De-Mobbed to the Coast

“De-mobbing” is a term I had heard before, but never with sufficient context to understand. Now that I have personally been de-mobbed I’ve learned that it’s the opposite of mobbing, which is mobilizing. As in, mobilizing your troops and their complement of vehicles and materiel to the area of operations. Which for us was (as discussed in the preceding post), the oil sands of Fort McMurray.

“Oh man, the last day is going to be a knee-deep gong show.” — Somebody
“No, Pierre’s pretty experienced with de-mob, it should run smoothly enough” — Somebody else.

installing wattle with handtools

The last day turned out to be long by several hours but only partially a gong show, and fun in the sense that I prefer too much to do over looking busy while drawing out remaining tasks. Pick axes make poor props but decent tools. When the day ended we drove out of the main mine site with all our trucks in convoy, our boss’s little Kootenay Toyota in point position, looking madly undersized but triumphant. Anywhere north of 55 degrees latitude compact pickups start to look odd next to the 1-ton 350 super duties that are de riguer in the oil patch, and alongside the world’s largest trucks in the worlds largest hole it’s just comical. I rode shotgun in our 5-ton moving truck and I’ve rarely felt better to be outbound from a contract. We bumped and heaved our rolling box of unneeded supplies onto that big beautiful divided highway to nowhere, and pointed ourselves north to camp one last time. I was grinning like crazy. Done was what I wanted to be.

Liz in truck

The company I was working for were good people. Smart, competent, worldly, pleasant, funny people who did a good job and took care with it. And being in the midst of the oil sands operation was, as an abstract exercise, just as fascinating as could be. But as a daily thing living and working there is no place to live and, long-term, no way to work. I say that knowing that I may someday be grateful to compromise my ideals and my preferences to make money there again. But I was surely glad at the end to be leaving. We were there on a one month contract, significantly short by tar sands standards. We didn’t chat much with the other folks at our work camp, but it seemed like months and years are not uncommon stints. Most employees are on shifts of 10-and-4 and it’s routine practice for companies to pay to fly people back to their homes for the 4. Despite the short contracts my company does there, they too are considering breaking it up into two halves with a paid flight home in between. All this flying of folks around seemed rash to me at the start, but I’m now thinking there are good reasons for it. Staying in Fort McMurray, especially in camp, can wear down your character. I suspect that might be true even if a person was sanguine about the environmental implications of the work they did. A significant break in real life might help to make people real people again. Even in a recession there is work to be had there, and it can pay extremely well, but the process of shuttling between pit mine and dinner line and dorm room strips your sense of what’s worth doing and what’s worth spending money on. That puts some kind of limits on the value of the cash you might make. You need to know why you’re there, or else you’ll just keep buying trucks, parking them in front of the work lodge, totaling them while you still owe payments, and going back to work.

Courtney reading The Express

At least that was my impression from my little 1-month mini-contract. That doesn’t put me in a good position to generalize or judge the people who work there year-round, so maybe I should shut up about it. In any case, I’m gone.

photographing dinosaurs

There are 14 ferry sailings a day from Vancouver to Victoria, and I’m on one of them. I’ve been back on the coast for three weeks now, mostly working on an interesting contract involving caribou and Google Earth, and hanging out with Jane, and getting moved in to our new place. I’ve many times in the past made the transition from work camp life to town life, and given that “camp” this go round meant a roof and a bed and wireless broadband, this could have been one of the less abrupt transitions. But hitting the streets my first morning in Kitsalano, I felt stranger than I can ever remember feeling post-planting. The people looked weird, and the personal scenarios suggested by their bearing and friends and clothing and packages struck me as theatrically improbable. Life here is more complex than working in a pit mine. I’m feeling very pleased about that complexity right now, very pleased.

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