Jesse Tillotson is a voracious reader. Make that listener. These days, the home schooled Wyoming native who spent his youth exploring the outdoors, lived independently since age seventeen, and eventually got a GED, spends hours driving through South Texas gas country with audio books riding shotgun. Robert Caro’s The Power Broker and LBJ biographies, Charles Mann’s 1491 and 1493, Lawrence Lessing’s, Republic, Lost. Serious stuff with a political bent.
Jesse is a gas meter calibrator for Anadarko Energy, one of the few guys who remain after wells are tapped and pipelines laid. The company moved Jesse from Gillette, WY last August, with a signing bonus and a one-year contract. Anadarko likes calibrators to put down roots, but Jesse hasn’t determined whether he’ll stay after that.
“Anadarko sold the oil field I was working near Gillette. Things were slowing down. They hinted that guys should transfer. I had just broken up with my girlfriend. We shared the same group of friends; it was a good time for me to get out of town.” On his last day of work in Wyoming, his colleagues got pink slips.
Jesse is the sole permanent resident in Slate Creek Ranch, a 12-unit development of nifty cottages with outdoor fireplaces and barrel barbeques that overlook the chaparral north of Uvalde. Anadarko leased the entire complex during the gas boom south of here. Now that gas for less than $1.50 a gallon, he is the only one left.
The 29-year-old political junkie has a leftist bent. “I am this small minority, maybe ten percent, of people in the energy industry who vote Democratic.” He feels the Republicans are doomed in November. “You can’t win an election by going to the well of hate. There are not enough angry people.” Yet he realizes that’s the demographic that votes. “The politicians are beholden to the electorate, not all the citizens.” He appreciates balance in our system. Wyoming recently had a two-term Democratic governor. Jesse thought the cooperation required to deal with the Republican state house was a good thing.
Jesse’s work takes him within eight miles of the border. He carries water jugs to give to immigrants. “I can’t pick them up in my company truck, but I can give them that.”
Like everyone I’ve met along our nineteen-hundred-mile border with Mexico, Jesse has his particular slant on illegal immigration. “Immigration is a political football we toss around every four years. Marco Rubio gets skewered for flip-flopping; Obama deported more immigrants in first two years in office than Bush II did in eight. If we want to get rid of illegal immigration, go after the employers, not the people seeking a better life. It’s an unbalanced situation. The Border Patrol is an industry unto itself. It’s not really doing anything.”
Jesse cites NAFTA to underscore how we’re adversely impacting Mexico. “In the U.S. we sell corn cheaper than it takes to grow, by subsidizing. Farmers who grow corn in Mexico cannot compete with U.S. corn exported there. That undermines farmers in Mexico, destabilizes their life and motivates them to come here.”
Jesse’s conviction that corporate interests skew the playing field extends beyond defense and agribusiness. It permeates every industry, down to toys. “Remember when Mattel was selling toys in the U.S. that were manufactured using lead paint in China? The result was a law to test all toys for lead by independent lead inspectors or certified in-house lead inspectors. Mattel wins because it is a huge manufacturer of identical products and can set up an in-house lead facility. Small toy manufacturers that make unique products cannot afford the inspections, though they never used lead in their products. Mattel was the culprit but they increased market share through ‘regulatory capture’”.
How will we live tomorrow?
“That can be answered a lot of ways. It is pointed and ambiguous at the same time. I would hope that we live in more community. I hope we live simpler lives, within our means, with less stuff and more community. Can Americans live within our means? I think we can.
“We don’t have a connection to the stuff of our existence. I live in a house and I know nothing about anyone who made it happen. In community, I would have a tighter connection to the things of our life. That’s why I like the local food movement. The community is more self-sufficient and better connected. And it gives us jobs. If you had a job in every town that was a local butcher who worked with a specific rancher, we’d have a face to our food.
“Life today has too much immediacy. Gillette has streets with large, beautiful tress. The people who planted them are long gone. They planted them for the future. Who is planting those trees now?
“The average American lives outside their means. What we expect and what we have are out of balance This is not sustainable.”