November 3, 2014

Inside The Boom: Sleeping In My Car

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Getting ready to go to sleep in the back seat of my Honda Civic during gale-force winds in North Dakota.

Emily Guerin

Getting ready to go to sleep in the back seat of my Honda Civic during gale-force winds in North Dakota.

I was up on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota last week doing some reporting on how the oil boom is influencing the election for tribal chairman there. I was kind of winging it and didn’t have a plan of where to stay that night. I knew it might be hard to find a hotel room, but figured there’d probably be space in the tribally-owned casino.


Every single hotel in New Town was full. At one place, a teenage boy in a tee-shirt that said “Check out these guns” with arrows pointing to his arms wouldn’t rent a room to me because I was only staying for one night and they had a three-night minimum stay. Plus a $150 deposit—cash only—to be returned upon check out. “Lotsa guys trash the rooms,” he explained. I thought, do I look like someone who would trash a hotel room?

He told me to call back in a hour or two and if the room was still available, maybe he would rent it to me for the night—for $137. So I went and ate dinner at a little diner and called back. In the interim, someone had called and rented the room for the next three weeks.

So I got in my car and drove an hour south through wind and rain, veering around traffic cones and squinting to see the dotted line in the road as huge trucks hauled past me in the opposite lane. I pulled into Little Missouri State Park after dark and unpacked my sleeping bag. The wind was gusting so hard, the car shook. I decided not to set up my tent in the rain, so I slept, crunched up, in the back seat of my car, like so many other oilfield workers.

  • TCPR

    Looking forward to reading more of your work covering the oil boom and its effects. I am curious, however, why you didn’t head North to Stanley, only 1/2 hour from New Town, for a hotel room. The rooms are predictably spendy, but quite a few are usually available. Several hotels have been built in the area in the past few years. Best of luck next time, and wishing you well.