In a sense, I’ve been schooled. It’s not easy to come into an oil town and get the sort of access that I’d like. As much as I’d like to walk onto a drilling site and start shooting photos of guys working hard, that’s just not going to happen. I tried starting at the top but, in cold-calling a couple of drilling companies, “not interested” and “this conversation is over” were the highlights of my efforts.
I have managed to secure some other contacts so things are moving forward – though not at the pace I’d like. Instead of focusing on that, I’d like to share another experience that I didn’t think too much of at the time, but in retrospect was one of those moments that only could happen out here on the Bakken Oil fields.
Walking back to the van after taking photos of a passing train, a man in a car pulled up. “Which way to Williston?” he asked.” That was an easy answer as it was just a mile or two down the road. Seeing my camera, he asked if I was a professional photographer. “Yes I am” I answered in my well-practiced drawl.
Eager to talk, he swiftly exited his car and began asking questions and telling us about his life. He’d been in his car for days – traveling from 1,800 miles from his home in Louisiana, his road atlas as his guide and only companion. From his excitement in speaking with us, it was obvious that he was overjoyed to connect and share with someone, anyone – and that just happened to be us, two strangers who gave him directions.
Like every other newcomer, he came in search of work. He wore a neat collared shirt. Recently dry cleaned shirts hung in the back of his car – ready for him to proudly wear at his hoped for new job. Though I hated to squelch his enthusiasm, I gently let him know that in this town, t-shirts and jeans are the standard uniform. No matter. He lifted his pant leg to show us his duct taped shoe that one of his two labradors had chewed on. (He left his wife at home, but it was the dogs that he missed most.)
Because the sun was not far off from setting and I had a photographic agenda to attend to, I let him know that we had to move on. That didn’t stop him; he asked if we drank coffee. I said no, Tulsi said yes. He opened his trunk and offered us a small vat of Folgers coffee. What were going to do with that, neither of us knew. What we did know was that refusing his kindness was not an option. Finally, we wished him well and drove off.
Sitting here the day after and reflecting on this ten minute connection, I’m truly moved by this man. From his car and his clothes, it’s clear that he had some well-paying job in the past. But the fact that he’s come to Williston means that it’s over and this his last chance. The money is all gone and hope following soon after. All that he’s got is packed in his small sedan – his likely home for the next days or even weeks. Yet, like the Biblical widow who donated her two coins to the temple, this man offered to us all that he had to share.
Though I can’t remember your name – was it Dave or Tom? – thanks for the coffee. May your story be one of success.