31 Flavors of Career Guidance

I have worked for thirty-five years as a petroleum reservoir engineer because Phillip knocked the spigot off the Moa-Moa punch dispenser.

It was a hot July night in 1975, my high-school sophomore year, and I had a summer job in a small Baskin Robbins ice cream shop in east Tulsa. Phillip and I were handling the after-movie crowd, scooping orders from deep freezers containing exactly 31 varieties of ice cream and sherbets. We were in the “zone” that night, quickly dodging around each other, throwing up freezer lids and diving head first into the frosty air for a single dip of Baseball Nut, or a double scoop of Jamoca Almond Fudge. Sugar cone or regular cone? In a cup? Sure, you got it.

Phillip turned to the back counter and grabbed a double-scoop cup from the stack. As he rotated back toward the freezer the scoop in his hand banged into the Moa-Moa punch dispenser, knocking the spigot completely off and down to the floor.

Instantly opening the choke to the maximum setting (64/64ths) exposed the Moa-Moa reservoir to atmospheric pressure and Absolute Open Flow conditions, resulting in a glorious gusher with the unmistakable fragrance of tropical fruit. Without a blowout preventer the red-orange liquid splashed onto the floor in steady-state single-phase flow. (Note: Moa-Moa punch is a low-viscosity fluid and the effects of gravity drainage yield excellent production rates.)

Phillip was oblivious and went into the freezer for a scoop of Pralines and Cream. I saw it all happen, along with a dozen now-delighted customers, and sprang into action to contain the spill and mitigate surface damages. To control the flow I grabbed a three-scoop cup and held it under the nozzle. Flowing at an estimated rate of 73 barrels per day the cup filled up in 0.8 seconds and overflowed onto my hand. I yelled at Phillip, put the cup on the counter and grabbed another. Phillip finally figured out what happened and came over to help. For the next 45 seconds or so we treated our audience to a free performance of our loose interpretation of the classic “I Love Lucy” scene in which Lucy and Ethel cope with a runaway conveyor belt in a chocolate candy factory.

The Moa-Moa reservoir quickly depleted with an Estimated Ultimate Recovery of 99% of the OPIP (Original Punch in Place). The one percent residual saturation covered the bottom of the tank below the outlet. We had about a dozen cups of punch scattered around the back counter, and a reportable sticky spill all around the location. The customers gave us a nice round of applause.

Later while mopping up the mess I made a Serious Life Decision: I would not be pursuing a career in retail frozen-dessert sales. I had no idea, however, that the fluid properties and flow behavior I experienced that evening would be an integral part of my work and career for over three decades…

(Adapted from the forthcoming professional memoir “Plugged & Abandoned”)