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Fiction Friendship

A lot of people are opposed to open pit mining, tearing up huge chunks of the earth, so people can have more cars, more gadgets, more of everything, but trust me, when you've just lost your job, your girlfriend, and are receiving student debt bills, concerns about the world in 2200 are not the highest priority. Which is how I found myself a week ago travelling across the world, and starting work last week at Fimiston in WA.


Seconds before I’m about to get my truck into gear, Robb jumps in. He's invited himself. Having a companion for the tenth drive of the day up from the pit could make the trip go by faster. But with Robb, a man who envisions himself as raconteur and tour guide for the Australian outback, sometimes it can feel like an eternity.


It's a steep, treacherous drive up. I've only been here a week, and I'm still trying not to think about the wall collapses in 2017 and 2018. As I take the 160-ton haul truck around a hairpin turn with a hair-raising drop-off on the left side, Robb chimes in.


“Mate. There's a rumor you have narcolepsy,” he says. “Am I ok riding along with you?” 


“Narcolepsy? Where did you hear that?” A shudder shakes the truck as we scrape the far side. Having a medical condition could cause me to lose my license.


“I’m just telling you what I heard from the boys. You yanks need to pop pills to stay awake all day?”


“Coffee, I drink coffee.”


“We bogans. We mostly drink lager.” Bogan is a word I learned the first day here, that's a term of endearment for an Australian redneck.


“And beer here is limited to four bottles a day at the pub. What bullshit!” 


“Mate. You’re not allowed to swear onsite.”


We're not allowed to swear in a town full of miners in the Australian outback? I'm still getting used to all the rules of working here. But the pay is double of back home. The downturn in the mining in Utah pretty much ruined my life back there.


Later, after my shift is done, I go to what they call, “The Restaurant”, order a meat pie, and sit down by myself. I scan the faces of the other miners. Most of them simply look bored or tired. The company cafeteria is the only place to eat as we live onsite for two weeks, thousands of miles from anywhere.


The next morning I’m on shift at 6am after waking up at 4:45am. The sun is just coming up over the horizon as I climb up to the haul truck cabin. I hear someone behind me, and then Robb jumps in and slumps into the chair next to me.


We ride in silence for a while.


“Week 2. You’re still here. Looks like they haven’t given you the window seat yet,” Robb says (the window seat is the airplane ride out for people who’ve been terminated).


“I drive a haul truck as good as anyone.”


“A driver, and a surfer I was told. You look like a surfer.” 


“Where did you hear that?”


“From the boys. Sorry, there’s not a lot of waves around here.”


“Indeed.” Arid bushland spreads out to the horizon in every direction. 


“On the coast, there’s a few good breaks. On your week off, I’ll have some of the boys take you out to Cowie Bombie. 30 foot waves. A real crusher.”


Robb is going to get me killed. I’ve never surfed. But If I tell him, he will have ammo for teasing me in front of everyone else, so I just listen to him explain about surfing breaks until he stops talking.


With our schedule of two weeks of work, and one full week off in Perth, I wish I could surf. A week isn’t enough to fly back to Utah, but it's too much time to keep myself occupied in a foreign country.


“Someone also said you’re a good player in–what do you yanks call football? Soccer.”


“Bro, where are you hearing these things from?”


“My lips are sealed.”


“Wrong sport. Basketball, I played for Utah state.”


“What position?”


“Point guard. Started as center, but my height made me natural as point guard.”


“Good on you. How did you get started with that?” He’s going to force me to tell him. 


“My dad taught me to shoot hoops behind the garage all summer, beginning from the first grade.” I tell him the whole story of how I went from practicing in middle school gym class to playing for Utah state.


I’m almost at the end of the story when we arrive at the processing plant. Robb jumps out. It’s another day of the grind for me–hauling rock up to the processing plant to be crushed into powder and have its copper and gold extracted.


At the end of the shift, everyone wants a lift, but shift boss Robb pulls rank and jumps into my cab again.


“Mate. There's a rumor you’ve got girlfriend trouble.”


“Dude. Where the fuck are you hearing these things?”


“From the boys.” He didn't mention the swearing this time.


“The right word is had.


“You don’t need to tell me,” he says, “wife left me after my fifth tour in paradise here.”


“Sorry to hear that.”


“No worries, ancient history.” He stares into the distance for a second. “The good news is there’s not a lot of women on a mine site to get tangled up with again.”


“There are a few.”


“The sheilas in the office are too jumped up for a bogan like me, but rumor has it Beth is into you. She’s a stunner, ain’t she?”


“She’s hot.” I’m certain I’m being setup for embarrassment and humiliation, but I file the info away, just in case.


“We’re coming up to the top now. Watch out for ‘roos. If you run over a ‘roo, they’ll send you back home. Animal rights these days.” Soon we are back at the plant. “Catch you later,” he says, and jumps out. 


As the weeks go past, I learn to not take Robb’s jabs personally. And as he gets to know me better, his greetings oddly become harsher.


“Morning, you look rough, roll in dingo poop before you came to the office today?” Robb says and looks me up and down waiting for a reaction. When there is none, he continues, “Today is a good day for you.”


“I get to drive your lazy ass down to the pit again?”


“No, because we have another Yank joining. A new starter. So you’ll get half the razzing. Or, maybe you’ll get more now we have two Yanks to make fun of.”


I see the new guy tagging along behind him. A squinty eyed blond kid, who’s acting as if he’s in the wrong place and not supposed to be here.


Robb pushes him in front of me. “Brad, meet Seth. He’s going to teach you how to drive a CAT 793 down the slalom course.” Then he winks at me, “Have a good one,” he says and walks off.


I look at the kid staring at the ground in front of me. “So, Brad. Where are you from?”


“Texas.”


“What part of Texas?”


“Dallas.”


“Driven a haul truck before?”


“Only a Komatsu 930.” He's definitely not giving away any extra information.


“You’ll be fine. Jump in, and I’ll show you how to operate a CAT 793,” I tell him.


I teach him the controls. Guide him on the drive up and down from the pit. Brad doesn’t have much to say, or doesn’t like conversation, I’m not sure which. If he’s all the way out here in the Australian outback driving a haul truck up and down all day, he probably wants to get away from something back home in Texas.


Hours fly past as I teach him the countless rules and protocol of the mine site. We’re soon on his tenth drive of the day up. 


“Hairpin turn coming up,” I say.


Seth's eyes focus tightly on the road ahead.


“There’s a rumor you have narcolepsy,” I say, pointing over the cliff. “Am I ok here?”


“Where did you hear that?” Brad says, looking over at me with sudden interest. The truck shudders. He’s scraped the uphill side.


“From the boys. Just one of the things I heard.”


“I’ve never had ‘narcolepsy’. I sleep like a log.”


“Good to hear.” I let him concentrate on the driving for a while until he calms down. “I also heard you played sports back home.”


“I did until I got injured. ACL injury,” he says. “Bro. Where did you hear all these things about me from?”


“My lips are sealed.”


After another week of telling him rumors I didn’t hear, I learn everything about him, and maybe he's learned something about me too.

June 02, 2023 16:25

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27 comments

Michelle Oliver
12:28 Jun 09, 2023

This story caught my eye, as I’m an Aussie from Perth. We call it the Super Pit out near Kalgoorlie. I’ve been there, it’s quite impressive. The Aussies call “football” soccer too, and we call Aussie Rules Football- AFL or “Footy”. I like the way you showed two different language styles here, trying to get a different sounding voice for each character. Your Aussie was so stereotypical I had a laugh. I suppose we do put it on a bit for the Yanks, you know, play up to the stereotype. Sheila, Dingo poop, mate, no worries, bogan. A little pick...

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14:41 Jun 09, 2023

Thx for reading, happy you got a laugh at of my attempt at the broad/countryside australian accent. Because of the stereotypes on American TV, when I visited your country I was surprised that people in Perth, Melbourne or Sydney sounded a lot closer to a British accent than to Steve Irwin or Crocodile Dundee. Thx also for finding that name error, 7 days to write and edit can go past so quick.

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Michelle Oliver
14:56 Jun 09, 2023

Haha, yes. You know we don’t have an accent, everyone else does! So many misconceptions based on Steve Irwin and croc Dundee. We have NEVER said throw another shrimp on the barbie and hardly ever say crikey, unless it’s ironic.

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Susan Catucci
18:20 Jun 08, 2023

This is a world I've not seen before. It reminded me of a Saturday Night Live skit with Bill Hader, "The Gossipy Coal Miner." But this is obviously MUCH different, though equally entertaining and smart. To me this story read the way classic works do, like a rich tapestry that tells a story and you enjoy studying to discover its meaning. When Seth used Robb's lines with Brad and I put the pieces together what this was about, I loved the originality. So, along with being an interesting read - if I've learned anything about myself (no...

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10:12 Jun 09, 2023

Thanks! I'll have a look at the Gossipy Coal Miner, I've never heard of that one. update: just had a watch, that's so funny, someone who doesn't really fit into a coal mine. Yeah, I think you're analysis is right! I just took this from various peopel i've worked with, and thinking about it more msot men don't really open up about emotional topics except by teasing, mock insults and joking around and occasionally getting angry about things.

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Susan Catucci
12:15 Jun 09, 2023

I think, true, for men especially, tough guy facade has traditionally been considered more acceptable than weepy wimpy Mr. Milktoast type. I really enjoyed the newness of your story - it starts out kind of mysterious and uncomfortable (like most jobs) and, by the end, when you figure it out, it felt settled and yeah, I got this. Very well done. Thought you'd enjoy the SNL - I laugh every time I see a baby carrot.

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Wally Schmidt
06:55 Jun 08, 2023

Like how you open the story with the dilema of sticking to your values versus food on the table. That creates a bit of tension right there. Then you throw us in the truck ..."still trying not to think about the wall collapses in 2017 and 2018. As I take the 160-ton haul truck around a hairpin turn with a hair-raising drop-off on the left side" and I started to feel queasy. The way the story is told is really clever and the ending is unexpected and full of charm. I really enjoyed this.

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10:13 Jun 09, 2023

Thanks, sort of a bro-mance at the open pit mine. Just an idea that popped into my head about how things must work for new employees from a story I was told a long time ago about these crazy high paying mining jobs in australia.

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Philip Ebuluofor
16:50 Jun 07, 2023

I tackled the same "my lips are sealed" prompt. The fine storyline and the ability to retain the interest of the reader while in the same place.

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10:15 Jun 09, 2023

Thanks Philip, I'll checkout what you wrote that week too;)

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Philip Ebuluofor
12:53 Jun 09, 2023

Got you.

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Michał Przywara
22:20 Jun 03, 2023

I don't quite know how you made driving a truck up and down a mine site interesting, but you did :) The device of using rumours to engage people - to learn about them, to get them talking - is neat. Since the protagonist ends up using it himself, it's also a cultural practice at the dig site, and he's more become an insider now. There's shared history and traditons. Critique-wise, there's good drama here. We have someone who's out of his element, and there's feelings of excitement for the new environment and resentment for having to leave....

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02:30 Jun 04, 2023

Thx! This was really more a scene than a full story, hmm maybe I should have baked an eco-thriller into this. This idea originated from an aussie coworker who did spend 12 months in the middle of nowhere driving a truck up and down to repay his student debts. The best part about it he said for saving money, is there's just nothign to spend money on when you're living in a company dormitory eating free food at the cafeteria in the middle of the outback. He said the salary is double any office job in Sydney, but you just can't have a life bei...

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Delbert Griffith
21:09 Jun 02, 2023

Nice! Love the structure of the tale. Brad figured out Robb, so now Seth has to figure out Brad. Not a bad way to get to know a coworker. Hmmm. Start rumors and see what the victim of the rumors say. I like the dialogue, but I'd use contractions is all the places where it's possible to use them. The dialogue will sound more realistic. Nice job, mate. As usual, your writing is superb. Cheers!

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07:38 Jun 03, 2023

Thats a good point about contractions, just updated a few. This was more practicing having two characters speak different dialects, needed some more work to tell a bigger message about life, but happy the main point came across.

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16:29 Jun 02, 2023

I tried to catch the Australian vernacular from my several months there last year, but I might have gotten some of this wrong, as I was in Sydney where the accent isn't as strong as in other places. A long time ago I did have an Aussie coworker who had spent a year driving trucks up and down an open pit mine to repay his student loans after college, it sounds like a high pay but a very boring job.

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Martin Ross
23:46 Jun 27, 2023

Coming from Indiana, open pit mining, strip mining, and oil shale extraction were sporadically key issues growing up and in my daily reporting days. You have such a knack for painting an economic or industrial milieu while telling an utterly personal story. Nice!

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03:00 Jun 28, 2023

Thanks Martin, yeah I never noticed that until you mentioned it. Most of my stories that do well are ones that are set in a business mileau. That must be my own interest in business coming through. I did a lot of 'digging into' mining stocks back in the 2000s too. I really enjoy business biographies and listening to podcasts like How I Built This. I didn't know Indiana had so much mining, in Wisconsin we really don't have any, I think because of the glaciers, I did spot oil wells in parts of Indiana which was really interesting to look at.

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Martin Ross
03:42 Jun 28, 2023

It’s an interesting area to explore. And not too many are doing it these days. When I was with a Southern Indiana daily in the mid-‘80s, I did a four-part series on potential oil shale development that started me on the road toward federal policy and more macroeconomic coverage. It also inspired my first very hacky, derivative mystery short that got me my first rejection from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (someone wrote “Thanks, though!” in the margin, signaling me that it was pretty pathetic but they didn’t want to crush my soul). They h...

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05:18 Jun 28, 2023

haha, yes dating definitely gives one a thick skin. And that's amazing you had figured out oil-shale back in the mid-80s. With fracking, the whole business has totally turned the US energy business upside down, back into becoming an exporter again. But fiction must be the hardest business of all. I always remind myself that Anthony Bourdain wrote a string of mystery novels that no one read at all, before he wrote Kitchen Confidential.

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Sophia Gavasheli
03:51 Jun 22, 2023

That last line! 😂I love the idea of extracting information with fake rumors. I'll have to try that myself. Also, the repetition in the story is so great, with Seth picking up on Robb's tactics and using them himself. Wait, I just looked back at the title and you are so clever, Scott! Robb and Seth both dig large pits with the fake rumors and then they extract minerals/info. Awesome job!

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12:57 Jun 22, 2023

Thx so much! you were the first reader who mentioned the double meaning of the title. yeah how to talk to people who don't like talking was sort of the theme. Happy you enjoyed it.

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Hi, Scott. Happy Father's day! Whatever you did or are doing to celebrate, I hope you're having a nice time.

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02:52 Jun 19, 2023

Thanks!

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Mike Panasitti
14:40 Jun 17, 2023

I'm fascinated by the way your lived experiences find their way into the tales you write. The setting in this story is uniquely original, and the characterization and dialogue insightful. I particularly enjoyed the way the social traditions of the open pit miners are conveyed to new hires. Well done.

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06:24 Jun 18, 2023

Thanks, this developed out of the story of an Aussie coworker of mine who worked for a year there, combined with watching a lot of youtube videos. Unless I was going to write an eco-thriller novel didn't really know where the plot could go, so it became kind of a buddy story.

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Amanda Lieser
04:13 Jun 24, 2023

Hi Scott, Oh, what a clever spin I’m not just the prompt, but on gossip in general! I suppose, I never thought of using it as a weapon to really learn about an individual, but maybe things will change for me after reading the story. :-) Overall, I love these characters and they felt quintessentially American. As someone who has not travelled very much I can only go by the advice I’ve heard from others, but I’ve understood that everyone can see that you’re an American from a mile away. Nice job with this story!! I hope they end up true friends.

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