My father was a bookkeeper who, with credentials from Tulane “night school,” eventually headed up the accounting department at CIT in the 1970s.

When CIT moved its accounting operations from New Orleans to Oklahoma City, the company sent him, at 54, to San Francisco where he was to help put all of CIT’s accounting programs on computer. On the way there, he and my mother stopped the first night in San Antonio. When they came out the next morning, the car had been broken into, and they were left with whatever they had in the single bag they had brought to the room — an inauspicious beginning.

However, my father loved San Francisco. Unfortunately, 18 months into it, he left the job and moved back to New Orleans because of my mother’s illness. At 56 he was looking for work. A company agreed to take him on provided he could pass the CPA exam. He worked for another 14 years before retiring at the age of 70. He used to say, “There are always credits and debits. The trick is how you manage them.” He was right, of course, both literally and metaphorically.

The offshore oil and gas industry is huge along the Gulf Coast, nowhere more than in south Louisiana. It has provided a living for tens of thousands of people and their families over the years. For some families, it’s all they know. Boat companies have been passed down from generation to generation, and shipyards the same way. It has made some rich — very rich. It’s not for the faint of heart, however, because the industry is given to fits of cyclical highs and lows, like a drunk falling off the wagon, causing heartache and disappointment, but always welcomed back.

The down cycle the industry finds itself in is a particularly tough one this time, made even more difficult to swallow when so much of the price of a barrel of oil is manipulated by governments who count the U.S. among their enemies. Try explaining that to a bride-to-be in Lafayette, La., whose wedding plans have to change because her dad lost his job or the deckhand who can’t help his mother out with next month’s mortgage because he’s out of work.

Things will get better. It will cycle back around, but no one has the magic answer to the question, “When”? As my father might have said, “We’re on the debit side of the ledger.” Hang on, everybody.


Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.