It was my first rodeo.
I had met a girl in Spain from Arkansas. She had sent me two letters saying that she thought about me often and that if I was ever in the southern states to look her up.
The noon sun was pure – white heat burning in a baby blue sky. Sweat beaded on my forehead, soaked my shirt.
I was conscious that I was dressed incompletely. Not that I had forgotten everything – I had a cowboy shirt with a red rose embroidered on each lapel. I had denim jeans, boot cut, worn in and faded. The problem was the maroon Converse that incongruously poked out from beneath my chaps.
All the shops on the high street were shut up.
Little girls sold fresh lemonade for 25 cents, grinning from pigtail to pigtail. There was no place to get hold of boots. A few stalls sold hot dogs, great pink clouds of candy floss. No footwear.
Needing to escape from the heat, I entered a bar. A lone fan circulated in the middle of the long dark room. It did nothing but whip the Marlboro smoke into a cancerous dust devil. I took a seat at the bar. The beer was cold and the rye was fine.
There was a man at the far end of the bar that looked like he was getting into some serious drinking. He wore a suit and had brown eyes that struggled to escape from the shadow of his dark eyebrows.
He was a salesman, representing the Acme Boots company. He was in town for the rodeo. He had travelled from Clarksville, Tennessee to Chickamuga, Georgia to sell his boots. Fortuitous, I thought to myself. Of all the bars.
On the way, he’d gotten drunk and ended up in bed with the wrong woman in Nashville. He’d woken up with a pounding head and the keys to his station wagon no longer on the bedside table. Unsteadily and cautiously he parted the curtains, afraid of the light as much as what he would see or not see out in the lot. The wagon was still there – he was pleased. But he could no longer see the boxes that had filled the backseats and trunk.
He walked out shirtless to the wagon and solemnly confirmed that all of his stock was gone. The three boxes of boots and a suitcase decidedly absent. All he had left was his briefcase.
He kicked the briefcase now in the bar.
My boss is going to have my ass for this.
They were out of Chicago originally, selling children’s shoes, but these Western boots were about as authentic as they came and strictly adult material.
He was flat broke – spending his last $20 drowning his sorrows. He didn’t have the money for gas to get back home to his family. But this was far from his mind. His family and his job was a lifetime away.
All I got is a pair of boots – demonstration models. One a size nine, the other around a 49.
He laughed a dry hollow laugh.
Might be good for a one-legged Jolly Green giant.
I offered to pay $40 for the pair right there on the spot. It was clear that he thought I was an idiot but then looked down at the pair of dusty canvas shoes on my feet.
Guess it’s better than those things at least. Anything’ll be better than them.
I left the bar, hopping on the smaller boot.
I got outside just in time to see a parade turn the corner at the end of the street, heading towards the rodeo. I tried to follow them, but found I was walking in circles.
I never did meet the girl again.
I never made it to my first rodeo.