Off to Abilene

It rained that morning.

I woke up and checked my email, excited to find a reply from an independent oil company executive who I’d written to the day before. It said, “I am in Abilene. Give me a call. Sent from my iPhone.”

I was pumped – I might actually have my first oil experience! I called Charles, he gruffly told me his plans for the day and to call him when I got to Abilene.

I was the only one in the dining area of the hotel around a little before 9 am, and I filled my plate with some pancakes (whole wheat?), a mini-muffin shaped sausage patty (wonderfully moist), a strip of bacon (crisp) and some scrambled eggs (runny and a little too greasy). With a decent cup of coffee, I sat down at one of the tables but quickly traded it for the big round table outside overlooking Lake Travis in the distance.

Soon, I’d packed my car and turned in my card. The lady at the desk wished me luck while telling me the only town she knew of less interesting than Abilene was Lubbock. I hmm-ed and hit the road.

The bluebonnets were inescapable and thoroughly distracting. Every five minutes I wanted to pull over to take pictures. They mixed with other flowers, none of which were nearly as famous. Patches of them framed a fence, ringed a cactus, covered a field. The highway was neatly framed in places. I stopped in a few places and took a few pictures as cars whizzed by, more likely than not glaring at that dumb tourist with the New Jersey plates and fancy camera.

I drove up 281 but took a detour on 29 West to Lake Buchanan. The lake was unspectacular but the flowers carpeting the landscape were. I pulled over way more times than I should have but not as many times as I wanted to.

I got back to town, headed back up 281 to Lampassas, and stopped to get a drink and hit a bathroom. I pulled into the McDonald’s and the cashier looked at me incredulously when I ordered a small drink – “the large one costs just the same!”

The bloated mug barely fit into my cupholder.

Realizing I needed to book it to Abilene in order to make my 4pm appointment with Charles, I got back on the road and pledged to ease up on the stops. I kept my commitment although I often badly wanted to pull over to capture a dilapidated building or a classic rolling Texan landscape. An open field covered in yellow with scattered cows opened up every so often. I drove through Goldthwaite where a banner advertising a goat cook-off hung across the road. After making a left, pastures lined the highway – lots of goats grazed nonchalantly.

Soon afterwards, the hills grew flatter, the vistas grew broader, and the road grew straighter. The landscape was now scrubby: scattered shrubs, more cacti, fewer wildflowers, more native grasses. I saw a sign marking Abilene city limits but I saw no town. There were just open fields, and then an airport came into view. Finally, a few miles later, a few small houses showed up and then I seemed to enter a more typical smallish town. Deserted warehouses, dilapidated stores and buildings were scattered around the typical well-ordered streets. Suburbs showed up and I drove towards my destination – a little cottage in the backyard of a local family. I pulled in to find my host mowing her lawn – she greeted me warmly, chatted for a few minutes, showed me around the adorably cozy cabin. I unpacked quickly and called Charles.

He asked me to meet him on the northeast side of town at a Wal-Mart parking lot. I was a bit wary. I got there and called him – he was across the street at a gas station convenience store. I pulled up, met him, chatted briefly, grabbed my camera, a notepad and pen, idiotically forgot my audio recorder, and hopped into his Range Rover.

For the next three hours, we roamed the area as he told me about his background in the oil and gas fields of the gulf coast, how he left his untrustworthy partners and built his own oil and gas company and his thoughts on rigs, finding the right people, getting to know a piece of land. My head was spinning as I furiously took down notes, tried to process what he was saying so that I could ask moderately intelligent questions (I failed miserably), and tried to watch the landscape to keep track of roughly where we were going (by now I was completely lost). We visited one of his active rig sites where he’d just started drilling a well. I climbed the platform, mingled with the workers, snapped a few pictures. We headed off to visit some of his active wells, driving through a ranch that also happened to be seriously harvesting wind energy – turbines were everywhere. I hopped out to take some pictures of a pump only to hear a series of howls from not at all far away. I looked at Charles wondering what in the world it could be – he said we needed to get back in the car. Coyotes, apparently – a bunch of them. We saw a couple of other sites, one recently completed, one being set up.

My head overwhelmed by this point, he finally dropped me off back at my car. I stared at my audio recorder comfortably sitting in my cupholder and wondered how decipherable my 12 pages of notes were going to be.

I was hungry, wet, and exhausted. I drove through downtown Abilene, a bit of a shabby and empty town. Some noteworthy restaurants seemed to exist, some activity was going on downtown. I ended up at a Chinese buffet where the lady allowed me to pack a to go box. I came back to my cottage, finished unpacking, chatted with my exceptionally warm and friendly hosts for a few minutes before ducking back into my cottage and cracking open my laptop. The wireless didn’t seem to be quite strong enough.

The big muscular black Labrador barked at my door for a bit before laying down just outside.

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