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Tony Vagneur: More listening and words, less excessive actions

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It was the innocence of the 1950s in Aspen, I guess. We’d go way out of our way to avoid the policemen; that is, after John Loushin retired. The guys who replaced him weren’t very friendly to us kids, and in particular me, never missing an opportunity to inform me I should be out on the ranch in Woody Creek. Like it was any of their business where I spent my time. They liked to stop us, just as a safety check, I reckon, and hopefully to put the fear of God in us.

When I was a freshman at the University of Northern Colorado, my best friend was a black man. At 17 years old, we both were running backs for our respective high school football teams, he from East High in Denver, me from Aspen. We had been invited up there by the coaches, what they call “walk-ons” today, and we got there a week before the fall hubbub started. Seeing as how we were football players, and played the same position, they put us together in the same temporary dorm room while our newly built, assigned dorm was receiving finishing touches.

He outweighed me by 10 to 15 pounds, but I was the faster runner, so we had plenty to argue about. Sometimes we stayed at his house in Denver, like when we watched East play for the state basketball championship in the Denver Coliseum or if there was a big party happening in the neighborhood. More often than not, I was the only one obvious by the color of my skin. The girls asked me to dance and to sit with them, the guys steered me in the right directions of prevailing social etiquette and everything was cool.

College wasn’t my friend’s cup of tea and he didn’t return for the sophomore year. Football wasn’t really for me, and I didn’t return to the field the next year. It’s possible we never saw each other again, although I have a lingering memory of going by his house one time to say hello and his mother said he was at work. From time to time since, I’ve tried to find him, with no success.

If you remember the Stagecoach Inn, a bar and restaurant right next to The Ranch at Roaring Fork along Highway 82, then you’ve been around a while. It morphed into the Relay Station, and then one day, it was gone. It was the Saturday night place to be for a very long time, if you liked good-looking women, dancing and the western scene. A lot of good bands rolled through there and it was usually packed.

One night, a couple of uniformed cops (a man and a woman) walked across the dance floor, up to the bar and informed a very large man that he was under arrest. It didn’t sit too well with the big guy (unknown to most of us), and after a bit of an argument, the officers tried to forcefully remove him from the scene. It didn’t go well.

A few steps from the bar, they tried to handcuff him, which set off a volatile reaction from the man. He took both cops down as he tried to protect himself, and it turned into a rather sad, comedic scene.

The cops had no chance of taking the guy off to jail, and all of their efforts to subdue him were in vain. At one point, one of them was beating on him with a billy club, but it was all going nowhere. A large crowd was witnessing this entire scene, including yours truly who was about 6 feet away. No one tried to interfere or offer advice, but there was a certain amount of suspense as to how the stalemate would end.

Eventually, calmer heads took over, and instead of trying to use brute force, a clearly losing battle, the cops said something to the effect of, “Hey, this isn’t working. We’re sorry about the way we approached you — can we talk about it?” The big man, somewhat mollified by this change of tactic, said, “Let me up and we’ll talk.” With that, they went to the bar, where the man finished his beer and then willingly left with the cops. A great lesson should have been learned that night by everyone present.

George Floyd was unknown to most of us, but if you read the second-grade paper he submitted to his teacher, the one where he wants to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, accompanied by his own excellent artwork, the innocence of a young life jumps out at you, and there is nothing more to say.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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