I haven’t seen optimism and hope for the past four years in Dickinson, North Dakota. This has been a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual drain on me. The stress of living here has probably made me age by six years in the past three years.
In the Spring of 2011, when I first came to Dickinson, North Dakota, there was widespread hope and optimism in everyone, both in the local people and in the out of state workers. The oil boom began in North Dakota in about 2007. News of the oil boom did not become widespread across the United States until about 2010.
When I arrived in Dickinson in the Spring of 2011, the local people and the oil industry were saying that this oil boom was going to last for the next twenty years. The local people and the oil industry were saying that everyone was making $100,000 per year in the oil field.
People that arrived in Dickinson with old, beat up $1,000 vehicles, with only $50 in their pocket, were feeling on top of the world, because everything was going to change for them, right then. People that arrived in Dickinson with new vehicles, but were months behind on their payments, and had $30,000 in credit card debt, they were optimistic too, because they were going to be able to turn everything around, right then.
People that arrived in Dickinson in the Spring of 2011, were willing to sleep in their vehicles in WalMart parking lot, in the Tiger Truck Stop parking lot, or at Patterson Lake, because they thought that they would be making so much money, that it would be worth it.
At the bars in Dickinson in the summer of 2011 after work, there were hundreds of workers, and they were all bragging about their jobs, how much money they had made, or how much money they were going to make. I had very little difficulty in getting my first job and my second job in Dickinson in 2011. Both of my jobs had about 20 to 25 hours of overtime each week.
However, once six months had gone by, and it became winter, the optimism and enthusiasm went way down. There were less workers in the bars at night after work, and instead of bragging about work, the workers were complaining about work.
Even though most of the workers had been working a tremendous amount of overtime, and they were initially impressed with the amount of their weekly pay checks, they were no longer impressed. They weren’t becoming rich, not even close. So much money was taken out in taxes. So much money was spent on buying food and drinks at convenience stores that had to last ten to twelve hours at work, then going out to eat at night, and drinking at bars. There was so much eating out at restaurants and drinking at bars because many workers lived in small old campers with no water or sewer hook ups, in company parking lots. If a worker did have an apartment, it cost at least $1,500 per month, plus utilities.
In the winter of 2011, when the temperature became 0 degrees Fahrenheit, most of the workers were disgruntled. Workers could no longer sleep in their vehicles in WalMart parking lot, the Tiger Truck Stop, or Patterson Lake. Small old campers in company parking lots became very cold and miserable to live in. The workers had not become rich over the previous six or seven months, they had saved only a few thousand dollars in most cases. They couldn’t see signing a one year lease and spending $1,500 per month on a small old apartment, with a $250 per month electric bill. They didn’t want to be in North Dakota any more, working outside in below freezing weather.
This was the last time that I saw optimism and hope in Dickinson, North Dakota. By the winter of 2011, most of the workers saw that they weren’t going to make $100,000 per year in the oil field. Even though many of them worked 12 hours per day, seven days a week, so much money was taken out in taxes, so much money was spent on food and drinks, so much money was spent on housing, there was not that much money left over. They were tired of working every day, being dirty and oily every day, eating convenience store food every day, and there being no women and no prostitutes. It was a miserable life, and not worth it.
After 2012, all the workers had the realization that they were being gouged on housing, there was a shortage of women, a lack of attractive women, no availability of prostitutes, nothing to do, no where to go, and the Dickinson police were trying to arrest everyone for DUI, when drinking was the only thing to do in Dickinson. No one wanted to be here, all of the optimism, hope, and enthusiasm was gone.
By 2013, none of the workers were under the illusion that they were going to become rich or make $100,000 per year. The only thing that Dickinson had to offer, was more availability of jobs, with slightly higher pay than the states where the workers came from. This was offset by a much much higher cost of housing, and there being no where to go, and nothing to do in Dickinson. There was no optimism, hope, or enthusiasm, the workers just did their “time”, the same as if they were in prison.