Back in the 20th century, during the late 1980’s, I worked for a large Swedish telecom concern. My job was to supervise a group of people who assembled hardware racks, ran cables, and connected power to build a digital replacement switching system for the old outdated analog systems used by various telcos. After the install, I would send the crew on their way to the next site and stick around to load the software and test to make sure everything worked as designed.

I was working a job in Mesa, Arizona for US West. Typical install. A few dozen or so racks of telecom computer equipment, power, battery back-up. The crew I had for the install portion was a motley group of rednecks all hailing from Olive Hill, Ky. Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 1.01.21 PMWe called it ‘oilfield’ because with their eastern Kentucky accents that is the way they pronounced the town name. They were a fairly “normal” bunch of guys for a construction crew. We had the fat redneck sporting a 70’s porn star mustache who considered himself quite the ladies man. We had the tall, skinny hillbilly who had his squatty, 300 pound wife with him, as well as a few nondescript others. Then we had this sketchy dude named “Earl.” Earl was sent a week after we started the job to replace a guy who had to travel back to Kentucky to bail his mom out of jail for selling meth. Usually, I had a chance to look at the persons resume before ok-ing them for the job, but due to the time crunch I took what I could get. So, in no time Earl shows up to the site riding a beat up Kawasaki 750, looking rather sketch and bitching about having to wear a helmet in California where he was coming from. He was a scrawny guy sporting a ripped white tee, ratty jeans and big biker boots. It looked like he had ridden straight through the desert from the Salton Sea to Mesa without stopping, let alone bathing. He gets off his bike and grins with bugs in his teeth, dirty as hell, and says hello. Earl didn’t have any tools which was a non-starter, but the other dudes vouched for him because he too was from Olive Hill, Ky. and they assured me that he was a “good old boy.” Not really having a choice due to time issues I put him to work.

It was a Thursday and the day went by fairly quietly. When quitting time came around I made the mistake of asking Earl where he was staying. After fifteen minutes or so of a sob story about a greedy ex-wife, no money, having to sell tools, and mayhem in the Salton Sea I reluctantly said that he could stay in my motel room for a few days until he got paid. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal, because it was off-season and I had scored a large unit with two bedrooms, kitchen, etc. on the cheap.

Friday came along and the work day was going by somewhat smoothly, until I noticed Earl wasn’t “playing well” with the others, so I put him in the power room alone to connect the battery string leads and promptly forgot about him. As it was Friday I was looking forward to a weekend of hiking the desert. Being a guy from Kentucky myself I was super stoked on working in the desert. On weekends I would spend hours roaming the mountains outside of Mesa, where I would look at the cacti, find rattlesnakes, shoot crappy pictures, watch scorpions, and just soak in the arid beauty of it all. When the sun would set I’d start a fire and make dinner watching the great star filled view. When it got too chilly I’d head back to the motel for a good night of sleep.

That afternoon we wound the day down and all went to the local bar next to the motel for a “few” libations. One great thing about working with a bunch of rednecks is trading stories over drinks. Some of these guys could spin a tale that would have you laughing your guts out. We drank beers and whiskey and traded stories and laughed at 70s porn stash guy who was constantly trying to pick up women while getting knocked down right and left. He told us his wife didn’t mind if he just had oral sex with other women, because that wasn’t real sex. We all laughed over that and urged him on only to watch him go down in flames again. Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 12.58.39 PMAfternoon turned into evening as it often does and we all went our separate ways. I asked Earl what he was up to and he informed me that he was riding up to Phoenix to see what was up. We all said our farewells and I stopped by the taco stand on the way back to the motel, had dinner in bed and pretty much passed out in anticipation of the next days hike.

At around five in the morning I heard the door open with a bunch of noise and cursing. I rolled back over to go back to sleep figuring that Earl had made it back in one piece. Approximately five minutes later I was awakened by the loud sounds of a motorcycle being started in the motel room as exhaust fumes wafted under my door and into my room. I was rather annoyed and in my bleary eyed rather hungover state I kicked open the door to see Earl working on a running motorcycle right on the motel carpet.

Earl was pretty fucked up to say the least. He had that 1000 yard meth-head stare and reeked of stale Marlboros and PBR. I stood there in a shocked state and asked him what the fuck he was doing. He spat out that he was working on his God damned piece of shit bike, and that I should just shut the fuck up and mind my own business. Which I countered with points about civilized humans, time of day, normal stuff. I went back into my room to figure out what to so next. Before I could string two thoughts together Earl bursts into my room and hurls a jug of oil at my head screaming something about city boy faggots. Luckily I ducked the oil jug as it splattered all over the wall behind me. He then does a 180, walks out of the room, pushes his bike into the parking lot and takes off. Seeing that I was up for the day, I had coffee and some toast, went to the management office and explained the situation, then I moved my shit to a new room and went hiking.

I didn’t see Earl for the rest of the weekend and figured we would have a “discussion” about me firing him Monday morning when we all arrived at the work site. No Earl all of Monday, so I called his contracting company, explained the situation and told them we could manage without any new workers. The install part of the job was slated to finish that coming Friday and the guys were eager to grab some overtime and get out so the rest of the week went by without any hiccups. On Thursday I received a call asking me if there was an Earl Calhoun working on my project. I told them that there was but he had walked away from the job. The person on the other end identified himself as an FBI agent located in California and said that we should all take precaution and keep an eye out because our Earl was wanted in California in connection with a drug deal sting gone askew and an attempted murder charge. He thanked me for my time and hung up the phone. I shook my head, went out to the computer room and told the guys. They all laughed and said “that sounds just like Earl.” I stood there like a fool for a few minutes then laughed too.

I cut the guys loose early on Thursday for a well deserved long weekend. My company arranged to have a co-worker replace me the following Monday to complete the software install, so I could get the hell out of town safely and on to my next job in beautiful Wichita, Kansas.

I never saw Earl again, but I suppose the one thing I learned from the experience is that you should always watch out for sketchy dudes from Olive Hill, Ky. riding shitty old Kawasaki motorcycles driving from the Salton Sea to Mesa.
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