Updated: Aug 9, 2019
On a recent trip through America's old west, I had an encounter with an old Cowboy, whom I'll never forget.
We were on the tail end of a week long trip through Utah, Idaho and Wyoming driving from Cody through to Rock Springs. It's an awe-inspiring drive with some of the most gorgeous scenery to align any highway, anywhere in the world. But we'd been on the road for so long at this point all I could think about was the prospect of a Big Mac. With very little gas left in the car, and a lot of hungry growls, we finally spotted a rest stop just outside of a town called Little America. And across the street was... the good ol golden arches.
It was the cleanest Mickey D's I'd ever visited in my life. The town sat right on an Indian reservation so the staff was almost entirely Native American with a few exceptions, as were the customers--save one, an old Cowboy whose name we never got. He was seated alone in a booth dressed up like he was going to a Homecoming dance circa 1957. Though vintage, his clothes were impeccably pressed and cleaned. His crisp white Stetson was not adorned with any modern ornamantation. Despite his advanced age he sat straight and tall revealing an enviable confidence. I imagined his words would be fruitful lessons for those of us still seeking balance.
He ate nothing, that we observed. Instead he was sipping on a cup of McDonald's coffee and having a chat with a local woman. We heard him tell her he came to this very spot every day at 2pm. We sat in silence listenting to them exchange friendly conversation as we ate our cheeseburgers and fries. A couple times he glanced over at us inquisitively. We politely smiled back. Perhaps we looked like out of towners. I could tell that he was curious and would probably have enjoyed a chat, but we did not engage. What a pity.
Life is filled with missed opportunities. This was one of them. For I can only imagine the stories the old Cowboy could tell. Who was he? Why did he come to the McDonalds alone every day at 2? Did he lose his wife, and that was their favorite place to go at that time? Was he just lonely and had no place to be, or maybe he just really loved McDonald's coffee. What did he do for work, was he a real Cowboy? Did he grow up in the town? Did he tame wild horses or maybe he was the model character for one of Tony Hillerman's novels; salty and wise detective helping solve crimes on the reservation. Or maybe it was something far less glamorous. I've let my imagination run wild with the Tale of the Old Cowboy. Perhaps it unfolded just as it should.
I have no picture or conversation to recount. But I vividly remember his face. It was rugged yet gentle, filled with the kind of rich nostalgia one could only aquire from a life of true signifcance--not fame, nor great accomplishments per say, but love. And soul. He bore witness to an Americana that'd we'd never known, nor will anyone every again. He was a man who had lived fully and loved heartily. If you had seen him sitting there in his booth, alone, all dressed up, he might appear sad. But he wasn't. He was lonely but not alone. It was as if the presence of a great love was still surrounding him filling his spirit with the abundance of memories. Call it irony but perhaps it was fitting to find him at McDonald's. McDonald's is an easy scapegoat as the perpretator of empty calories and potential health risk. But true too, it is a keeper of the American story. This particular one, was a good one.
When I close my eyes and think about the old Cowboy, I feel warmth and comfort. And I hear music. I hear a song I used to play over and over again when I was a little girl, Elton John's, Roy Rogers, another elegant old Cowboy. So this goes out to all the old Cowboy's who are the keepers of stories we all dare to dream.
Roy Rogers is riding tonight Returning to our silver screens Comic book characters never grow old Evergreen heroes whose stories were told Oh the great sequin cowboy who sings of the plains Of roundups and rustlers and home on the range Turn on the T.V., shut out the lights Roy Rogers is riding tonight
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