I doubt your bumper sticker, sir.

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Last evening, while out running errands, I found myself at a stoplight behind a shiny new black Cadillac Escalade EXT (the one that’s sorta kinda a pickup, but not really).

It was a nice ride, tricked out with big fat shiny chrome custom wheels, all the expensive add ons, and a sticker on the back window that said “Cowboy Up.”

Oh really? Cowboy up? Is that your philosophy on life? Are you sure, Mr. Driving a Luxury Vehicle in the Suburbs, that you are, in fact, ready to cowboy up?

Are you prepared to lose a thumb as you throw a loop around the head of a recalcitrant steer, dally up around the saddle horn and whoops, get a digit caught in the turn?

Are you ready to try to throw a calf while you currently nurse a broken rib, courtesy of the back forty of the calf that came down the chute just before?

Are you all set to trim a budding horn from a young cow only to hit the artery, thus shooting blood straight into your eye with force and velocity? And are you further ready to then take a hot branding iron and sear that bloody mess, leaving the smell and taste of burning flesh and blood lingering in the air?

Are you man enough to sink your arm up to the shoulder inside the back of a birthing cow to assist that mama with a backwards facing baby, and when that same mama cow prolapses her uterus out onto the ground, are you ready to shove that bloody mess back inside and stitch her up? (if you don’t know what I mean, I suggest you do a search on Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, she even posted photos of this horrifying event)

And are you ready to be bitten, kicked and thrown off a horse all in one day? Are you ready the haul hay? Are you ready to pray for rain and curse the wind? Are you ready to turn your hands to hamburger from stringing barbwire? Are you ready to face birth and death and life and manure and blood and saliva and the unpredictability of the life of a cowboy?

Are ya?

Cause you know what? I betcha you aren’t, actually, ready to Cowboy Up.

I might know a thing or two about it, and even I’m not really ready to Cowboy Up.

Not even in the suburbs.

Get outta the wayback machine!

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It was Fall, had to be. Slight crispness to the evening air. Anticipation thick as the fog of Aqua Net in the Chi Omega house.

It was 1989, probably. Or somewhere close to that. The campus of New Mexico State University. I was a sophomore, maybe a junior, I can’t remember. Doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that I was getting ready to go to a dance at Corbett Center.

The woman who would become my best friend for what is now over twenty years was the driving force that night, and many just like it. Her parents had met at a Corbett Center dance, so she was especially incentivized to go scoot a boot and see what’s doing. Family history.

I nervously pulled on my too shiny, too new, gray goatskin round toe ropers and jeans that didn’t really go with the boots, but were at least long enough to be acceptable. “You should buy some Rockies,” I was told, and they were right. I would, later, in quantity. But then I had neither the money nor the courage. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get into, I just knew I was going to be there come hell or high water.

It wasn’t my first Corbett dance. It wouldn’t be my last. This story isn’t about one actual night, more an amalgam of a lot of great nights.

The gaggle of high-haired women walked out the back door of our home, a sorority house containing twenty-eight women of different backgrounds, and one understanding house mom. What bound us together was our choice of educational institution. A land grant institution. To the uninformed, that means an agricultural college.

It was a short shuffle over to Corbett, up the stairs to the third floor where they had the ballrooms. Pay the entrance fee. Five dollars I think? Maybe less back then. Get a stamp on your hand. Look around, see who is there already. Talk about who you hope shows up.

Hear the opening strains of music. Usually The Delk Band. A group of musicians, brothers, and their dad on fiddle. I went to school with most of the boys. I remember one of the Delks was cute. I remember one of the Delks was the drummer and back then had a tendency to speed up the tempo as a song wore on. Hard to dance to a wildly varying tempo. But we did it.

They were our people, and we embraced them. And we danced. Oh did we dance.

The two-step. Not the Texas double up kind, no. The slow kind, keeping time to the music.

And a waltz. My favorite, how I love to waltz. The rhythm of waltz-timed music still beats my heart a little differently.

The polka. If done right with the right boy (he had to be tall because I’m tall and otherwise we’d just bump knees) you felt like you were flying, feet hardly touching the ground.

Then of course the Cotton-Eyed Joe (stepped in what?) and the Schottische, played back to back, often enough. Linking six or eight of us, arm in arm, facing forward, laughing our fool heads off.

The ladies, my friends and I, would stand on the sidelines and take a look at the scene. My best friend would always get asked to dance first. She’s beautiful and a great dancer. Who could blame the boys for flocking to her blue-eyed, dark haired gorgeousness? Not me, for sure.

As I got better at dancing, I got asked often enough, too. The boys liked the girls who could dance, who liked to dance, who didn’t turn up their nose at dirty fingernails and cow sh*t on their boots.

There is something special about dancing with a boy who knows how to dance, a strong lead, who looked you in the eyes while we danced. The boys who had the right fold in their hat and smelled faintly of Copenhagen and beer and Polo cologne.

I got to know those folks. All of them, the boys, the girls, the dancers, the musicians, the laughers, the people who liked to swing each other around the dance floor.

They became my family. We traveled in packs, dancing until we were sweaty, then heading outside into the cool air to take a breath, drink a beer, laugh a lot and occasionally find someone to spend a little time with.

Well not me, not then. I was still too awkward and mixed up to attract much in the way of boys at that point. I was more “one of the guys” than one of the girls the guys would chase. Don’t feel bad for me though, I eventually figured it out. (cover your eyes, mom)

Over time, we all aged a little, got to be over 21 and started to migrate from dancing at Corbett center to dancing at the local country bar. It was fun but seemed a little more complicated. Add more than a couple beers to the night and weird things happen.

But still we danced. By that time, I’d moved off campus and lived with my friend from TorC. She was crazy and fun and taught me a lot (cover your eyes, mom), and she loved to dance as much as I did. She coined the phrase “big bar hair” and learned me how to get it, and keep it, despite dancing so hard sweat ran down your face.

Then we all aged a bit more, and we graduated and found respectable jobs. My best friend, her husband (a fine dancer, I must say) and I are all actually employed in the same area that’s listed on our diplomas. One might scoff at country folks, but all three of us hold a Master’s degree in our chosen fields.

Now, on the verge of turning forty, I find I still miss those days, mightily. I wished I’d enjoyed them more at the time. The stress of school and classes and “what do I want to be when I grow up” cast a pall on my days.

My own fault. A worrier by nature, a tendency I fight tooth and nail every single day I take a breath.

When I’m having a bad day, when I doubt myself, when I realize I don’t fit in at my new place of employment, when I don’t feel heard or understood or very well liked, I can always go back to those days in my mind and smile.

I can’t get together with my best friend and her husband and NOT talk about those days. Magical. I’m blessed to have been able to have them. Once upon a time, I knew where I belonged.

______________________________

(photo found via Google. That is, in fact, Mark Delk and if I’m right, that photo was taken at Dickerson’s Auction Barn…another location for a lot of good nights of dancing….)

This historic journey brought to you by the song “On A Good Night” by Wade Hayes. The song popped up on my iPod set to shuffle during the morning commute. The song itself was burned off a CD while visiting my best good friend in the world just a couple months ago. Damn you Wade for putting me in the wayback machine!

How many of you who sit and judge me…

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…have ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

Sorry Mr. Owens. I don’t judge you. Never did. But I’m here to pass a little judgment on your hometown.

On this last road trip through the Golden State, I had occasion to stop off in Bakersfield. As a matter of fact, we needed petrol, and Buck Owen’s Blvd. off of Highway 99 seemed as good an exit as any to take.

At the bottom of the freeway ramp, there stood Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace. And not much more. We weren’t of a mind to visit the palace, tho it was interesting to see. But the gas/food/lodging situation in that area was sketchy to say the least.

It was all just…weird.

I’m a big fan of Buck Owens and think he’s about the most talented musician I ever knew, along with a great self-deprecating sense of humor.

I can’t help but think his old hometown hasn’t quite done him the justice he deserves. The place to go to remember him is a weird neighborhood filled with strange businesses.

Who knows, I may be missing something…

Then again, it is California’s Central Valley. A David Lynch movie waiting to happen…

Went and got a little country

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Now for ya’ll that know me, you know that goin’ a little country is the roots of my raising.

I’m a bit more comfortable getting lost in the woods than I am in a big city. I can fathom starting a campfire more easily than finding a parking spot in San Francisco.

That said, you know I also love the urban area where I live. The art, the music, and oh the food.

So this weekend, the two sides of me managed to converge in one geography.

You see, there is this establishment just south of San Francisco called the Cow Palace. I am not making this up.

I remember the first time I visited the Bay Area. I remember driving north on Highway 101 from the airport and I saw the sign for the Cow Palace. I was like “WTF?” (I believe that is a direct quote.)

A palace for cows?

I got my first chance to visit the venerable Cow Palace about eight years ago for a car show. (Yes, I own it, I like car shows) I found it to be an odd yet intriguing place. It reminded me, on many levels, of Albuquerque’s own Tingley Coliseum.

While wandering the halls of the Cow Palace that car show day, I noticed there was a wall of grainy black and white photos of old men in cowboy hats. I was told then that the Cow Palace has hosted a rodeo for many years. “Well, cool” I thought. But then thought “the Bay Area doesn’t know nothin’ ’bout goin’ country.”

Each year that I’ve lived here, I’d see on the news the story about the kickoff to the rodeo. A longstanding tradition where cowboys drive a small herd of longhorn cattle down a busy urban street to the Cow Palace. Here’s a link to this year’s story complete with photos and video: Moo!

I always wanted to go see what was doing at a rodeo held at a palace for cows, but due to a lot of circumstances that don’t bear explaining here, I spent a lot of time alone in those days (despite being in a relationship). I was never brave enough to go to the Grand National Rodeo by myself.

This year is different. I am in a relationship with The Good Man. My Brooklyn-born, City raised fiancée. There is no way I’d ever have thought he’d be into the rodeo.

Man, was I ever wrong. Another good lesson in tempering expectations, eh? (May The Good Man always be such a source of surprise for me.)

Several weeks back, TGM sent me the links to the rodeo and said he wanted to go. He’d gone to the Grand National a few times in the past and enjoyed it, but hadn’t been in a long while.

For me, come May, I’ll have lived in the Bay Area eleven years. So it’s been at least that long, maybe tack on a couple more, since I’d seen a rodeo myself.

Saturday rolled around, the last day of this year’s rodeo, and we made sure we didn’t miss it. I pulled on my fave Fat Babies, did my hair up high as the heat and humidity would allow, and we hit the 2:00 pm show. We even managed to get ourselves a couple real nice box seats.

Wow!

What an impressive show. It was a tight two-hour rodeo with great cowboy competition. In between events, they had top notch entertainment like Tenessee Walking horses, Open Hackamore reining events and the best was Tomas Garcilazo, a genuine and incredibly talented Charro (and his horse Chollo too).

I was oh so very worried about going to a San Francisco rodeo, not knowing what it would be like here in the big town. I had nothing to worry about. It was great. As soon as the first bareback rider came blasting out of the gate, I knew all about it. I was right in my element.

We had *the best* time. When the rodeo was over, we wandered the cowboy art show, shopped the mercantile, and generally took in the sights.

All of that was followed by kick ass eats at Milagros. Nothing puts the topper on a day like hand smashed guacamole…oh, and a glass of sangria.

What a great weekend…

Turns out the Bay Area DOES know a little bit about goin’ country.

Confidential to my best friend in Las Cruces:

No, it didn’t compare to that cold rainy night at the rodeo in Silver City. But then that night was more about the post-rodeo party…

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

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Have you ever known a place that, in your memories, takes on a dream quality?

It can be almost any place. I have lots of them.

But one that shows up in my dreams quite often is this really greasy spoon in Las Cruces. A college hangout. Oh did I have some fun times there, and the tasty green chile cheese burgers that still haunt me.

That place is called Dick’s Cafe.

It’s a place with plastic windows covered with a greasy film. It has torn vinyl seats and ugly formica tables. The desert sun pours in through those windows, lighting up the room and the grimy linoleum floor.

And there is a jukebox. Oh that jukebox. I used to ask cute cowboys for their pocket change and they would give it to me. My best friend and I would play our faves. And we smiled, and laughed, and told stories and picked on each other and occasionally picked up on each other. It is genuinely the stuff of my dreams. All the individual memories blended together into one beautiful and happy amalgam.

When visiting Las Cruces, my pulse still quickens driving past Dick’s. Back in the day, we would drive by real slow and survey the pickups parked out front. My best friend and I had a game, how many could we recognize. She was always better than me at that, but if we saw a good one, one belonging to a good friend or a particularly cute boy that needed to be flirted with, we’d turn in to the dirt parking lot and grab a coke and some fries. The days went by slow and easy then.

What’s great is that Dick’s has been around since 1959. My best friend’s parents, my surrogate Mom and Dad, have just as fond memories about Dick’s as we do. THAT is an institution, people!

Why am I waxing rhapsodic about Dick’s today?

Because I just read in the Las Cruces Sun News that they had a fire overnight. Article here.

If the physical place is gone, it can live on in my memories. But it would be a sad day for me to have to say goodbye to the actual place.

Just writing this, remembering the days, makes me smile. Fridays at Dick’s were especially fun.

An urgent email went out to my best friend who still lives in Las Cruces for some on the scene reporting…