have a plan and I am going to make it happen.

We Should All Be Watching More Junior Hockey

The NHL bores the crap out of me, there I said it.

To start with the equipment is to big and rock hard. Compare the equipment from even 25 years ago to today, its insane. There have always been injuries but reason there is so many injuries now is these guys are protected like gladiators and there is no respect, there is to much diving and every call is questioned and the players and coaches whine and complain like spoiled 6 year old kids. Young guys thinking they deserve 5 million after 3 years in the league, quality players turning down 7 million a year and guys past their prime getting 8 million a year for extended years. The main problem is these guys honestly believe they are entertainers and not athletes.

Why am I saying what we all know, understand and ignore (I am guilty to)? Its because we love our team and the game right?  Well I went to a Red Deer Rebels (2001 Memorial Cup Champions) vs. Saskatoon Blades game the other night. I had forgotten how great the Junior Hockey experience is.
The arena was world class with a capacity of 6500 and the beer was cold. I know there are bigger arenas in Junior in places like Mississauga, London, Halifax and countless other locations. Gone are the days of the musty 3000 seat barn like the Niagara Falls Memorial Arena. Those old barns are reserved for Junior B and C.
General Ticket was $21 at the door. I could have purchased it from the thieves that are Ticket Master but why pay $5 more just because I am addicted to the interweb. My seat was 3 rows behind the team benches which had me face to face with Darryl Sutter, former NHL great.   Beer was expensive at $6.50 but you could sit in your seat and were not confined to some roped off area behind one end or in some cave under the arena where you had to watch the game on closed circuit TV (again NF Arena). That being said there was a temp. bar behind one end that had 2 tvs going with NHL Games on. Sure these kids have NHL dreams and most will not make it but watching them play for the sheer joy of the game was fantastic.

Niagara Falls has had some great teams over the years with many players who moved on to NHL careers, plus a Memorial Cup or 2 along the way. One team that had the guys to go all the way were the NiagaraFalls Thunder. That 1988 - 1989 Thunder team was stacked however Bill LaForge and his insane 4 men deep and 1 defense back destroyed the season in the Division Finals against a real strong Peterborough Petes Team. A team who made it to the Memorial cup, which was eventually won by Swift Current Broncos from the West.

** With Credit to Swift Current, 3 years earlier the team bus crashed killing 4 players.
On December 30, 1986, the Broncos' bus crashed on the way to a game in Regina. Four players: Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff (younger brother of then-player and former Sabre coach Lindy Ruff) were killed. [1] Their jersey numbers were retired by the team afterwards, and the team still wears a commemorative patch in remembrance of the four players. The rest of the team, led by future NHL star Joe Sakic, who recorded 60 goals, played out the season despite the loss. In a move to memorialize the fallen players, the WHL now awards the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy to the league's Player of the Year.
** On that Memorial Cup winning Team was Sheldon Kennedy, another tragic hockey story.
I had season tickets that year and what a great year. Stan Druilia breaking the all time OHL career points, the tragic Brian Fogerty smashing Bobby Orrs Records and being taken in the top 5 nhl draft by Quebec, Jamie Leach breaking all kinds of short-handed goal records and Keith Primeau, a future NHL fixture

I have seen many hockey games in my days. However the greatest game I ever watched was the 7th game Eastern Conference Final between Niagara Falls and a very good London Knights Team. We won in overtime but the emotional ups and downs and elation at winning was something never to be forgotten...AND THIS WAS A JUNIOR GAME.

Like so many good Niagara Falls teams there was limited support (Niagara Falls is so messed up) and the team moved to Erie Penn. There were the Memorial cup Champion Niagara Falls Flyers on the 60s and the Niagara Flyers Redux coached by the legendary Burt Templeton. Both teams sadly moved along. Check the link and you may be surprised who players there as a junior.

Finally, remember when a great player would score a goal, raise his arms and that was it, they had done it before. Now guys are jumping all over the place like they need to entertain the fans....and that is the problem. Hockey players have been sold that they are entertainers not athletes playing a game. Play the game, that is the entertainment. Football is the worst offender and Basketball, well the entire NBA could fall off the face of the earth for all I care, what a joke that league is. Yeah Yeah its a multibillion dollar industry but so it cocaine distribution. It does not mean its any good.

Anyways, go out and support your junior team and have a little fun

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Red Deer Week 1

An interesting week indeed. Realizing I could not stay at hotels every night I found the Harvard park Business Centre. Leave it to Alberta to find a solution for cheap oil worker housing. In the summer this is an air cadet base and from September 1 to April 1 it is converted to cheap housing for transient workers like me. A big clean furnished room with  huge window facing west gives me lots of sunlight. Free laundry, shared kitchen and bathroom which I am used to after my travels in Central and South America so no worries there. The place is cleaned daily and spotless as well as secure as a military barracks can be. We are right beside the Red Deer airport so chilling and watching small planes land while I plan my next day is entertaining. There is a wide variety of people of all ages, shapes and sizes from all over Canada that are working or looking for work in the oil fields. 

I took a few days to get to know the town and on Wednesday I took a tour of the surrounding area with Ken Somers Alberta Oil Sands Solutions. Ken has been in the oil fields for over 25 years and knows the "how and where tos" about work. We drove around half a dozen industrial areas in and around Red Deer and to no surprise it was just scratching the surface. I dropped off over 20 resumes and he kept giving me tips and tricks on getting a "quick interview"

On Thursday I took a drive to Drayton Valley  which I posted on Facebook is a Big Boys Wet Dream. Booming Road Construction and Oil Field Work so  dump trucks, semis, tractors, trailers and big boy work everywhere. This is certainly a no bullshit kind of town.

I handed out 20 resumes and what I have noticed is every receptionist is polite, courteous and helpful. If asked they try and get you someone to speak with (no sighing or rolling of eyes). I can not say the same thing about any company I applied to in Ontario. However I did get one brick wall and at least she was honest. It was at OK Drilling and they were looking for Floorhands which is the starting position on a drilling rig and usually considered a young mans position.  Well I gave this woman my resume, she looked at me and said and I quote "ummm I don't think so". I actually laughed out loud, said thanks and moved along. I love unabashed honesty. I drove back to Red Deer via Rocky Mountain House, a town I have always heard of and just wanted to see.

Friday was spend back in and around Red Deer and Blackfalds hitting up the industrial parks, completely surprised that everywhere I turned there were Hiring Now signs everywhere. Here are just a few

I started apply on Wednesday and on Friday I got my first called backs. First one was Cathedral 
Energy, the second from Fraction Energy Services and the third from Trican Well Services. Remember I have ZERO experience in any type of labor jobs. I have interviews next week. These companies look for possible talent and they will TRAIN YOU. So as hard as it may be to leave the important people in your life (and trust me it can be difficult) there is no reason what so ever to be out of work if you are capable.

Monday I am heading to Nisku which is an hour North near Edmonton to saturate the area with resumes. I was encouraged by Ken Somers NOT to take the first offer you get as exciting as it will be.  Nisku is an industrial area dedicated to Oil Sands that is massive and all the major players are there. If put in 50 applications a day and you probably could not cover all the companies there in a month. If someone said that to be before I left Ontario I would have called "bullshit", now not so much.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

787 km - Regina to Medicine Hat and on to Red Deer

Does this road ever end? I am fried!

 I love driving and can drive for hours but my sanity is being challenged. This has been an 3300 km odyssey. I had driven to the West coast in 1989 but on that trip I went through the States, crossing into Alberta at the Montana border. I remember crossing and hearing the news that Canada and Brian Mulroney had just implemented the GST and that the US was preparing for war against Iraq for the invasion of Kuwait. I was driving my 1987 Jeep Comanche, the only vehicle I have ever purchased brand new.

I had just come back from a 3 month tour of Europe and Niagara Falls in the winter at that time was not a busy place and There was no casino. So I jumped in the Jeep and off I went. It was early just after Christmas and I was not going to stick around and endure another dreary Niagara Falls winter. So I pointed my truck West.

Some of the details are coming back to me as I write. I do remember being in a valley in Montana and stopping for a bite to eat. It was quiet, I mean silent. Off in the distance there were deer wandering around. I skied most of the winter. Park City Utah, Montana, Banff, Jasper, Mt. Allan and Nakiska, Sunshine, Lake Louise. I watched Scott Norwood miss "wide right" and CNN television the invasion of Kuwait. There is a good movie about how CNN was the only network that could get a live signal back to the US. Live from Baghdad with Micheal Keaton and Helen Bonham Carter which is worth the effort to watch

I met some people in Banff and we went to Vancouver then said screw it and drove south to California. We thought that was not enough so we flew to Puerto Vallarrta and spent 2 weeks there. I remember someone getting robbed and losing their passport (not me for a change).

I left everyone in California and drove home. Stopping in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, St Louis and crossing at Detroit. I slept in my truck and lived on Taco Bell. I will try and find some old pictures and scan them.

The epilogue of 1989 and 1990 was 4 months in Australia, 1 week in Hawaii, 3 months in Europe and 4 months in Western Canada and the USA with a brief stop in Mexico.

However I finally made it to Red Deer! Now I sleep

Saturday, October 19, 2013

688 km - Terrace Bay to Kenora

I am focused on Thunder Bay for a few reasons. First its at Thunder Bay that I actually turn West. The Terry Fox Memorial is here and as the Greatest Canadian this is going to be one of my random stops. Third, I spent 4 months in Thunder Bay 15 years or so ago doing some work on a CD Rom for Old Fort Williams. A CD that eventually was never published. This was a nasty period in my computer life and every single day I would wake up, look in the mirror and say to myself. "Ken, what the fuck are you doing here?"

What is there to say about Terry Fox that has not already been said.? I paid my respects, and enjoyed the view of superior. Terry Fox did not stop at this exact spot but its a fitting location for the monument. 

 I am a bit jaded when it comes to waterfalls having grown up in Niagara Falls, seen Gulfoss in Iceland and Iguazu Falls from the Argentine side. I came across Kekabeka falls which calls itself the Niagara Falls of the North. That's a stretch but it was nice to view for about 2 minutes.
Remember the episode of National Lampoons Vacation when Chevy Chase and  Beverly D'angelo stop and look at the Grand Canyon, well this was life imitating art again.  Next up, Dryden and my final stop Kenora. The drive was long and I made a few stops to rest and enjoy the fresh air of the north.

501 km - Brandon to Regina via Virden, Carslie and Weyburn

Today I start applying for jobs. What started with high energy ended with exhaustion. My crime? Not paying attention to distances that needed to be traveled from town to town.

It was excited. I was off to Virden and once I left Brandon the pump jacks appeared and multiplied as I headed inland. In Virden I stopped at Precision Well Servicing where the lady explained the role of the entry level floor hand and we went through the testing. I let my imagination get the better of me and thought, "wow first place I am going to get a job". Just then she said they were not hiring. I did not get mad for her wasting my time as she was courteous and took time for me. Something learned. Next was Tundra service who took my resume and said to call the HR manager and she would return my call. Its Friday so I will call Monday. A positive start.

Next up, Carlisle Saskatchewan. Wow Talk about the end of the world. Oil was discovered here in 1954 and it shows. Farming and Oil, that is what this town of 1450 is all about. Rows of Oil company field offices and Oil and Gas support companies. However, as I said this is nowheresville. Anyway, I stopped at Enbridge who had just posted a job in the paper. They took my resume and flagged it and the woman said call next week. She then directed me to a few other companies in the area. The are in dire need of HVac drivers (as is the industry) so tops on my list is getting my AZ license. There was about 6 hotels on the strip and not many houses, this reminded me of Corner Gas. Life imitating art that's for sure.

Next up, Weyburn. I did not think this out as Weyburn was far and I had already driven and stopped a few time. Same routine in Weyburn but this was a town as far as towns go. There was a long train going through the heart of the town and traffic was backed up. I just saw patient knowing faces as I passed the long row of cars.

This was more stressful then I had imagined. Just the anticipation of cold calling looking for work but the drives in between and the fact I did not eat all day had me shaking a bit, and I was going down the cosmic bunny hole of negative thinking. "What the fu** was I doing"

THANK GOD FOR BAMA!!!!! "stop, go find a room. Have a cold beer and a good meal. Get some sleep and start again tomorrow. What a girl! Its so incredibly difficult for her right now with me being away, but what does she do? She supports me and gets me off the ledge. Regina was just an hour away. 

432 km - Kenora to Brandon Manitoba

"There have been BEAR sightings around the parking lot and the pool area. When leaving the hotel please be cautious." That my friends is what I woke up to read on the paper slipped under my door through the night. The same message was posted on the door leaving the hotel. Good thing the bear was smiling and friendly in the picture otherwise I might have been nervous.

One final thought about Kenora. I have worn the same clothes for 4 days in a row and I was still the best dressed guy in Kenora. I am sure the fishing and hunting are excellent but if I ever drive across country again you can be sure I will take the bypass. Do you think a couple named Ken and Nora ever made the road trip to Kenora?

Well Manitoba is just a short drive. Interesting note. Gas on the Ontario North West side of the border is $1.35. Gas 3km away on the Manitoba North East side is 1.15. Kathleen Wynne you have some "splaining" to do.

Its funny how quickly the transports go from hauling lumber to hauling bales of hay. I stopped for lunch at a small diner and it took no time to realize I had left the tough hard people of northern Ontario and am now sitting amongst the hearty friendly farmers of Manitoba. There is a calmer feel to the people of Manitoba not the intense rigidity of Ontario's north

Actual conversation from the table next to me. This old guy, must have been early 70s was ordering breakfast. "I will have the 3 egg omelet but I would like egg whites only, I am trying to eat better and take care of myself....and can I have double bacon, I am starved"

Thankfully the Trans Canada bypasses Winnipeg. About 10km east of Winnipeg There is a sign on the Trans-Canada Highway at 96°48'35"W proclaiming it the longitudinal center of Canada in case that interests you.  The one thing I did notice when I got out to take this picture...the wind. Holy man. There is nothing to block it path or change its direction. It was not blowing hard, but it was blowing hard if you get what I mean. It was also a coooooold wind from the north. The woman at the desk of the hotel in Brandon said its not uncommon for the temperature to hit - 50c with the wind in the dead of winter.

Another observation of life on the remote parts of the Trans Canada. There are small hotels in every town and of course in the larger centres. Every hotel is clean with fridge and microwave cable and wife, and they are reasonably priced, about $60. The thing is, they are usually full. I have been lucky and have only been denied once. Anyways there are no tourist to speak of but then it hit me. There is road construction all along the Trans Canada and these workers need to stay somewhere. Also I found out that most towns have a mill of some kind and each of these hire large groups of temporary workers, and finally the Oil and gas guys (yes even in Ontario) are out in force. I was to find out that all the hotel rooms in Virden have been booked since September with the Pipeline workers of southern Manitoba.

Interesting times....

Friday, October 18, 2013

485 km Sault Ste Marie to Terrace Bay

Well that wasn't awful. $205 to replace a caliper and I was back on the road, and it was done by 10:30.  I was going to see if I could push on to Thunder Bay, if not no worries.

This was a great drive. Long hilly winding roads with Lake Superior on my left and a speed never going over 90k/h. The views were amazing and I stopped often. I pulled into Alona Bay and gave thanks for the good luck I had there, something I learned from the Peruvian Natives in the Andean highlands. Alona Bay, a mystical place for me indeed.

I had a thought as you do when you are driving alone for hundreds of kilometres at a stretch. Looking at the last of the leaves hanging onto both their tenuous perch and autumn colours I thought "why do we ignore natures beauty when  its alive, but stand in awe at them when they are dying". Case in point the mighty Canadian Maple. A spectacular variety of designs that most of us never think twice about when we see them in solid summer greens full of life. However, come fall when they are showing off their dying colours we stand in awe and wonder.
Second, how often do we actually stare at the stars in the sky, I mean lay down and stare at them. We glance "hey the big dipper" and say "wow lots of stars tonight". Full of life and they bore us but a shooting star which is a dying star captures all our imaginations and wonder. Can you think of any more? I know I will write an entire post dedicated to this thought but for now, on to Wawa.

A few Fun Facts on this legs of the journey

The mighty Canadian Goose of Wawa. A monument dedicated to the opening of the last link of the Lake Superior section of the Trans Canada Highway in 1960. I love this stuff.

Everyone who knew that Winnie the Pooh was Canadian put your hand up. Now keep your hand up if you that it was thought of or created in White River Ontario. Now keep your hand up if you know where White River Ontario is. If you still have your hand up put it down for gosh sakes.

I was passing through Terrace Bay and it started to rain. I was tired so that was enough for the day.  Man is Ontario ever a large province.

Monday, October 14, 2013

220 km Sault Ste Marie to Alona Bay....and back

I crawled out of bed around 7 and pulled back the curtains to a heavy fog. Back to bed I went until it burned off. Hwy 17 along Lake Superior is not to be messed with.

By 8 I was ready for the road but not until I scrapped the hard frost from the windscreen. Yes sir, I am getting North. After another walk around the College and a search for the Purple Lantern (long gone) it was time for 17 North along Superior. One of the most scenic drives in Canada.

Lake Superior Fun Facts and an interesting data sheet , it is the largest fresh water lake in the world holding 20% of the worlds fresh water. Sadly this is the stuff I find cool and interesting.

The sun was starting to warm things up and the drive was glorious. The trees still holding onto some reds, yellows and oranges and the rise and dips in the elevation made for great views. Streams and rivers coming off the lake were cause for pause and pictures

There was a 7 hour drive ahead and a stop in Wawa to see the Canadian Goose in Wawa must a must!  I stopped at Batchawana Bay Park where we use to ice fish for perch and was just enjoying the drive and letting my mind wander.  Funny how quickly things can change. I was climbing a slow rise and my truck was not responding, even struggling a bit. Thinking it was odd but nothing serious I did what anyone would do. I turned up the stereo.
With Zepplin in my ears and the now new smell of burning rubber filling my nose I was not in happy land any longer. I drove about another kilometre hoping that the smell was coming from the surrounding forests as it is Moose hunting season. Maybe a hunters bonfire but no sir the odor stuck with me, getting stronger. Up ahead was a lookout and so I pulled in and turned off the engine. The engine was safe because the smell and smoke were coming from my rear tire well. The wheel well, tire and rim were freaking hot to the touch. I knew enough not to toss water on it for fear of cracking any materials then I would be in the mix.

Now what do I do? I tried my mobile and there was no signal, total dead zone. I remembered seeing a touristy spot about 15k back so it made sense to hitch back and call CAA there or a high spot where I could get a signal. There was lots of traffic so no worries and I would walk it if I had to, I have walked 15k before. I packed my computer, phone, camera, flashlight, sweater, a few snacks, charger and a few other things into my pack and stood on the side of the road. With a colorful boreal forest in front of me, Lake Superior behind me and a winding road in front of me I was ready. I have be a part of this scene before.

No luck for 5 minutes standing on the side of the road as trucks and cars whizzed by with scared faces and saucer eyes staring back at me. Then I remembered my folding plastic SOS sign in my first aid kit. I gave myself a pat on the back for being a boy scout and ran and retrieved it . Seconds later and the first car to pass took a double look, turned around and pulled in. I told them my plight and the driver smiled, pushed a button on his dash and I heard "Welcome to Onstar, how can I help you". It wasn't the sexy voice you get on the TV ad but it did just fine.

With a little effort OnStar got in touch with CAA and help was on the way. As I was 100k north of the Soo it was going to be a couple hours. Well I had a great view of Superior, the sun on my face and a cooler full of food and drink. Time to live in moment. I said thanks to the couple from Thunder Bay and gave them my SOS sign. I had extras and they thought it was the smartest thing they ever saw. Yeah, one for Ken!!!
** note to self, your stranded 100km from any civilization and your giving yourself a pat on the back you bonehead**

Now anyone who knows me knows I am geek for anything historical and this was my lucky day. There were plaques to read. I learned something about Lake Superior, that to the right of me was the first uranium mine in Canada and to the left 30 km dead ahead lay the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It just made me pause and look out at Superior in that direction. Everything got eerily quiet. I think I heard a wolf howl.
 Gordon Lightfoot you did the Fitzgerald proud. Listen Here

A couple hours went buy quickly. The views were great, cars an tourists coming and going. My favorite being the dude who went over the historical plaque, took a picture (without reading anything) then drove off.  Its funny watching people go about their business.
CAA showed up (thanks Bama), and we were off back to town. The auto repair shop was beside the hotel I stayed at last night so I literally was back to where I began the day.

I checked into a different hotel to get some rest and regroup. The Howard Johnsons Sault ste Marie. The good news according to the reviews on Trip Adviser is this hotel is ranked 21st out of 21 hotels in the city. Of course it is!!!

Most people aim at nothing in life and usually hit it with accuracy

Sunday, October 13, 2013

780 Km - Port Dalhousie to Sault Ste Marie

So it begins.

About a month or so ago Bama and I were talking about how frustrated I was with trying to find a decent job. Read the report by Adzuna (and confirmed with a little googletime) that discusses the Niagara Region has the highest application to job ratio in the country. I have read reports ranging from 100 - 1 to 225 to 1.  Manufacturing and Production jobs have long been eroding from the area and are NOT coming back any time soon plus there is no technology sector to speak of. So adults are taking the low paying jobs to survive leaving nothing for students.

This conversation led to a reality check on where to work and restart a new career. There was only 1 real option, Alberta. The town with the largest new hires the last 3 years running, Red Deer Alberta. Then places like Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray and Edmonton. Then I was surprised to read about the oil boom that was happening in North Dakota and as oil does not recognize international boundaries towns in Southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba were starting to develop. So a tough decision was made. Now to make it happen.

I applied for quite a few jobs but it was obvious that was not going to work. I needed help. There were many companies offering basic training and knowledge dumps. I went with Alberta Oil Field Solutions Black Gold Oil Field Program with Ken Somers. This 3 days of training in Ottawa and I received my H2S alive and confined spaces tickets, critical for any job requirement. I upgraded my First Aid and CPR and with my clean driving record I have the leg up I need. However you need to be in Alberta (or Sask/Manitoba) and apply in person to make it happen.

So at 8:30 this morning and after a tearful good bye to Bama and Marina I hit the road. How many times had I driven the QEW to Toronto over the years?

First stop would be Sault Ste Marie where I went to college in what seems like a life time ago.

Once north on the 400 I passed Bradford - When I drove a van for Brights Wines I would always stop at the Village Inn for chicken wings.

I saw the cutoff to Collingwood where I lived for 6 years. Good memories as a bartender and ski bum, summer slo-pitch, and small town living.

The 400 changes to the 69 and I went through Perry Sound home of Bobby Orr, Britt where I had an amazing 4 day pike fishing trip a few years ago with some baseball buddies. At Sudbury I turned West on the 17 so no view of the big nickel.
The 17 goes through all the nice little town on the way to the Sault. Bruce Mines (Canada's first nickel mine), Thessalon, Blind River made famous by Neil Young, Espanola, Elliot Lake. The road was clear, the sun was shining and the leaves were trying real hard to hang on.

A thought about this part of the drive. North of Barrie I felt as if I was in one unending scene from a Tom Thompson painting. I was transfixed at every bridge crossing that were glimpses of wind swept trees and clear lakes nudging up to the hard granite of the Canadian Shield.

I pulled into Sault Ste Marie and found the first clean place to sleep along a strip of cheap motor hotels. There is a clean bed, TV to watch the ball game, wifi for some illegal downloads and a clean bed.

Sault College Redux
I remember telling everyone that I was coming here to study Forestry, the course being Forestry Technician. In reality I was a teenager that needed to find some independence and to clear the haze of a teenage pot fueled lifestyle.
Well the school had changed and is much larger. The former student housing is gone replaced by a parking lot. I just walked around the eerily quiet campus (holiday Monday) and it rekindled lots of old memories. .
- Fishing on the Saint Marie River
- Ice fish on Bachawana Bay and Trout Creek
- Winter Camping
- College Dorm life and all the fun that goes with it
- Learning to strum some basic cords on a guitar
- The Purple Lantern (if your from Niagara Falls think Bon Villa)
- Acer Rubrum the red maple and Acer Spicitum the mountain maple. The only 2 things I actually remember from college
- Pinewood 13 - 3
- Scoring the overtime winning goal to win the inter-mural ball hockey championship and the Sault Cup.
- Coming in 2nd in a 5km cross country ski race. I won a Molson mug that I still have
- The Downchild Blues Band
- The Kentucky Fried Chicken had a liquor license
- Molson Golden
- Grew up a little bit!

This is the last adventure for me to find work and I am only doing this for the $$. This is my last kick at the can for big money earnings before I say "I give", "That's enough work for me". Now its time to reap the rewards of a life of hard work and "semi" responsible living. Bama Agrees and wants to join me on the ride.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Complacancy vs. Evolving

Complacency, the most evil of diseases. In this life there are diseases that destroy the body, some that ravage the mind and those that cause death. Complacency destroys something much worse, your soul and your spirit that drives your will to live happy.

There is a great quote in the movie Black Hawk Down. If you fully understand it you should be shaken to your core. The warlord Abdullah 'Firimbi' Hassan: says "You Americans don't smoke anymore. You live long, dull and uninteresting lives".  What an amazing truth. Most of us live long, dull and uninteresting lives!!

I am not asking anything original here but how does that happen? As kids and young adults we have dreams and goals. I wanted to be a garbage man. Do we stop trying to achieve them because they are hard to attain? How is it that we stop challenging ourselves and easily fall into a  routine of mediocrity. We take a job or start a career that pays us $X then accept that as our limit and horribly learn to live with it. Listen I am as guilty as the next guy. I have been healthy and I never had the excuse, yes the excuse of marriage or children that so many people use as the barometer from which to hide behind. "Well no I can't, I am married and have kids" is such a bullshit answer to even the easiest of questions. When you think about it you are BLAMING your kids for your unhappiness right from the start. Kids pick up on that. Want to leave the job that is low paying and you hate? Well no I can't, I am married and have kids. Take a vacation lately. Well no I can't, I am married and have kids. Go to the gym, run or take up a sport, learn a language, go back to school what ever you choose? Well no I can't, I am married and have kids.

Some guys they just give up living
And start dying little by little piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up
Then go racin' in the street  

 - Racing in the Streets, Bruce Springsteen

Truth be told I am the absolute worst offender of this disease. I have never been married and do not have any kids and I have been relatively healthy. I tell Bama this and she reassures me that I have done more then so many people. (I do love this woman) This may be true in some cases however I know I have wasted so much time. I believe we all think that just do not say it out loud.

"The only thing worse than death is a regret filled coffin
So try before you die or always wonder what if?
            - J. Cole – Crunch Time 

As a Bartender and Waiter we allow ourselves to be paid below minimum wage and then make a living on the expected generosity of the people we serve, all the while our employers get wealthy off our hard work. We drive Fords and Jeeps, they drive Mercedes and BMW. Then we fool ourselves into boozing every time possible because we tell ourselves "this is the service industry lifestyle". What a piece of bullshit! Now I did have a great time in my early adult years working as a bartender. My pockets were flush every night and I had youth and limited responsibility on my side.

I remember Joe Vipari, the seasoned bartender at the old Fallsway hotel tell me one day. Ken you little shit. Spend as your going to spend but all you need to do is put $10 every night away that's it, just do that kid. This guy was the real Wealthy Barber.
Well a few years as a bartender/waiter turned into 15, and I decided it was time for a change. A tough choice indeed as this is the life that I knew and loved.

Working as a Computer Programmer and Webcasting Producer I had to start from the bottom and for about half of my previous yearly income. What the Fuck was I thinking. Now I am in an office space working with some decent people but the dickhead to decent person ration was about 25/1. Little did I know this ratio would only increase. The skills people had or acquired the worse they got (and the less work they did).  Now we worked for a salary however as a salaried employee you worked 10 to 30 and sometimes extra per week with NO pay. This phenomenon is justified as "dedication to my craft" and the hopes and promises of future riches that seldom appear....except for the company owner. You allow yourself to believer you are successful because you have a salary and schedule flexibility but that is a mirage. As you gain experience and your salary increases there is a tipping point where you stop challenging yourself and go through the motions so as to not LOSE this great setup. Look around the office that your working in. How much work are you really doing. Yes people are busy being busy but what are you contributing really? I had an interesting run. I went through so many companies that collapsed during the tech bubble.
Microforum (re brand after massive layoffs).
Nitromedia (closed, job loss)
Mediconsult (closed job loss)
Mediatropolis (re brand after massive layoffs)
STARTCAST(sold to Bell Canada then closed with massive layoff).
After a few years away I tried to jump back in with Thomson Reuters (short contract terminated), The Streaming Network (The only job I have ever quit as they are probably the douchiest group of people I have ever worked with.).
Along the way I met some amazing people, learned so much its hard to fathom, did make some good $$. After a rocky start I learned that yes, I can change but I needed to believe in myself anyone who told me otherwise I just had to tell them to fuck off!! I think we all need to tell someone to Fuck Off once in a while. Anyways a nice 14 year run

Then it was off to Central and South America for some volunteer and travel. A little over 2 years opened my eyes like never before. You want inspiration. Stand shirtless in the blazing sun atop a glacier in Antarctica on Christmas Day. That is a "man I can do anything" moment!

Now its on to Oil and Gas with eyes wide open that anything is possible.I have the support of Bama as difficult as this is for both of us but its something I need to do.  New skills and opportunities await. The skills learned you get paid for, not with promises but with $$$. Overtime is paid 1.5times and its encouraged. The work will be hard but once gained the doors of opportunity are unlimited. I just have to do it.  ** its tough to grasp that you finally find or in this case reconnect with the absolute right girl, but in order for us to move forward I have to leave. Karma you are a tricky bugger

Now how did I waste so much time. We things I could have accomplished during the previous years. Get my degree, hell get an advanced degree, learn a trade, learn multiple languages. Travel to more places, run a marathon, read war and peace, give to the get the picture, well at least I do.

...and of course there are next steps along the way.

Now this is only a career based post. There are so many more elements to consider. However Complacency you do creep in when I am not ready. I know people who have more money then they will ever spend but always say they are broke. Friends addicted to work only because it makes them seem busy and important nary a smile on their face but always with a drink in their hand. People who have adult kids living in their basements and complain the do not do anything.  People who say they can not afford to do anything but are buying their 4th tv, second mobile device while driving around in their new car wearing their new expensive leather coat. People whose main friends and relationships are virtual through Facebook and live lives of "maybe" and "One Day".  The posting of tweets on Facebook via Hootsuite then sending a text to say "read my post" becomes the ultimate time waster. Do I really need to see a picture of your sandwich or read an obtuse moralist opinion on something irrelevant? (Anyways that is for another time)
This is no reflection on any one person but myself  and how I am trying to change. Keep my eyes and ears open to the world no matter how scary things become. You need a goal and you should do anything to reach that goal. Will it be easy, probably not but if it was easy then everyone would be doing it....maybe I should have been that garbage man.

Have you ever wondered about the guys who are doctors that know 4 languages, are happily married with 3 kids, Climbed Mt. Everest, has a 3 degree martial art black belt, does great charity work and well you get the picture? How is that possible eh?

Anyone who knows me has heard me spout off about Dr Susan Jeffers who wrote Feel the Fear and Do It Anyways Give it a read

**Interesting side note, the Regrets of the Dying and 25 of Life's Regrets

FINALLY, I am not having a nervous breakdown or mid life crisis (whatever the hell that really is), well at least I don't think I am. I find writing therapeutic and I write the thoughts the come into the strange inner working of my brain. I write about what I know or have perceived to have learned along the way. I am going to write what I think and if it offends anyone well OK. I am not going to delete something or say someone hacked my computer then delete it. Its out there for the world to see.

Deaths Coming, Life's Foreplay. Remember that!!!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Marina, The Dalhousie Cat

This is Marina our grey Tabbie in all her wondrous glory. Named for the Marina in Port Dalhousie which is a 5 minute walk away she has taken over the house as any cat can.

Now Marina is a typical cat but certainly not a lap or sleep on your face kind of cat. She picks and chooses he places to chill and they change daily. Chairs, back of the sofa, rug, floor or window pane, the world is her napping bed. However she is never more then 5 feet away. Having dinner, right under the table, a little mindless television and she is sprawled on the rug at our feet, go down to the basement for any reason (usually cleaning her litter box) and it only takes a second to hear the "thump, thump, thumb of this cat bouncing down the steps to see what is going on.  As I am writing this at the dining room table she has hopped on the chair beside me.  Very cool cat that Marina.

After initial inspection she rarely goes up the stairs to the top floor. Once in a while she will charge up the stairs, run down the hall and bound down the stairs all in one motion. It takes about 10 seconds and is a random act of crazy which cracks me up. There is the exception to the "no upstairs rule". Cats being what they are really make up their own rule anyways. Every morning Bama and Marina have a little routine.  Bama wakes up and walks over to the landing and I hear "good morning Marina, good morning". She goes downstairs for a little cat/woman time and I hear "ok I have to shower".  This cat then decides to go up the stairs and sit outside the shower, then on the counter top while Bama starts her day. Then down the stairs they go in unison and Marina follows Bama while she opens the 5 window blinds. Once the final one is open she tears off across the floor to the kitchen knowing its breakfast time.  I mean EVERY morning this routine happens. In between there are some belly rubs and scratching but that is just Bama trying to wake me up.

Cats need to get outside. Exercise, explore, chase things, eat bugs whatever. Marina was reluctant and stayed close but her morning jaunts are now going longer. Today she was gone the better part of 2 hours. This cat is being a cat; In the morning Bama goes out to the back porch call out Marinas name and whistle calling her back, and depending on how far away Marina is she comes charging through the plants on either side of the house and bounding up to the porch. If that is slow to work we literally shake the bag of food (yes like the TV commercial) and this cat tears it up bounding across the lawn like she has never been fed before. Another thing that cracks me up, even in the morning before coffee.

As an aside, when I am here alone and I let the cat out the house feels empty. How odd is that, it's a cat for shit sake. That being said Marina is important to Bama and although not a crazy cat lady (yet) you can see the bond and tenderness between them.  With me leaving soon this is even more the case. Marina was gone and did not come back before Bama left for work and for the first time I could hear the fear/sadness in Bama's voice and it broke my heart. Marina did come back (after a shake of the food bag) and all is right again.

Here is my view of a life of a cat.
Eat, Poop, Sleep
Go outside and explore, maybe eat a bug
Eat, Sleep, Poop

We rescued her from the local SPCA and she is happy as a cat can be and maybe that explains the independence with separation anxiety.  But Marina if you are reading this I have a special message for you.

Dear Marina:

When we saw you in the cage at the SPCA your back was to us. You turned your head, put out a paw, meowed them turned away again. No jumping up and down or other craziness, just the "well take me as I am" attitude.  You were the cat for us.

You have fit in nicely and we enjoy everything you do with the exception of 3 things. Your incessant need to knock over your water dish, cleaning your litter box and you're disappearing for extended periods of time when you go outside. I do think winter will cure that habit fast enough.  You help make this house a home and watching Bama's face light up when she see you is worth its weight in kibble.

But Marina you now have a big assignment. I am leaving to go out West in a few days and I am going to be gone for a while. Bama is very supportive but also very scared. I need you to help her while I am working to secure our future. You need to keep doing what you are doing. Meeting her at the door when she comes home from work, your morning routine, and being near her at all times. Until she finds her footing, she is going to be a bit nervous, sad and yes scared. This is new for her. Some people would have given up considering the challenges she has faced in the last couple of years, but not her.  She has a depth of character and inner strength that may not always show on the outside but it is there. She has also allowed herself to become vulnerable and learn to lean on us, ask for help and that it's ok not to try and go it alone.  She has survived cancer twice Marina and still has the ability to laugh.Its time for us to take care of her.

Marina I need you to make sure she gets healthy and fit. She needs to continue to eat vegetables and good meals, get exercise and take her medication. If she falters on any of these I want you to poop on her comforter, you have my permission. With me gone away for work you will need to step up. Like I said, keep doing what you are doing, but do it more. Does that make sense?

Have fun being a cat and never stop chasing bugs. When I come t back we will play chase the laser as much as you want.

Lots of Love