COLUMN: Offshore holidays: Oil be home for Christmas

Rachelle Roubique, Dispatch from the Oil Fields

Thanksgiving has come and gone. The crepe-paper turkey has been thrown away and every crumb of pie, praline, Snicker-doodle and peanut butter cup cheesecake has been eaten. It is now time to dust off the six year old battered Christmas tree and attempt to force a little … joy? Hope? Holiday merriment?

Something into the stark gray, institutional dining room where all 92 people on board this drilling platform spend every meal, break, and after work hours while offshore.

First step? Locate the secret storage place where all of the holiday decorations are kept.

Once this is accomplished — a combined effort requiring many trips down into hidden depths of the columns of the platform — my office is crammed full with boxes and bags of musty decorations. Much like Tom Sawyer and the whitewashed fence, I make the task look so enjoyable that others want to help.

It takes some effort but I convinced Kent, the systems technician for the oil company, that his expertise is a necessity in the safe assembly of this tree, checking each strand, and then wrapping the sadder than Charlie Brown’s tree with 400 brightly colored twinkle lights.

We rearrange the dining room, pushing aside banners advertising our commitment to provide healthy options in a field where “deep-fried with gravy” is a standard and stash the tree in front of one of only two windows on the platform.

Even the candy colored lights and rolls of red ribbon cannot mask what it is — a lame attempt to bring home-style holidays to work.

The walls are stainless steel and even 3M hasn’t made an anchor that will hold garland to them, there can be no trip hazards, no fire hazards, no blocking the fire blankets or fire extinguishers. All exits must remain clear.

Consideration has to be given to everyone on board: are they all okay with “Christmas” decorations? Do we have to only have “holiday” decorations? Are they Jewish? Muslim?

Does the wooden snowman offend anyone? Actually the creepy snowman offends me but I keep my disdain for the clowns of winter to myself, because I have limited supplies with which to work—I’ll just have to curb my neurosis for the holidays.

A few strands of garland under the shelf holding the dining room’s TV, another strand around the chip rack, more lights, a few sprigs of holly that were purchased for 10 cents at Woolworth’s, maybe around the same time the dinosaurs became extinct, and the holiday decorations are complete.

Festive or depressing? Most of the men do not care. I once filled the dining room with helium balloons as part of a marketing ploy dreamed up by those who spend their time in our corporate office as opposed to offshore — not a single person noticed. I stand back and squint at the tree. A loud squawk comes over the PA telling everyone that “helicopter refueling procedures are complete.”

So this is Christmas … even though we spend six months a year offshore, no amount of lights or tinsel will make it home.

Rachelle Roubique is a Destin business owner who has lived in the Panhandle for many years, taking brief escapes to islands and cities to maintain sanity but always returning to the Gulf. She currently works as a site manager for a catering company that operates on oil rigs and natural gas platforms.