This story was inspired by the song "Because of you" by Reba McEntire.
Because of you
I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you
I learned to play on the safe side
So I don't get hurt
My life was fun, fulfilling, and complete until it wasn't; because of you.
I had a wife that was my lover and confidant until I didn't; because of you.
I used to be outgoing, fun to be with, and free spirited, now I'm not; because of you.
Because of you, I have none of the important things I had at one time.
Because of you, my life is a dark shadow of the sunny bright future I once had.
I know this all sounds very melodramatic, but every word is true. My life was going pretty good until about 18 months ago, that's when everything went to hell in a hand basket.
My name is Jason Patrick Riley. At 30, I am or I was a sort of accountant, efficiency consultant, and trouble shooter for one of the largest and richest independent oil companies in West Texas. I worked in Midland Texas, although I traveled all over the country and sometimes the world for my boss. He hired me right out of college and I became a jack of all trades for him and his company.
I graduated from high school and had to go to work full time to help out the family. My family consists of Mom and my sister Sally and me. My mom is a single mother and has raised us kids by herself. My drunken asshole of a father left us two weeks after Sally was born; I was six at the time.
We never heard from him again. Mom always managed to cloth, feed us, and give us a decent place to live, but there was never any extra money. I started working part time when I was 14 and haven't stopped working since. Well right now I'm not working, but we'll get to that later.
At 6' and around 175 pounds, I was big for my age at 16. If I kept my voice low I could pass for 18. That's how I got my first job in the oil fields. I think Butch, my first boss, knew that I wasn't 18 but I told him about my family and he hired me anyway. He wouldn't let me work on the floor of the rig but there was plenty to keep me busy doing other things.
I did basically most of the grunt work necessary around a drilling rig. I would roll drill pipe into position to be picked up, tote the bags of drilling mud to the mixer, make sure there was water in the catch basins for drilling and anything else that needed to be done. I worked part time on the evening shift from 6 PM until 10 PM so I could go to school during the day. When I finished school I went to work as a full time rough neck on the floor of the rig. I had grown to 6' 2" and added about 40 pounds by this time so I had the size to work on the rig.
After 2 years as a rough neck, a friend of my mother's, Jared, decided that I needed to become a driller. It paid more and wasn't as hard on your body as being a rough neck. You could only work so many years as a rough neck before the back breaking labor beat you down.
Jared was about 50 and had been a driller for 25 years. His face was seamed and lined from his years out in the weather and his hands showed the abuse given them for the last 25 years. He walked stooped over and with a limp from an accident on a rig about 15 years ago. He looked like he had been rode hard and then rode hard some more.
I was working the day shift and would stay over to learn from Jared. After almost a year working with and under Jared I got my first job as a driller. The hardest part about being a driller, once you know the technical aspects, is controlling your crew. Rough necks are an independent group and have to respect you before they will work hard for you.
My first time out as a driller I had an older crew; I was the youngest at 21. Being a new driller I had to work the night shift, 10 PM to 6 AM. There was one ole boy on the crew that wasn't going to put up with a young punk as his boss. Jesse was 28 and a veteran rough neck. The first time he challenged me, I told him to get to work or get off the rig. Words and threats were exchanged and the rest of the crew had to pull us apart. I gave as good as I got, but if it had gone on much longer I would have gotten my ass kicked.
The tool chaser, who is the overall boss on an oil rig, sent Jesse home and docked his pay for fighting. Normally fighting on a rig will get you fired, but if he fired Jesse he would have had to let me go too. Drillers for the night shift were hard to come by so no one got fired.
The next night I was waiting for Jesse before the shift began. As he got out of his truck, I told him we had unfinished business and needed to get it taken care of before we started our shift. We went behind the tool trailer to have our discussion. Our "talk" wasn't on the rig itself so the head man had no say so about what went on.
Jesse knocked me down three times but I got up four and started for him again. He held up his hands and said, "I've had enough. I'm afraid I'll break my hands on your face and won't be able to work. You win Jason, let's go to work."
I had earned the crews' respect for standing up to Jesse and never had any more trouble from them. I guess the word spread because I never had a problem with any other crew. Months later when Jesse would find out I was drilling a well somewhere; he would come to work for me. We actually became friends and would share a few drinks together.
Two years as a driller made me realize that there had to be something more to life than oil rigs. The west Texas weather baked you in the summer and froze you in the winter. Add in all the thunderstorms, rain, lightening strikes and the weather was not your friend.
People always say that the Kansas plains are flat but they are hilly compared to west Texas. Oil is often found around a salt dome and a salt dome three feet high stood out like a high hill on those west Texas plains. The storms and winds would roll for miles with no hills or vegetation to slow them down.
In addition you had the dangerous job of the work on an oil rig and you can understand what a tough life this was. The rattlesnakes, scorpions, and spiders were another reason that the rig was not a good place to spend your career. At least not for me, I wanted to work smarter not harder. I didn't want to end up like Jared in another 25 or 30 years, bent and broken with hands that were gnarled and full of arthritis. One more detriment to working on a rig, once you started drilling there were no days off. You worked 7 days a week, week in and week out, until the well was finished.
I took jobs that let me work the night shift from 10 PM to 6 AM so I could go to college during the day. My schedule was set up so that my last class was over at one. That gave me time to get home, eat, study and get some sleep before I started on the rig at ten. I didn't take off summers from school so I graduated in three years with dual degrees, one in accounting/business management and one in computer science. The day after graduation I began to look for a position where I could use my new degrees to get off the oil rigs.
Along came Billy Ray Jones and the Jones Oil Company. Yeah, that was his real name. A lot of the ole boys in Texas had two first names that they answered to. Joe Bob, Billy Bob, Bobbie Ray, etc. etc. etc. I guess it's because everything is bigger in Texas and one name isn't big enough.
Billy Ray had an ad in the local paper wanting to hire a full charge accountant/bookkeeper so I put in for the job. He called me and we met at his office on a Friday afternoon at 3 PM. This would give me time to get some sleep after the meeting so I could go back to the rig that evening. I hadn't quit my job as a driller and wouldn't until I got something else to move on to.
I gave him a resume I had typed up and we discussed my qualifications for about 30 minutes. Then we discussed my rig experience and the oil "bidness" for another hour. He asked, "Why do you want quit working on the rigs, drillers made pretty good money?"
"Yeah they do, but it's hard on a body. Someday I hope to have a family and I want to be able to play with my kids and maybe grandkids." I explained about how beat up Jared was and said, "I don't want to end up like that."
Billy Ray knew Jared and still hired him as a driller once in awhile. "Let me think on this for a day or two and I'll call you and let you know Jason," Billy Ray told me ending our interview. I found out later that he called Jared, Jesse, and my mama to find out what kind of a man I was.
I thanked him for his time and went home to get some rest before starting my shift on the rig. It was an interesting meeting and I enjoyed talking to Billy Ray, but I really didn't think I would get the job. His secretary Judy told me that I was the youngest person to apply and she seemed surprised that a big strapping rough neck like me would apply for this job.
Ten days later I got a call from Jones Oil wanting me to meet with Billy Ray again. This time it was a Monday morning around 9 and as I walked into the office his secretary handed me a cup of coffee and led me into Billy Ray's office. He was on the phone and pointed for me to take a chair.
Billy Ray got off the phone and smiled at me. "I'm offering you the job as accountant, if you still want it Jason. "Here's the salary I'm willing to start you at." He slid a folder piece of paper across his desk to me. I think Billy Ray had been watching too much T.V. "How's that look boy?"
.... There is more of this story ...