Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
August 19, 2011
To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember the drive from Silverton to Ouray, but I know we took it. We’d finished our last night as a traveling band for the Colorado 500, and were left to our own schedule to get home. We were hung over, starving and mostly broke (check being sent via mail), with about five bucks between the three of us. Chris Winter (RIP), the English drummer, sometimes displayed a flash of parsimony on trips like this, saving our butts, but not this time.
We walked up the steps into the deserted bar, old mining-town typical with creaking hardwood floors, and ordered tap beers. I mean, any establishment of serious drink that opens at 9 a.m. should be celebrated. How the hell that was going to get us breakfast, we didn’t know, but it gave us a little time to think.
“Go get your accordion,” said Buck, and before our beers were downed, I was laying out a polka of beer-barrel intensity to the empty room, breathing in the early-morning smell of stale hops and feeling like a damned fool. The bartender smiled, set us up with another round (on the house) and got on the phone. A local gray-haired lady from next door stuck her head in long enough to see the music was live and said she’d be right back.
In the meantime, a few curious pedestrians had wandered in, standing like nervous, smiling stilts by the door; Chris had set up a snare and a cymbal, and we were starting to work the place, just a bit. Buck set an empty beer pitcher on a chair next to us and slung his guitar over his shoulder.
As if choreographed, a couple started doing a slow shuffle around the room, easing themselves down from the night before. About then, the lady with the pinned-up gray hair, a tall woman of what appeared to be impeccable, fastidious taste, returned with a stand-up bass and began slapping the strings like she might a wayward boyfriend, spinning the thing around as if she knew the score. Her hair was already in half-cascade.
Friends of the bartender slowly sauntered in, the empty beer pitcher began filling up with green bills and I ducked my head and gave it up. We weren’t going to eat, we were going to party and damn, everything was going to be all right. Buck was yodeling, the beers kept coming like ice melt off a Colorado summer glacier and for a short time we provided the vessel in which the spirit of life thrived in a splendid experience between strangers. For a fleeting spell, we were tinged with the soul of Ouray.
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The night bartenders, one of them being the owner, had sequestered our tip jug behind the bar, “For safekeeping,” he’d said, and when we finally asked for our money, reality crept back into the world with a chilling, unforeseen ugliness.
“You boys owe for the beer you drank,” and by the time he got done recreating the flow of our jam session, using a scratchy, dull pencil and creative imagination, he’d fairly well drained our dreams of a healthy breakfast tomorrow. We’d brought in more business that day and evening than he’d seen in months and be damned if he was going to let a nickel slide by.
We should have gutted him right there and left him lay behind the bar, but that’s not our style and besides, we were still coming down from a pretty amazing day.
That bar is open for business yet, last time I looked and there are people in Ouray, not as young as they used to be maybe, who still remember our visit as if it happened only last week. Ask my buddy, Marlin Vander Tuin, a stalwart Aspen icon who just happened to drift in during the midst of it all.