Out of the Tap and Off the Record
Blue-collar workers, including gas company employees and pipeliners, are conversational people, especially after they’ve had a few beers. They love picking on each other, and they like to talk about how things were done where they last worked compared to the way things are done around here.
I enjoy knocking back a few cold ones with the locals, and, invariably, there are going to be a few gas industry-related workers in the bunch. Though I am cautiously social, I consider myself to be a “people person,” and I’m equally inquisitive about the life of a dairy farmer or a hairdresser as I am about a rig safety inspector or a tanker driver if he or she is articulate and doesn’t drop the “f-bomb” every five-to-six words. I’ve found that, if I express an interest in what a person does for a living, he or she will divulge details that you would never have asked for and sometimes didn’t want to know.
Some companies work harder than others at controlling what the media and the public knows about their operations, but, luckily, few of the guys who drive the big white pickup trucks rub elbows with the front line workers who frequent rural beer gardens. On the other hand, I love to shed my pressed shirt, dress pants, tie, and polished shoes a couple nights a week and pull on a flannel shirt and camouflage hat and head down a dirt road for a beer.
I rarely introduce myself beyond my first name, nor do I tell many people what I do for a living. It’s not a clandestine modus operandi by design, as much as it is an opportunity for me to escape my professional life and get back to being a country boy for a few hours. It does my soul good to hang out with other people who love the taste of venison, who aren’t afraid to get their trucks muddy, and who believe that “Christmas” lights were meant to be used as year-round decorations.
As a consummate news reporter, however, I cannot deny that my eyes and ears are constantly tuning in to those off-the-record tidbits that never make it into press releases or police reports. People love to talk about politicians and law enforcement officials who they believe are crooked. They like to talk about neighbors who are doing peculiar things. And they like to talk about their jobs, especially now that so many of them are lucratively employed again.
Their unsolicited confessions provide an insight for me to segments of society to which I’m not directly connected. While I don’t thrive on such stream-of-conscious social patter—nor do I instigate it—these conversations inevitably color how I feel about certain situations. If a particular topic or name comes to the surface over and over again, I can’t help but think that there might be something to it. If I were reactionary, I could have developed feature articles out of several of the stories that I considered to be more credible than others, but I’ve come to the conclusion that much of this information is best kept “under the radar,” lest I forfeit my “Joe Six-pack” status.
I’ve made a mental list of the most interesting comments that I’ve heard in barrooms during the last year, and I considered sharing most of them with you. I decided, however, to filter out the statements that would make industry officials uncomfortable, even though I believe there is a grain of truth to each of them, such as the protocol for gas workers who get into accidents with company vehicles. And I have nothing to gain from divulging which small-town officials are least respected, even though some of the stories I’ve heard about them would make anybody suspicious.
On a positive note, the commentary that has impressed me the most has come from gas workers who are genuinely enthralled by the beauty of the Endless Mountains, as well as the laid-back nature of most of its inhabitants. Quite a few of these men and women, who have worked all across the country, have said that they would stay here forever if they could, and I hope that some of them do. Others, as I have previously mentioned, have implied that our country charm does not equate with being rednecks, although our efforts are deemed appreciable.
But one statement that I’ll attribute to a pipeliner from Louisiana whom I talked to one night in October at the Wyalusing Hotel really came from the heart and stuck with me. It seemed to best quantify a year that began with a whole lot of complaining about the damage that water tankers were causing to our roads that is now drawing to a close with a much greater concern for people who are displaced and who do not yet have adequate living situations.
“Y’all have some beautiful country here. That flood really messed a lot of it up. It was sad. I feel bad for y’all.”
Here’s wishing a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the working class heroes, including those from out of town. If you cannot get home to be with your loved ones for the holidays, I pray that you find the comfort of good friends and know that your presence in our community is appreciated. In the meantime, keep on talking, because I like listening.