Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
Aspen, CO, Colorado
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Long before such words became a slogan for stupidity, I packed my bag for one of several trips to Sin City.
Never mind that the day before departure, I came down with a debilitating case of the flu, but plans are plans, and even though my doctor was out of town, his nurse gave me some heavy-duty pills that I think she scored from the local vet. Thus filled with the most powerful pharmaceutical potions known to man (at least for influenza), I crawled into the car’s passenger seat, covered myself up with a down comforter and slept and sweated most of the way to Vegas.
Arriving around 1 or 2 in the morning, and feeling much better, I got the brilliant idea that a shot of bourbon might be the magic elixir to finish off the dastardly bug and put a smile on my face. The barkeep poured me a miniature shot, about half the normal size, it seemed, and I made the remark that there must be a whiskey shortage in Vegas. Naturally, he ignored me, but when I ordered a refill, it arrived in a small but full water glass. Never one to back down from challenges induced by my own wise-assed remarks, I choked it down and stumbled out the door.
The purpose of the trip was to attend the National Finals Rodeo, which we did several times, but there’s a lot to do in Vegas besides viewing a rodeo so well-choreographed it’s like watching it on ESPN with all the screw-ups cut out. But you get to see the world’s best, performers and animals both, so it’s a privilege to be there.
A walk down the Strip revealed that Willie Nelson was playing at his usual haunt, and why not – I hadn’t seen Willie since the 1970s, when other ski patrolmen and I used to sit in the front row at the old Holiday Inn (now the Inn at Aspen) and pass a jug of whiskey around between us and Willie’s band. My Vegas traveling companion had dated Willie’s stage manager, Poodie Locke, in a past life, so when showtime rolled around, we were whisked backstage to witness the famous Willie Nelson show. I guess to be honest, the highlight of the evening was spending time with the ubiquitous Poodie (who died in 2009 at 56), the guy who always managed to keep the whirlwind around Willie reasonably centered. My last memory of Poodie is watching him walk away into the cavernous dark of the huge backstage, his long ponytail incongruously saying more about the man than a lot of words ever could.
After the performance, we wandered into the casino with a couple of crew and band members, and with predictable behavior, we’d all scattered our separate ways within minutes. Just as well, for I felt out of place with my silver-belly Stetson up against the black Resistols everyone in the Willie camp was wearing. As we sidled up to the bar, we could overhear an enthusiastic blonde negotiating with four guys over what kind of a “party” she was willing to provide. On the surface of it, she could have been a housewife from Des Moines looking for a little extra Christmas money, but then, they don’t dress like that in Des Moines. The men might have been with a convention of toothpaste peddlers or computer programmers.
We sailed out of town early the next morning, taking a tour through Zion National Park on the way home. We hit it right, slipping and sliding through about 6 inches of fresh snow, which gave the place a look most tourists never see except in photographs.
As we rolled into Aspen, there was about a foot of fluffy powder coming down on top of an already good layer, the memory of which started me on this story to begin with. The next morning, I skipped work and ripped up Aspen Mountain like I’d never missed a day in my life.
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Columnist Paul Andersen continues to hope that the moral arc of the universe trends toward justice.