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“Oil and gas people are, by nature, dreamers.”—Midland City Councilman Jeff Sparks Midland Reporter Telegram, July 24, 2011
1. You Know What Goes with a Boom, Don’t Ya?
“My husband and I have lived here for forty years, and this is the craziest thing we have ever seen,” Jodi, a seventy-five-year-old cosmetology instructor from Midland College, says from an adjacent chair at the Chrysalis Salon in Midland, Texas. Mechanical rollers travel slowly up and down my spine, and my feet are submerged in a footbath that resembles a mini–hot tub. They soak like two pork tenderloins as Jodi continues, “I always ask people, ‘You know what goes with a boom, don’t ya?’ and most of the young people don’t know you’re supposed to say, ‘A bust.’” The young woman filing Jodi’s calluses nods along. “This one just feels different,” Jodi says, and her gray bouffant bobs slightly. The hair on the back of Jodi’s head has been cut to less than an inch in length. I can’t tell if her choice in hairstyles is aesthetic or medical, but her hair frames her face in such a way that it reminds me simultaneously of a lion’s mane and white petals circling the eye of a daisy.
“I bought my house for $41,000 twenty-five years ago, and now it’s worth over $180,000,” Jodi says. “It’s all kind of funny money, though. All the other houses cost the same amount or more—some much more—so the only way you can make any money is by selling your house and leaving town.” As Jodi says this, Rachel returns to check on my feet. Rachel appears to be in her midtwenties. She has a piercing just above her upper lip and a dyed-blond curl that dangles amid her brown locks. When she isn’t speaking, she tongues the piercing subconsciously. I ask her what stands out to her about the economic boom in Midland, and the first thing she mentions is the terrible service at restaurants. “It’s an hour-and-a-half wait,” she says. “You have to go to dinner at 4:30, or else you won’t get seated. No one wants to work service-industry jobs when they can go work in the oil fields and make a lot more money.” As Rachel says this, she produces what looks like a shrimp fork from a small tackle box and begins plucking at my cuticles. “I’m a single mom, and the only good thing about the boom is that my child-support payments have tripled over the last four years,” she says. “My son is in fifth grade, [End Page 32] and his school is at capacity. Because his father and I are divorced, my son has two addresses to choose from for school, so that helps.”
“My husband worked in the oil fields,” Jodi says. “It’s a very dangerous job. In the old days, the men would be gone for a week or two, and you wouldn’t hear a peep out of them. It’s just a man camp out there. You wouldn’t know if they were alive or dead. My husband would sometimes come home with burns from putting tongs on a pipe, or he would tell me about how they almost dropped a pipe on him in the hole, things like that.”
“Those guys are under a lot of stress,” Rachel says. “Some of them work twenty-five days straight and then have five days off. They’ve got all these deadlines, and if they don’t make them, their whole team might be laid off or switched out with another one. When I first started dating oil-field guys, I didn’t know anything about the business. They’d talk about ‘TD,’ and I thought they meant touchdowns, but they were talking about total depth. The guys you have to stay away from are the ones who work two weeks off and two weeks on. That means they usually...