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Fracked Up!

FRACKED UP!: Hollywood,Interrupted Visits America’s New Boomtown

by Mark Ebner

Three hundred miles due north of Deadwood, South Dakota and roughly half as many years past its 1870s heyday, a new gold rush is threatening to give that storied spectacle of exuberant capitalism a run for its money.

In a country with an unofficial underemployment rate of 20%, the tiny railroad whistle-stop of Williston, North Dakota near the Montana border (population 17,000 and spiking) is currently at capacity: There’s not a motel room to be had in the city, housing prices are double what they were a year ago ($300,000 for a two-bedroom home), and the daily onslaught of new arrivals is reduced to living in their cars, RVs, sporadic tent cities or the rapidly proliferating “man camps” – clusters of trailers in an open field that pack in oil patch workers dormitory style, sometimes six to a room. Access to running water and simple sanitation is so rare that public businesses have had to lock their bathrooms to discourage makeshift sponge baths or the dumping of wastewater. Meanwhile, throughout the region, fast food professionals can make $15 an hour and waitresses start at $25 an hour, with a bonus if they’ll stay in the job for at least six weeks. (Pizza Hut brought in campers-vans just so its counter help could afford to live there.)

But mainly what they need are truck drivers: The same 18- to 25-year-old demographic that’s economically the hardest hit everywhere else, with nothing more than a high school diploma and a Commercial Driver’s License, are here racking up six-figure fortunes. (Williston boasts a 4% unemployment rate.) As one local developer put it, “I think they should round up all the Occupy Wall Streeters and bring them up here. Come up here and occupy these jobs. There are jobs everywhere.”

Wide Load to Williston: Unsafe at any speed.

That’s because Williston, Watford City, New Town, Sidney, Montana and a handful of towns like them are located near the epicenter of the Bakken formation, a subsurface geologic strata thought to contain between 4 billion and 24 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Discovered in 1951, this potential windfall has been sitting for half a century like dinosaurs’ blood beneath a thick layer of marine shale, waiting for the magic bullet to arrive that could liberate it. That bullet finally appeared in the form of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology – fracking – a controversial form of water-intensive high-pressure drilling that requires an average of a million and a quarter gallons of fluid per well and incorporates numerous toxic chemicals at potentially dangerous levels that critics claim can permeate the water table. About 1,800 wells are being added a year along the formation, with much of the oil sitting in tanks while crews lay track from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, and hundreds of empty flat-black tank cars sit gleaming in the attenuated daylight.

And like the original Deadwood, as depicted in the Pete Dexter novel Deadwood and the HBO series based on it, the volatile combination of red-blooded young men with their pockets full of money has attracted all those skilled technocrats expert at separating the latter from the former: There aren’t opium dens (that I know of), but a meth lab was discovered operating in one of the man-camps, and salvia (a Schedule 1-class felony) from a local head shop put some local partiers in the hospital. Gamblers haven’t flooded in by wagon train yet, but it’s rare to find a non-chain restaurant that hasn’t tricked out a back room or spare corner for a bar, video poker and a couple of tables of felt. There’s no trifecta of brothels on Main Street, but local police are seeing their first prostitution complaints in “some time” and CNN reported that itinerant dancers at one of the two local strip clubs (conveniently located next to each other) are pulling down two grand a night (even as area churches organize “prayer vigils” outside). And whereas adversaries in protracted disputes rarely face off in gunfights or feed each other to the hogs, you can easily pick up 9mm parabellum cartridges for your Sig-Sauer alongside a quart of milk and the baby’s Huggies (or a Mac-10 with silencer, which they’ve helpfully renamed a “flash suppressor”). Not to mention the pervasive overcast of dread in a place that has barely eight hours of sunlight a day. As I overheard a woman on a cell phone outside a hardware store say: “I don’t know whether to unfriend him on Facebook or just shoot him in the face.”

But that’s the last thing on the mind of this RV army that’s headed to Williston from all over the country, ready to cash in on what’s left of the American Dream. It’s the kind of place where you can see a middle-aged woman set an original Louis Vuitton bag up on the bar of a local dive. Where the hot twin waitresses at the local diner can earn $200 in tips for a split shift and family farmers can unload the right 60 acres for close to a million bucks (the tell are the shiny new grain silos, combines and pickup trucks visible from the highway). And it’s where the new Okies can dream of a new Big Rock Candy Mountain. This is either the Badlands made good or a good time gone bad, once the next bust inevitably arrives.

And me, I’m no exception.

“Camp Hollywood,Interrupted”

I’ve driven a 24-foot Jamboree RV all the way from Los Angeles that I could rent out for $2000 a month if I was prepared to face the brutal North Dakota winter head on – especially with the six-month moratorium on man-camp construction that went into effect in September. Along the way, everyone from convenience store clerks to truck stop cashiers get a gleam in their eye when I say the magic word Williston. An African-American family in a U-Haul truck 30 miles out seems almost beside themselves to be this close. (Williston is 93% white, a bit of research I keep to myself.) When I pull into Williston to top up on propane, the girl at the all-night gas station volunteers, “Did you hear they raped a little girl in the Walmart parking lot and threw her body in a dumpster?” When I press her for more of the town’s dark secrets, she confides, “A guy was putting roofies in girls’ drinks at DK’s Lounge, and a bunch of local guys took him out, raped his ass and left him to die.”

I’m well into the 45-minute drive south to Sidney, Montana where I’m staying before I realize she easily could have seen my out-of-state plates and wished I’d just keep moving. (Although everyone I talk to will confirm some version of the above, Detective David Peterson of the Williston Police Department says for the record, “Within the last year and a half, I can confirm that there has been no rape reported on Walmart property, and I can tell you that no incident involving roofies and/or sexual contact has been reported at the DK’s Lounge.”) In January, Montana schoolteacher Sherry Arnold was abducted in Sidney, MT. Her remains were found near Williston in March.

On the housing front, I’ve lucked out. Although a patch of ice to park a camper can go for as much as $100 a night, the bartender at yesterday’s lunch spot in Livingston, Montana offered up his in-laws, Jesse and Frankie Burman, who charge me $25 a night, offer me use of their shower when my water pipes freeze, and invite me to Thanksgiving dinner. Jesse Burman is a rugged, middle-aged oil broker who is old enough to remember the last boom – the one that dried up in ’82 and left old-timers like him suspicious of the easy money now being spread too thin to paper over hurt feelings. Like most residents of Sidney, he’s annoyed at the local Main Street Mafia, who mark up certain luxury goods as much as 100%. But that’s a small price to pay to avoid the steady stream of gravel-haulers and big rigs that choke the state highways, routinely take two lanes at a time without signaling and are perpetually backed up half a mile at the main stoplight in Williston.

“It took me 30 years to get the job I got now, and yet we’re hiring kids out of college – 20, 25 – that are making the dead same wage I am,” he says. “Anybody that can spell ‘truck’ gets put behind the wheel. Just pull into the Walmart, stick a sign on your camper window – you’ll get hired. Halliburton, Schlumberger. And now exploration is way bigger than production… Rocks and dirt are the big thing now – for cement. Who’d have thought you could get rich selling dirt?”(A husband-and-wife long-haul trucking team I meet later, licensed by the Defense Department, who can proudly boast of “two million accident-free miles,” claim they are “really upset about companies hiring anyone with a pulse up here.” According to the wife: “Our son went and got a job here, and he’s never driven a truck in his life. He took a written test, they gave him a commercial driver’s license instantaneously, and they hired him and handed him the keys.”)

Jesse estimates that roughnecks and roustabouts – the modified jarheads recognizable from TruTV’s reality series Black Gold – are probably 70% married. This is the Hillbilly Jet Set that works two weeks on, 12 hours a day, and then flies home for two weeks off at a thousand dollars a round-trip ticket.

He is dismissive of the anti-fracking sentiment that pervades much of the media, including reports of poisoned wells and dying livestock in Pennsylvania and a recent controversial EPA draft report that found water contamination resulting from oil and gas development in Pavillion, Wyoming.

“It’s too damn deep,” he says of local fracking efforts. “It’s ten thousand foot deep. They’re not fracking [chemicals] up to the surface water. The other ones, like down in Louisiana – they’re shallow-fracking. All you gotta do is run 3,000 foot of casing and frack under that.” (For the record, Deborah Goldberg of Earth Justice, a nonprofit environmental law firm that frequently represents the Sierra Club and others, says, “That’s what the industry always says. That’s what they said about Pavillion… Experts have told us that there is potential for migration of gas and fracking fluids even with deep exploration. Over time, with the right conditions, there is the possibility for migration into ground water.”)

“Don’t get run over, “Jesse says to me as I’m leaving, obliquely referencing yesterday’s head-on collision when a pickup caromed off an unmanned semi-trailer into an oncoming dump truck.

Author Mark Ebner, Crash Scene Investigator

In Williston, the infamous Walmart parking lot has apparently been cleared of the camper-vans and motor homes that are welcome at Walmarts across the country. One of the last renegades, a Tioga camper with Colorado plates and a “4 Sale $11,000” sign on it, has a guy on a cell phone pacing in front of it. This turns out to be David Forenza, a builder who is awaiting financing for some local homes, and who just concluded a cash transaction for his asking price, sight unseen. Like virtually everyone I’ll talk to in the next few days, he’s got a private get-rich-quick scheme – a decent Italian restaurant, now that the one out by the golf course has closed down – and in fact, everywhere you look, there seem to be opportunities staring you in the face.

“They’re really good – I’d say excellent,” he says of investment opportunities in general. “The problem is, no one is lending money. You have to go get private money to do anything, and then you have to convince the hell out of whoever you’re borrowing from that it’s definitely worth the risk.”

Surprisingly, he confirms having heard the rumor about the parking lot rape, and ups it with one of his own: “A guy died in his trailer last week from carbon monoxide poisoning. That’s why they kicked everyone out of here, but I never saw that in the news.”

Trucker Claire Helmberger: Wolf Whisperer

Nearby, a brand new pickup truck houses a gorgeous wolf and wolf-coyote hybrid untethered in the back. A smart-looking woman in her early forties, Claire Helmberger, with thick brown hair and all of five feet, hoists a fifty-pound bag of dog food into the bed, which the hybrid immediately rips open and starts sampling.

“It’s the boom of the century!” she says, perhaps only half in jest.

Romancing With Wolves in Walmart Lot

Claire has worked in the oil fields in Colorado and driven an 18-wheeler water tanker truck. Currently, she and her husband are living in nearby Epping (their first house after two years of trailer living) and managing a salt-water disposal facility just north of town. Saltwater or “production water” is part of the flow-back that comes back up the well throughout the fracking process and up to two years afterwards, and are generally disposed of at special facilities. (Most of these substances qualify as E&P – Exploration and Production – wastes, and as such are exempt from federal hazardous waste regulations. I noted the local ballpark approach to official oversight as I watched a three-man team across from my campsite precariously crane-lift a huge propane tank onto a flatbed truck without a hardhat or OSHA inspector in sight.)

“It’s the boom of the century!” she shouts again as she drives away. It should be on her bumper sticker.

Here Come the Brides

“House-Arrest Amber,” Featured Dancer at Whispers

Whispers is the oldest of the town’s two adjacent gentleman’s clubs, a Mom-and-Pop outfit of 30 years’ standing that, on the afternoon I first wandered into it, featured a local lovely on stage proudly sporting nothing but a G-string and a house arrest ankle bracelet. The owner’s son, who works the oil fields by day and moonlights here at night, explains the metal detector wanding at the front door by recounting the night a roustabout shot the urinal off the men’s room wall with a .45, and how a friend of his was stabbed three times in the parking lot. I squeeze in at the blackjack table next to a Vegas fast-talker who calls himself Adam the Dirt Man, a walking punchline to one of Jesse’s anecdotes: After years of hauling dirt from construction sites to quarries throughout Nevada, he’s made a hundred grand here so far and is fast-tracking a “super man-camp” on ten acres he picked up for a song just ahead of the moratorium.

“You’re looking for a story?” he says. “I’m the story. I’m going to have made my first million by the end of next year.”

Next door at Heartbreakers, the vibe is a little more corporate – a $10 cover charge to Whispers’ $5, with an ATM that juices seven bucks off my c-note as a matter of course. The girls here also look more professional, many of them on a circuit that stretches from the Pacific Northwest to Chicago.

One of these is arriving on Thanksgiving Day from Ft. Lauderdale, where she’s gone to shake the cold of her native Montana. She was born with the improbable and perfect stripper middle name “Nikki,” but dances under the name Karmen (“with a K”) because “they already had three Nikkis.” (Thanks, Prince.) Five-ten without her fuck-me pumps, and with long chestnut hair and piercing blue eyes, the 28-year-old mixed Italian beauty agrees to meet me at a Main Street diner where the burger du jour is called “the Frack Attack.” She orders a Grey Goose screwdriver to unwind before her first shift.

Oilfield Dancer “Nikki” Discusses Dancing for Dollars

Nikki was born in a trailer in Las Vegas to hippie parents who quickly fled to the liberal redoubt of Missoula, Montana where they could grow pot. (Her father bought her the enormous dragon tattoo on her back for her 18th birthday and left her mom who now thrives as a copy editor) She did two years at the University of Montana as a liberal arts major with a minor in Asian Studies (her mother is Persian, and she speaks passing Arabic), with the goal of becoming an archaeologist. That’s when, at age 26, her natural wanderlust escorted her into the world of exotic dancing – first to the little big city of Butte two hours away (full nude, with alcohol) where no one would know her, and then in a kind of migratory pattern following oilfield workers to new strikes. (She plans to get her marketing degree in Florida.)

Her regulars in Butte kept telling her about the Williston boom, so she and a friend finally made the 10-hour drive and walked onstage at Whispers. By the time she got here a year ago, dancers were already banned at every hotel in town except the Vegas Motel, right around the corner from DK’s Lounge (of roofies rape fame), both of them known in local lore for their sympathy for the working girl. Staying in a cramped room where the blacklight revealed secrets about the bed sheets she would rather not know, she did a week at Whispers, then moved over to Heartbreakers, where she’s done periodic two-week stints ever since. (She now shares a tiny bedroom with three men – two of them restaurateurs she tended bar for in Butte – sleeping on the lower half of bunk beds. She passed on a chance to move into the “Williston Playboy Mansion,” a kind of log cabin travel lodge built by an eccentric local who got rich off his mineral rights and became a patron to the resident artists, renting bedrooms to dancers for $50 a night. “It’s just the way it is here,” she says.)

Nikki confirms the urinal getting shot off the wall at Whispers, but claims the most you can make on a good night here is probably $1200. “And I’m one of the top girls in the clubs,” she says. “But I also go by the rules. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on after hours [presumably meaning off premises]. A lot of the girls do that.”

She claims to have “crossed boundaries” on occasion, mainly in the heat of the moment during private lap dances, say – once with an Idaho state trooper she fancied. But she doesn’t seem as ambitious toward the possible combinations of sex and money as many in her chosen profession; she doesn’t have a website, for instance, or a Facebook fan page, or even a professional portfolio. She’s also in the early stages of a relationship – with an Air Force Special Operations Combat Controller currently deployed to Afghanistan, whom she got to know on a whirlwind weekend in Vegas. (She has his call sign tattooed on her nether parts – “the number he’s supposed to radio in when he’s going down for the last time,” as she charmingly puts it.)

“I feel like the money is too easy,” she says about this lifestyle in general. “And I’m a very sexual person, so it’s not a moral issue. I feel more like myself when I’m in there – more like who I really am. Dancing was the best thing I ever did for myself. But I’m very sincere in my interactions with people. It’s been very difficult up here because it’s so busy – there’s such a high volume of clients – that it’s hard to hang onto that sincerity. It’s like an assembly line.”

Nikki claims that although competition is high, the girls get along better here than anywhere she’s ever worked – mainly because the money’s so good, but also because the intensity bonds them – a mix of testosterone, acute homesickness and the palpable threat of violence.

“The sexual tension in this town is so heavy,” she says. “I once had a guy tell me he could smell a woman before he even saw her. I actually wore a fake engagement ring for a while, but it didn’t make a difference. There are guys here from Louisiana and Oklahoma and all over, a lot of them are ex-cons. So there’s this whole unstable atmosphere. But everyone is making so much money. Almost every night of the week, there’s a block of time when it gets packed – so packed they can’t let more people in. Everyone is drunk; there are fights outside all the time. But the club is like a neutral zone. Personally, my rule is that I don’t date guys who go to strip clubs. But these aren’t guys who typically go to strip clubs. They’re just there because there’s nothing else to do. A lot of times they’re going through some really hard stuff, and they want to talk about it: ‘Oh, my wife’s leaving me and she took our kids’ or ‘I’m a single father….’”

She says her lap dances – $20 per three minute song – oftentimes seem more akin to therapy sessions. “It’s like the Wild West up here,” she says. “My challenge is to stay professional.”

“Nikki” is ready to break hearts, and bust bankrolls.

When I stop by to see her at the club later that night, Nikki has completely transformed: Gone is the fresh-faced college girl in black tights and a hoodie, and in her place is an exotic creature with chestnut hair extensions, black lace garters and a Victoria’s Secret half-bra. The Williston Hef is at the bar in full hunting camo, buying Cherry Bomb shots for the girls (Red Bull and cherry vodka). When I buy Nikki a drink (ten dollars plus tip), the waitress seems mystified by my request for a receipt. “I wouldn’t know how to do that,” she says. I’m convinced that the establishment is skimming, but Nikki urges me to lighten up.

“She’s sweet, but…” Her voice trails off. Later she texts me that some guys with guns and knives showed up and threatened to shoot up the place, and they had to call the cops.

On the way out of town, I stop by DK’s to try and spot some real working girls in action. The bouncer is a compact ex-Marine in his early forties named Rocky Mahr – with a tour of duty in Grenada under his belt, who washed up here after riding out Katrina and the subsequent boom. He is surprisingly matter-of-fact in confirming the rumor of prostitutes shuttling between DK’s and the Vegas Hotel, pointing out an attractive black woman at the bar.

“That girl does alright,” he says. “She’s very nice, she’s intelligent and she doesn’t bother anyone. We don’t mess with them too much, as long as we don’t get dragged into it. We’re not promoting it.”

What he does object to, from his vantage point in the eye of the storm, is what he perceives as the arrogance of the oil companies – both in how they treat the community, and in how their employees treat the local talent.

“Halliburton, Schlumberger, Hess and a lot of these big oil companies are turning around and buying [rental] houses, and people who have been living in them are getting thrown out on their asses. They’ll snap it up and cram in two or three worker families, or make it man-camp.” (When contacted, Halliburton characterized its actions as having “added significantly to the available housing for its employees and their families” and making “significant investments in the communities in which it works.”)

“Another thing they keep under wraps here are all the oil rigs blowing up,” Rocky tells me. “Not even a month ago they had an explosion with fatalities. I had a buddy that was there and he said it felt like a damn bomb going off. Three guys died, and two got sent to a burn center in Minneapolis. Happens all the time out here.” (According to the Bismarck Tribune, the well belonged to Oasis Petroleum.)

“You know, I’ve literally stood here and watched an oil worker walk right up to a girl and say, ‘I want to fuck you.’ That’s the mentality. These guys come up here and think they can do whatever they want because they’ve got Halliburton, Hess, Nabors or Schlumberger on their shirt. They’re coming in, hiring the scum of the earth – they couldn’t get a job where they’re from because of their reputation or their mentality. And when this oil boom leaves – if it ever does – this town is gonna be a ghost town.”

Roughnecks and Puffnecks

Matt and Sara Feronti are perhaps typical of the new nomadic class on display in flashpoints like this one. They met by accident – literally: Sara’s best friend was killed in a car crash, and a friend recommended Matt as a good shoulder to cry on. They’ve been together seven years now, chasing the oil and natural gas booms from Big Piney, Wyoming at the base of the Tetons, where 300 head of elk would wander through the drilling fields, to tiny Colorado towns with colorful names like Rifle and Parachute, to here.

Matt is “in the grind” – a chain hand, one of the lower totem positions in a drilling rig crew hierarchy that runs from worm to tool-pusher and company man. That’s not to mention the service groups, hydro-testers, hot oil trucks and all the other secondary positions required – like his friend who’s banking $25,000 a pop pressure-washing rigs and derricks. Matt generally works one week on, one week off, often driving two hours each way on top of a 12-hour shift, and frequently dreams of turning wrenches in his sleep. He makes $70,000 a year for just six or seven months work total, and claims the only time his back starts to hurt is when he’s not working. He’s heard they’re predicting steady work in the Bakken for the next 15 years, and plans to ride the boom for at least the next five.

Sara works as a waitress when she can, and as an artist in her spare time, but despite her model good looks, she’s not above donning Matt’s greasers, the standard-issue oilfield coveralls, and helping him wrap cables while he breaks down a truck-mounted rig in the dead of winter.

“Any other woman would be sitting on her candy-ass in the trailer,” Matt says with obvious pride. “That’s why she’s my wife, man.”

Roughneck Matt Feronti, wife Sara and pets Abigail and Skipper enjoy down-time in the trailer.

Sara likes to unwind at the karaoke nights at a local club – she favors the classics: Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Jim Reeves and Johnny Cash – while Matt is more likely to go for Nas or Ludacris. They want kids, but for now they’re lavishing their attention on a baker’s dozen of pit bull puppies and a pound rescue Jack Russell terrier named Skipper. Like Jesse, they invited me to have Thanksgiving dinner with them, which they apparently do for many of the town’s strays. (“I know what it’s like to need,” Matt says when I ask him about it.)

When they first got here a year and a half ago, they spent two months living in their Jeep Cherokee with their Blue Nose pit bull in Matt’s tool-pusher’s front yard – a design strategy that did not get them into Dwell, but was briefly memorialized on YouTube. Their first camper was a ’79 Rogue 24-footer, which they briefly kept next to a friend’s horse barn, without electricity or running water, and with the closest service station bathroom three miles away. Later, Matt’s mom stayed in it with them for eight months with her pet Shih Tzu. (Once when he was relighting the pilot in the middle of a snowstorm, the heater blew up in his face and he thought he was dead.) Now they live in a comparatively luxurious 34-foot single-wide with a kickout that doubles as a kennel, in a double space they pay just $360 a month for with full hookups.

“We have an angel for a landlord,” says Sara. “You could put a friggin’ teepee up on your land and someone would rent it.”

“I had a friend who told us to pick him up at a motel,” says Matt. “I asked him what they were charging him to stay there, and he said, ‘I don’t stay at the motel; I stay in the bathroom at the park.’ With the winters up here? Last year we had 95-mile-an-hour winds that knocked out all the power. Anyone can work in an oil field, but if you can make it through a winter in North Dakota, you can make it through anything.”

But that’s only a small percentage of the bullets they’ve dodged in their time together. “We were staying in a man-camp down in Parachute, Colorado,” says Matt. “I was sleeping, and she comes in and yells, ‘Matt, there’s cars in the parking lot exploding!’ A meth lab blew up – an RV, two cars and two vans. We heard the tires exploding. They found two sets of teeth.” (Companies often conduct spot urine, saliva and hair follicle tests in the field – even though meth is undetectable after 72 hours. And although you can’t use your Montana medical marijuana card, prescription Oxycontin is apparently fine.)

Matt grew up wanting to be a firefighter, and sees the intrinsic danger surrounding him as just part of the job. He runs a finger across his front teeth. “I’ve had all of these smashed out,” he says. “I got smacked in the face with a chain, busted the bottom halves off. I spit them out into my hand. When I first started, I smashed my left index finger so that the meat was spurting out. The driller told me to put a Band-Aid on it – you know: ‘You’re a hard worker; don’t let me down.’ I put a sandwich baggie over it and duct-taped it, but the pain was just thumping and I turned pale. When they finally looked at it, all this blood ran out of the bag and they almost passed out.

“I’ve seen a guy get hit in the face with an ice plug coming out of a drill pipe that tore his eye out of the socket and ripped off half his face. You get a safety bonus of $2.50 an hour that you forfeit if someone gets hurt. I saw this kid damn near cut his thumb off, and his crew put Super Glue on it so they wouldn’t be out the $30 a man. My buddy cut his arm off, got it put back on and went back to work, cut his thumb off and got that replaced. We’re pretty hardcore. That’s why they take out a $250,000 life insurance policy on you as soon as you start. It is what it is. Back then it was roughnecks; now it’s all puffnecks.”

Matt has no love lost for Halliburton. “We call them the Red Army,” he says, referring to the company’s ubiquitous uniform and logo. “They’re just idiots. They’ll hire anybody.” He’s sick of all the scams: The fly-by-night construction crews who get half their money upfront and then disappear; the modern-day rustlers who raid construction sites for millions of dollars in equipment and utility vehicles; the con men who sell fake hay over the phone, preying on small-town folks for their credit card numbers or IP addresses. He’s sick of the pregnant hookers, the sketchy roustabouts paying $300 for a gram of meth, the “vultures” at the laundromat who routinely hit on his wife. He’s sick of paying $4.50 for a gallon of milk.

So he and Sara have an exit strategy: Alaska. Specifically, Kodiak Island, where they can buy some land and build a cabin, and Matt can work on offshore rigs as the opportunity arises.

“It doesn’t have to be Kodiak Island,” says Matt. “Just anywhere to get away from mainstream society. Society has a can’t-do attitude. They all want that money, but nobody knows what they have to do to get the job done.”

“It’s like every other boom that’s happened since the Gold Rush,” says Sara. “It brings out the assholes of the earth.”

“Still, this place is something to see,” adds Matt. “This is history in the making.”

[...] FRAmerica’s New Boomtown [...]

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