Born for Adventure
In 1978 Oklahoma was experiencing an oil boom, mostly out on “the pan handle” so Enid was the perfect place for George’s little army of predators and scammers to set up their base. Twice a big as Norfolk and twice as rich, Enid’s predominant culture of newly well-off oil workers was much more used to (and thus less suspicious of) those engaged in the door-to-door sales trade. Of course no one would have tolerated the out and out thievery George’s crew thrived on, but at least they could operate long enough to regroup after the setback in Nebraska.
As for me… My attitude was now at an all-time low and my sales record reflected this. The disillusionment I’d begun to feel on-route canvasing rural Kansas was now complete and I wasn’t scared anymore. I was resolved. I was going to get out and I didn’t care how. I certainly didn’t care about selling any more damn books so I started self-sabotaging any chance of making a sale by changing my pitch to something like…
“You don’t want to buy any magazine subscriptions, do you?”
Yup, I was a traitor all right, but I was soon to be free. I saw my chance right away when I was sent out to Woodward on the first day. A small town on the panhandle that was booming with oil money, Woodward was ripe for the picking by the likes of George’s crew.
I got lucky almost immediately, but not by selling anything… Oh no. At one of the first houses I went to the owner took one look at me and offered a way out. This guy had just recently bought his house. He was a roughneck and said I’d get a job no problem. Starting wages were about $1,900 a month and they were begging for strong young men like me. The man showed me a studio apartment he’d recently built above his garage and said I could have it for $300 a month. He also said he’d let me move in right away and that I could pay him as soon as I got my first paycheck from the oil company.
As we drove back to Enid with the sun setting behind us over the beautiful painted mountains, I was finally beginning to feel somewhat free again. My mind began filling with plans. I would return the next day to start my new life on the oil fields. I would pack my stuff and put it discretely in the car and make my escape while the rest of the crew were busy scamming as many of these hard-working folks as they could. It seemed I’d be free of this gang of predators and scammers I’d made the mistake of joining, soon enough… the next morning.
That next morning however, I was told that I wasn’t gong back to Woodward. I was instead taken to canvas a regular neighborhood in Enid. I saw a scene there that shocked me a bit and made me seriously question the idea of working on an oilrig. It showed me a completely different view of how life could be if I followed those plans I’d just made.
Here in Enid, were the houses of the oil workers who had been doing this job for a while. The houses were small but with expensive toys all around. Boats and cars and patios with a BBQ grill and swimming pool… they had the new American Dream, these guys. The houses were full of big new TVs and expensive stereo equipment and… their wives.
Their spoiled young, lonely wives.
Guy was literally drooling as he spoke of how easy these women were, to sell books to and… It seemed to me that he was taking me to this neighborhood to show me how good life could be, taking from these fools (liberating them from their money). He probably thought it might inspire me to try harder. He had no idea how I saw all this. How to this day, it reminds me of the life I would NEVER want!!
Of course I now wasn’t even considering a life anywhere near Guy and the rest of George’s crew. I knew that nothing I’d see here could convince me otherwise. But what I didn’t expect, and what really got under my skin was when I met a few of the men living this life… the life of an oilrig roughneck.
In some of these houses we were going to, the husband was at home. Oilrig workers worked long hours, many days in a row but were then off for weeks at a time. When I got one of these guys answering the door he almost always stopped me in the middle of my pitch and called his wife to speak to me while he went back to his beer and whatever he’d been watching on TV. I noticed that a high percentage of them had missing fingers and this began to bother me.
At this time in my life, I had yet to take up the guitar to accompany my singing but it was obviously in the back of my mind somewhere. Consciously I thought I was going to follow through with my plan. I’d go to Woodward and start my new life as an oilrig worker. It would be an adventure for sure. Certainly way better than even one more day with the predators and scammers I’d been trapped with for the last several weeks. It would be hard and dangerous work but there would be plenty of money in the oilfields, yep, an adventure…
But unconsciously… something was calling me to a different kind of adventure.
The next morning I told George I was quitting (as per my plan) and he threw me out of the motel shouting and cursing at me (as I’d expected) but for some reason I found myself on the highway instead of the bus depot. All I had was a suitcase and the $10 George had thrown at me for bus fare. When I had first signed onto his crew there was actually a clause in the “contract” stating that at any point I wanted to quit, I was entitled to the cost of a bus ticket home.
I’d told George that I wasn’t going home to Rochester, Minnesota. I told him that I was going to Woodward to start a lucrative career in the oil industry so he figured ten bucks was all I’d need. I gladly put that bill in my pocket and started walking.
But instead of going into town to find my bus, I walked up the entrance ramp onto US Highway 64. I got myself to the northbound side and stuck out my thumb. I was going back to Norfolk, Nebraska to find Fred. Fred was cool and I dreamed of joining him and his rock n roll band and going on tour.
That was the kind of adventure that I was made for.