Identity crisis

The card was supposed to be a State of Maryland drivers license. Unfortunately, it only looked the part from a blurry distance, and I was forced to live in constant fear of a careful eye, always on the lookout for the dreaded “book,” the bouncer’s bible of driver’s license templates.

For starts, the card was abnormally large. The nearly check book-sized chunk of paper and plastic came nowhere close to squeezing into my wallet. Riding around in my front pocket, the ID resembled a small box of cigarettes in the best case, a pocket calculator in the worst.

Second, the forger apparently burned out after only half the job. The back was completely blank and not even laminated. On the front, a hazy picture of two brown eyes hidden by dark curls stared out (My eyes are green, easily visible beneath my straight, light brown hair). The ID also added more than a few inches to my stature at 6’3” and more than a few pounds to my waistline at 210.

According to the “official” document, my name was actually Gregory Adam Soergel or G.A.S. if you’re into that kind of thing. I allegedly lived in Ocean City, Md., and I was supposedly a 27-year-old Scorpio rather than a 19-year-old Taurus.

What can I say? I was a little desperate. Fresh from my first year of college, the fates were spinning me down to the Texas oil patch for a summer of roughnecking (yes, roughnecking, the most dangerous and manly of trades). At 19, my manhood quotient was still hanging in the balance. A little helper was definitely in order. So I coughed up 40 bucks, instantly assumed my new identity and made the great mistake of venturing into one of the deepest and darkest parts of Texas armed with a Maryland alter-ego.

The piece of plastic’s first test was not an easy one. I’d been living in a dusty backwater called Pleasanton for a couple weeks, along with an old pal from high school. Courtesy of the Gulf War I, we’d picked up two slots on a land-based, oil rig and were working nearly 70-hour weeks, all in the dead of night.

Amidst constant roar, we helped the rig slowly bite through the Earth’s core. My buddy and I were responsible for attaching 80-foot lengths of thick pipe as the bit chewed through earth and rock. This seemingly simple process entailed throwing chain, whipping giant pipe wrenches called tongs around, cutting cable with a sledge, scrubbing the entire deck nightly and hauling nearly a mile and a ton of pipe. When the bit burned out, we had to “trip,” pulling the entire length out piece by piece. A fresh bit was attached, and it would all go back in again, one piece at a time.

We celebrated our first day off with 18 hours of solid sleep. A week later, we were a little stronger, and a day off meant a trip to the glitz of downtown Pleasanton and one of its two bars. Call me a romantic, but I picked The Oasis. What greeted us inside was anything but.

A pair of gold teeth sat on either side of the woman’s mouth, bridged by a series of real ones, yellowed by decades of cigarette smoke. Her upper lip curled beneath a row of slight hairs, and as she saw us approach, her grin widened in an almost predatorial fashion.

“I’m gonna need some ID,” she said loud enough for the entire bar to hear. “Not so much for you’s ages, but to figure where ’n the hell you boys are from.”

Nearly a dozen Oasis regulars answered the punchline with roaring laughter. I mustered a mild chuckle, doing my best to ignore premonitions of coming violence. Then, I dug deep, puffed up my chest and boldly dropped Greg Soergel onto the bar top.

“Like I thought, this one’s from Merryland,” she hollered aloud. “Last name of Sour-gel. What the hell kinda name is Sour-gel?”

The sound of guffawing Southern drawls and slapping knees again answered the bar maid’s call. She flipped the ID onto its blank back, the gold teeth flashing through her even wider grin, and briefly eyeballed the telephone. My visions of barroom violence instantly morphed into images of the Pleasanton cellblock. But again, I resisted the panic button. Somehow I held strong, lifted up my chin and looked her straight in the eye.

“It’s Soergel, and it’s just a name. Nothing more,” I said in a surprising 27-year-old baritone.

Immediately, the laughter died down, and she handed Greg Soergel back to me. My buddy’s ID was left dangling from his fingers in the air.

Gold chompers now hidden, the gatekeeper to The Oasis opened up the cold drawer, flashed an almost warm smile and asked, “Okay gents, what’ll it be?”

My journey to the Texas oil patch was supposed to be a search for riches and life experience. I’d been so certain that the land of plenty awaited, I bought only a one-way ticket.

In hindsight, my fragile 19-year-old ego also was looking for something else from one of America’s proudest wastelands. It never found it on the platform, tossing the tongs around, ripping through the Earth’s mantle or anytime during those long graveyard shifts atop the rig. But somehow, during that one moment at The Oasis and the many that followed it, the 19-year-old somehow became a 27-year-old. And somehow, Greg Soergel managed to not only survive his extended stay in the Lone Star State, but get through it with a little style.

– Will Sands