New Orleans I know Venice, Louisiana pretty well, not that there is a lot to know. It’s a strip of land dominated by a blacktop highway ending in water and bordered by a fringe of shell gravel here and there and nothing but water. I worked 14 day shifts on and 7 days off as a roustabout on oil well platforms owned by Chevron the summer of 1967 for a contracting company called Oil Field Maintenance & Supply. These were 12-hour shifts from 6AM to 6PM, unless there was even more overtime, and at $2.00 per hour (35 cents over minimum wage), I was making money to pay for school. The weeks were broken up so that on the starting pay week, I made 36 hours – no overtime, then 84 hours – 44 hours of precious overtime, and then 48 hours – a taste of OT, then home. No one really imagined deep sea drilling then. We worked about 5 miles or so offshore and for the most part would be ferried out on a cutter crewboat or supply tug, though sometimes we got the thrill of a copter ride on the drop off. For a while I could follow a little Cajun patois, because that’s what TJ and Bozo Cheramie spoke all the time, and they ran the platform on 7 by 7 shifts for the Chevron and that’s where I bunked. I never ate better in my life than that summer. Steak a couple of times a week. Gumbo and jambalaya rich with seafood. The company let the guys order anything within reason to maintain morale. We fished off the structure with fair success, though mainly horsed around and caught sharks, cut them up, and caught bigger sharks and so forth. At the end of the summer I was offered a job working as a roustabout on a drilling rig in Alaska on a 3-month straight tour for $20,000. Man, I was tempted. I would have been rich it seemed to me and could have afforded the rest of my school, just on that one run, but I also would have been 1-A for the draft and would have frozen my ass, so I went back to school in the fall, though the “window was now open” for me to realize that there were other things to do than go to college.
Obama drove the two hours down and back from New Orleans on Sunday to see Venice and visit the Coast Guard station there, following the same spit of highway and land I traveled so often. There was nothing much he could see from there other than the end of land and fishermen and their families lined up along the way. You can’t fish in the Gulf now for food or pleasure. Obama told them not to worry, because British Petroleum (BP) would make them whole. He said the government would do everything it could for as long as it took.
Gulp. I didn’t find any of that reassuring. Obama must think he’s in Chicago or somewhere that oil companies just sell gas and such. Down here in the oil patch and along the Gulf, oil is a might crude thing and the companies that pull it out of the earth and water, refine, and market are tough as nails customers. I hope Obama is not fooled by a little lilting British accent, because these boys can – and will – be tough as nails. I shudder to think of the arguments they will have before compensating some of these longline fisherman and shrimpers. Unless Obama keeps his federal foot on their neck, this is not going to happen well and it won’t be pretty.
Furthermore this as “long as it takes” rap doesn’t go down smoothly for me when I see how little Obama has done about Katrina here in New Orleans or along the Gulf. I hoped he was going to recharge the support when Bush was finally gone. It took him more than a year to even visit New Orleans, and there’s been nothing new or different so far about the slowfooted federal Katrina recovery.
The Gulf is chewing up and spitting out politicians with sweet promises and no sweat in the game. BP and this blowout could be Obama’s own personal Katrina moment, if he doesn’t step up and do more than a drive through to the end of the land in Venice. I’ve been there and done that, and all you really learn in Venice is to keep moving.