Going Walkabout – Introduction

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Walkabout posts

Steve Campbell      May 2016


Walkabout, noun

Historically refers to a rite of passage during which Indigenous male Australians would undergo a journey during adolescence, typically ages 10 to 16, and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months to make the spiritual and traditional transition into manhood.

Sabbatical, noun

Any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.

Opening paragraph of Moby Dick by Hermann Melville:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the with me.

Some quotes on the subject:

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.
– Joseph Campbell  
(No relation – Steve)

Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.
– George S. Patton

To change ones life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly.
– William James

These are the precedents I cite for what is happening in this part of my life.  There are profound differences, however.  I am not a College Professor on Sabbatical, being paid by a public or private University to spend a year off on a lark. Not that I don’t respect that custom.  Professor Emeritus Richard Feynman was a personal hero to me.  I encourage readers to find “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” – a collection of the Nobel Laureate Physicist’s anecdotes.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard P. Feynman, as told to Ralph Leighton
W. W. Norton & Company, 1985 and 1988. 346 and 248 pgs.

Of Feynman, while on Sabbatical: “As a hobby, he undertook the forbidding task of deciphering Mayan hieroglyphics, and got surprisingly far.)”.

Nor am I an adolescent transitioning to manhood.  It is actually more the other way around.  I have titled this story  “Going Walkabout”, yet it does not seem quite right to me. But it is about the best I can come up with for the time being.

While I do have little in my purse, I have a family that loves me and is reluctant to see me disappear for months at a time.  I am also not Ishmael going off to sea.  But I would go off to sea to support my family, if offered the job.  What I am living through now is a change in my very existence that I cannot yet fully understand or characterize.

I was “cashiered” (dismissed, expelled, drummed out) from my 40 year career as a Geophysicist.  Once, I was valued in an industry no one wanted to join. Exploration Geophysicists were all 40 or older and 99% male.  I remember a fire drill about 15 years ago. The entire building was evacuated and I was looking out across the muster point.  What did I see?  A lot of men’s heads with grey hair and/or sparsely covered scalps.  But, those grizzled, balding heads represented centuries of experience that today, for the most part have been cast aside.

Now, I am become what that day I beheld.  I hasten to point out that my own head is covered with thick black hair with only hints of gray.  For this I thank my Blackfoot ancestor – at least three generations removed – a member of a tribe once described as “the tallest and most handsome of the Plains Indians”. That’s me, alright!

In the early years of this century, a lot of young people with PhD’s  – but with very little life experience – wanted to get in on the industry.  They do work for lower wages than seasoned professionals and so they seem more valuable. My own Degree is a modest Bachelor’s, in another field and 40 years old.  However, for those 40 years, I have worked in Exploration Geophysics, in many different roles, and in various countries and environments.  But experience means little, now.  There is a lot of “lip service” by companies claiming they do not discriminate because of age.  It is all “Malarky”, to put it politely.

But it may not really matter, in the case of Exploration Geophysics.  We did such a good job finding oil and people like George Mitchell did such a good job of developing production methods that there are now proven, affordable reserves of oil and gas, within and offshore of the United States, that will last for at least a century.  There are as-yet unproven reserves that could last for several centuries beyond that. The United States already out-produces both the Saudis and the Russians in oil and gas.  That production will continue to climb –  unless there is a Liberal-inspired, Soviet-style cataclysm that curtails oil use and wrecks the already shaky economy.  Those who doubt that such economic ruin is possible need only look to Venezuela to find a once-robust, resource-rich economy that has been beggared into starvation by a Communist dictator.

In either case, there is very little need for Exploration Geophysics and almost none for Geophysicists over 60 years of age.

The result of my job search has left me with two alternatives.  I have confirmed that I can get a position in local retail sales.  A certain big box hardware store chain has offered me $10.50 an hour.  The job is in the electrical department – stocking, cleaning and helping customers.  There would be no benefits and the job runs out in a few months.  But  they hold out hope for a more permanent position, later.  That is the kind of employment that seems to be available for people of my age, gender and ethnicity (i.e., old white men).

There was one other possibility.  I was offered training to  become an over-the-road truck driver.  It will be hard.  It will take me away from home for months at a time.  It will cost about $7000 if I fail to make it driving for a year.  I will live in a sleeper berth of a truck cab and eat truck stop food or make “Walmart” sandwiches. Showers might be two or three days apart.  My friends all tell me how lucky I will be to be seeing America, but if it is not at a truck stop or a roadside park, I won’t see it.  I will tell you right now – it does not pay much.

You might think that 40 years of experience as a Professional Scientist, working internationally in the field and office, would be of some value in other occupations.  I looked.  There is nothing.  If you think I am wrong, I will be happy and grateful if you would forward my resume as posted on LinkedIn (find it here: GoingWalkabout.Blog) to where you think I can find work.  Otherwise, just believe me.

So, why trucking?  Because it beats wearing a blue vest and saying, “Welcome  to Walmart.” 😉

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

I have been writing what amounts to a newsletter for friends and family (You know who you are!)  I want to take this opportunity to thank them, my “Road Trip Interest Group”, for their support and comments over the last few months.

Over the Road,                       Walkabout posts

Steve Campbell

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