I checked my watch as I pushed back from the free computer at the library. “It’s time to get to work,” I thought. Turning to leave the computer room I made my way to the front door. It was then he caught my eye. Seated at a bar table near my exit was what appeared to be a Drugstore Cowboy. Wearing a black Stetson, vest and red bandanna, he was drecked to the hilt. Staturesque and still he appeared like a life size model advertising some event of local interest.
As I approached my exit, I could not take my eye off him. Nothing moved, was he real or not. I stopped, turned and looked directly at him.
“You a dummy?” I blurted (the word mannequin escaped me) “Or are you real?”
“Ain’t no dummy…REAL!” the answer came. “Least I was when I poured my morning coffee.”
What ensued was a good-natured conversation in which I learned that he was the real thing. He “cowboyed” in the mountains near Steamboat Springs, CO, still owned part of a ranch up there but was now living in Fruita to be near grand children.
I was impressed by his sense of unadorn self-confidence. “Comes from rubbing elbows with life on the range,” I thought. Never knowing what you are going to confront from day to day, with only raw courage and ingenuity upon which to draw. Separates the men from the boys, I have heard it said. This was definitely a man, gentle, good natured but a man. Impressive.
Reminded me of a chance meeting I had had in my traveling days as I boarded a plane for Billings, MT. Pushed my way to the back of the plane to find my seat in the cheep tail section. Was next to the window. Had to excuse myself as I climbed over the cowboy seated on the isle. We exchanged the usual amenities as I scoured my memory for famous western personalities I had seen on the big screen or TV. Finally, I ventured a guess. Risking appearing to be a dummy, I asked, “You Baxter Black?” (noted cowboy poet and philosopher.)
“Yep,” the other passenger replied.
I wanted to say, “You look just like your pictures.” But, that sounded too dumb. So, “Traveling to Billings?” was all I could manage.
“Yep,” came the reply. “Got a performance tonight there and one tomorrow in Bozeman. Excuse me while I put my brief case overhead.”
I told him that I was heading to Billings to catch a ride to Livingston and then on to a camp in the mountains. “You must travel continually,” I continued.
“Yeah good bit,” Black replied. “I travel lightly, two shirts in my briefcase. Use the one in the brief case tonight at Billings, and the one I got on in Bozeman tomorrow because they will not have seen this one yet.” We laughed.
Traveling light with only two shirts and a head stuffed with enough poems and earthy humor to keep folks on the edge of their seats for hours. He exuded the comfortable confidence of a seasoned performer.
We talked off and on in the short time we traveled to Billings. Inner confidence, I thought, can’t be purchased in some Sears and Roebuck Catalog. It is something that grows through life’s experiences and reflections. It comes from facing life’s back to back performances and freezing nights on the range. It is seen in the gentle eyes of a hardened survivor for his progeny and blossoms in the decision to be together in the waning years. It come from the real stuff of life.