Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
The late-afternoon September sun gave a golden glint to the prairie grass, and no sooner had I reached the main entrance of the motel than I spotted a woman coming my way, struggling with what appeared to be a heavy crockpot. As I held the door, a second woman followed close behind, carrying a couple tins of baked goods stacked high. They’d left the doors of their van open, indicating that there would be more than one trip. In the hallway, just past the front desk, stood a sign saying, “Meeting room closed for private party.” None of my business, I figured.
On the windswept, rolling green hills of western Wyoming sits the tiny town of Torrington. Surrounded by huge cattle ranches and home to Wyoming’s largest livestock market, it’s the kind of place that puts one in the mind of a good steak for dinner. It was a long way between the fantasy and reality, however, as a leisurely drive through the small, original downtown revealed almost nowhere to eat, and a quick drive-by of motel row disclosed a Burger King and a pizza place. All the cars were parked in front of a T’s truck stop, a well-lit sign bragging up its selection of fine steaks and seafood.
I parked in back with the big rigs, squeezing my flatbed pickup and long trailer between a couple of 18-wheel behemoths and ducked in the back door with a waitress just finishing her cigarette break. She slipped behind a thick curtain, and I continued on, entering what served as a noisy, crowded sports bar, six large-screen televisions flashing various Thursday night games, all without sound.
In the far corner glared a big yellow sign, “Cowboys,” under which was likely the door to the dining room and not the men’s room. The specials board said “John Wayne” and I took a seat at a Formica-covered, metal four-top. When I asked the cute girl with skintight jeans and a shy smile how thick the sirloins were (the John Wayne special), she said she didn’t know. “I’m a vegetarian.” It was a red flag, but I missed it.
Without belaboring the point, it was hard to tell exactly what was on my dinner plate. Very thin, under a quarter of an inch thick, next to a great-looking baked potato, it resembled a thin piece of ham, but after asking for a steak knife, I determined it to actually resemble beef – tougher than hell.
“No wonder you’re a vegetarian,” I replied in answer to her question as to how things were going. Her feelings seemed hurt, but my order of a slice of coconut cream pie brought out the light in her eyes.
Back at the motel, with my belly still rumbling, curiosity overcame caution, and I headed for the area of the private party. What was in that crockpot, anyway?
“Am I late?” got me past motel security, and the lines on my grizzled face and three weeks growth of a mostly gray beard got me by the friendly matrons guarding the door. Once inside, my dusty Stetson and the spur-scuffed heels of my well-worn boots gave me the appearance of one, if clearly not a local, at least sympathetic to a rancher’s life on the plains. About the time I spied the glittering tiara, someone proudly whispered in my ear, “That’s Miss Wyoming.”
Ms. Lexie Madden, the pride of Goshen County and a native of Torrington, had the room spellbound. In January 2013, she will be competing for the Miss America title in Las Vegas. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a fling with a beauty queen, and it’s safe to say, things didn’t change much that night.
The small meeting area was more like someone’s large living room, all good folks come together for a potluck dinner to see a neighbor’s favorite daughter off on a new adventure. Lexie, soft-spoken with a firm handshake, is a very articulate piano player. What crockpot, you say?
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