I’m sitting in a restaurant waiting for a table when I realize something astonishing. This awareness proved actually more disquieting then astonishing. This unsettling nugget of wisdom revealed a notion I have been hard pressed to admit, and even more willing to accept. My mind is polluted by notions and images that are, quite simply, false.
I am in Fort Worth Texas at the world famous Stockyards. This area, which in years past was the hub of the cattle business in America, saw the advent of an industry and the mystification of a lifestyle centered on the proliferation and utilization of creatures of the bovine nature. It, as well, spread the word of the true American hero…the cowboy.
The concept of the cowboy, nay, the legend of the cowboy, is but a sham in this faster then a speeding bullet world in which we live. I look about the restaurant and I see many cowboy hats, and boots. I observe the proliferation of perfectly creased starched jeans and long sleeved shirts. Huge belt buckles and western belts abound. The women similarly garbed, all seem to sport huge diamond rings, and their companion’s expensive gold watches. What I do not see is any sign of wear on any of clothes worn by the denizens of this famous steak house, or their “gear.”
Except, that is, from my companion. A rather tall, slender man who has creases in his boots from use, a comfortable hat that is well worn and cared for, a regular size belt buckle worn for its utility rather then its shimmer and a Timex watch with a leather band for durability. He speaks to me in a soft, unassuming voice that my ears have trouble hearing in the din of the crowd. Yes, his shirt and jeans are starched, but it is more the fact that he buys and sells cattle for a living and must maintain an appearance for the customers. I would venture to say that he might have been the only true cowboy in Fort Worth that night. At least the only one that actually knows the smell of bovine excrement as opposed to endeavoring to decipher it when it is spoken.
I’ve known this man for about ten years. He lives in a town about thirty miles down the road from me. We both maintain active membership in the same twelve step program. He has many more years in recovery then I, and is one of a small group of men in my life whose friendship makes me feel like I am a success. If he can honestly call me a friend, then I must have value in this world.
He lives on a small ranch with his grade school sweetheart to whom he has been married to over twenty years. She is a sweet lady who would serve as a good template for any man looking for a wife. He has raised two children, and a host of other peoples kids along the way. He actually owns cattle, and works them and others every day. He owns and rides horses and, as a teenager, spent some time roping in the rodeo
I call him “Drink.” It is after and old saying about tall people, “Isn’t he a tall drink of water?” He calls me “a big old son of a _ _ _ _ _.” We love each other greatly, and he tells me that he is lucky to have me for a friend. It is I for whom fortune has seen fit to favor.
The occasion of our being at that particular restaurant was the occasion of a “Road Trip.” This is a familiar term for many, and the term will stir memories of far away times and beat up old cars with coolers full of liquid refreshment of a mind altering mood changing manner. Ridiculously loud music and at least one nubile young lady along to flash her bosom at passing cars while your buddies moon the cop you just passed. Unfortunately, memories of past conquests are the reason we maintain and nourish our active membership in a twelve step program. Nowadays these road trips entail driving somewhere to experience a different meeting then we usually attend. Most of the time, however, this means a weekend convention (lots of fun, little sleep…clean and sober), or perhaps a speaker meeting where a fellow member addresses a group on the reality of their path to recovery.
I had been at his group, speaking actually, when he asked if I wanted to go. We rounded up another member with very little time in the program and off we went. We talked the entire way and worried little on where we were going. A wonder of modern technology mounted on the dashboard telling us in a soft feminine voice where to turn and when. We laughed when we did not listen to it and it had to recalculate our path. Someone says it sounds like his wife when he does not heed her directions.
We spoke as Lewis Carroll’s Walrus would have us speak, “Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--Of cabbages--and kings--” We asked the kid we brought along about his life and we told him about ours. He told us that he could not imagine being clean as long as we had. We told him that we couldn’t imagine it either. All we knew was that we had been able to wake up today clean, and the rest would just have to be something that happened, and not a goal. He said that he was confused, and we told him that we walked around confused all the time. We told him that we liked it that way. Makes us open minded. If that were the case, he said, then, he must have been walking around with his brain exposed to the world. We all laughed at how much in common we actually were. There really is no difference in people, just some age or experience…maybe.
We finished the night on the side of the highway hugging and saying goodbye. After being dropped off, I got a few miles towards home and a back tire went flat. Fixing a flat tire is not an activity I am capable of doing given my advanced(ing) age and infirmities. I called my friend and he told me he would be right there. Wile I waited several of my former students stopped to help. They did not even realize it was me and they had girls in the car, and yet, they stopped to help. At 12:30 AM. When he arrived we discovered that my spare was flat and it elicited another two hours to the adventure. Thank you God! Who would have thought that a flat tire would prove to be a welcome activity?
Life is a funny thing. It comes at us in unusual ways. It puts people together that, at the face of it, would prove to be unlikely friends. I think God planned it that way. I think I’ll pay for the next plate of calf fries my friend and I eat. Peace.