A Bob Djurdjevic Column, June 2002
PHOENIX-SANTA FE, May 31-June 1 - It’s Sunday morning. For most people, the weekend is not over yet. But mine is. And what a dandy it was… a 36-hour, 1,150-mile (1,840 km) whirlwind car trip in the company of two classy ladies - one British, one Canadian - capped by a 22-hour stay at a fabulous resort. It included an exciting horseback ride in which I left my Legacy behind and my Mark on Rio Grande.
What more could a man want, huh? More sleep perhaps? Okay, but not for too long, please Lord… For, another gulp of life may be waiting just around the corner. J
My S’Wonderful 36-hour weekend actually started last December in Serbia. Following a three-day stay at the Belgrade Hyatt, I got a notice in the mail that I had earned a free night at a participating Hyatt hotel. The offer was to expire May 31.
“Great! I’ll plan a nice weekend somewhere,” I thought, never thinking that I’d end up doing it on the very last day of the offer.
There are two nice Hyatt’s in the Phoenix area, of course. But who wants to spend a weekend “away from it all” in your back yard? So I considered San Francisco in February. That didn’t work out. Besides, spending weekends traipsing through airports, and exposing yourself to body-searches by Tom Ridge’s “homeland security” people on their repugnant blue-collar power trips, is not exactly my idea of “fun.”
Then I looked for a resort to which I could drive. I found on the Internet something called Tamaya Golf & Spa Resort in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bingo!
I first tried to get away to my Tamaya “getaway weekend” in late April. But snow in Flagstaff caused me to cancel that trip at the last moment.
Getting High on Sarah and Diana
I left Phoenix at 9am on Friday (May 31). I always travel light (war correspondent habits die hard… J), except for a full tank of gas and good company.
I had already mentioned my two classy lady-companions. I actually started out with four. But I dumped two of them even before Flagstaff. Anita and Sheryl bored me. But Diana, a Canadian, and Sarah, a Briton, enchanted me all the more the rest of the way. They were both jus’wonderful. The faster I went, the more soothing their gentle caresses felt.
Don’t worry. I never lost control of my J30 (my jalopy). Sarah and Diana took turns caressing my soul, not my body. They made hours pass like minutes; minutes like seconds. You need good company like that to survive the life in the fast lane (see “Princess Diana: Weep for Worthier Heroes and Heroines,” Sep. 1997). Never once did they nag, “you’re driving too fast.” Or imply their life is worth more than mine. “Darling, are you trying to kill me?”
No wonder that when I arrived at the Tamaya Hyatt, about six hours after I had left Phoenix, I felt as relaxed as if I had had a massage, rather than having driven 500 miles (800 km) on hectic interstates.
I know you’re dying to find out who my two charming companions were, right? Okay. Here are their pictures. The one on the left is Sarah, the Briton. The one on the right is Diana, the Canadian (click on their photos to find out more about them).
We Having Fun Yet?
The Hyatt Tamaya resort is gorgeous. Surrounded by a golf course, with Sandia Mountain peak in the backdrop, and with the Rio Grande flowing by in the foreground, it looks like a green oasis stolen from the desert.
In a setting like that, one feels compelled to have fun.
“Well, what’s there to do that’s fun?” I asked the hotel clerk upon checking in.
“You should see Jacquie over there about that. She’ll take care of you.”
“She’ll take care of me?” I thought. That could be both delightful and frightening, depending on the context.
Who’s Jacquie? She is a good-looking 40-something blonde concierge. The first thing Jacquie suggested when I repeated my question to her was a massage.
“No thanks. Had one on my way here,” I joked. I had renewed visions of Sarah and Diana gently massaging my soul.
“You had a massage on your flight over?” Jacquie asked showing an understandable look of disbelief. “Where are you from?”
“No. I didn't fly. I drove. Never mind. It was just an ‘in joke’,” I replied, not feeling up to explaining to her my vicarious enroute relationship with two music divas and their healing powers on my soul. “I promise I’ll check out your spa. Maybe I’ll have a massage, too,” I added, accepting a Tamaya Mist (spa's name) "menu of services" from Jacquie. “But what about something else… like horseback rides?”
That was cool, too, judging by Jacquie’s approving smile. Whew… Glad I didn’t request something really off the wall for a five-star resort, like target practice, or a bow and arrow javelina hunt.
The morning ride was all booked up. The afternoon one was still open. So I could have a massage at 11 and a horseback ride between 1:30 and 4:30.
“Isn’t that kind of backward?” I replied. “First, get a relaxing massage, than get sore from riding?”
Jacquie agreed. It did not take much sweet-talking and smiling for her to find the way of getting me into the morning ride. “But what about your massage?” she panicked.
“Boy, she is really hung up on that massage,” I thought to myself. “Everybody must be coming here to get a massage and get rid of their stresses.”
Out loud, I told her: “I'll just cancel it. And don’t worry about it, Jacquie. Really. I can get those any time in Phoenix, too. But usually I don’t get stressed out. And if I do, I have nicer ways of relieving the stress.”
I stopped myself just in time before pursuing that train of thought too far with a perfect stranger, especially a woman who may take it for flirting.
Jacquie understood. She just nodded and smiled back. She called the stables and made the arrangements. “So you’re all set then for 10:30 tomorrow morning,” she concluded our little deal.
"Oh, by the way, Jacquie, why do they say this is Santa Fe?" (in hotel brochures).
"They lied!" Jacquie said, with emphasis on "lied."
"I know," I said. "I almost missed the resort and drove right past it to Santa Fe. Luckily I checked my map before Albuquerque."
(The Tamaya resort is 30 minutes from the Albuquerque airport, and 45 minutes from Santa Fe, according to Jacquie).
I did check out the spa. And the gym. It was puny by comparison to the sprawling expanses of the spa and the rest of the resort. I made a mental note... obviously, working out is not a high priority for guests here. Especially as I had already discovered that there are two large pools, including a water slide, but no real lap pool on the property.
The man huffing and puffing on a Stairmaster with handles that simulate cross country ski poles looked familiar. I took a closer look, and lo and behold… I’ll be darned if he were not the chairman and CEO of one of the computer companies I follow professionally - let's call it FortuneX.
“You’re Mr. X, aren’t you?” I asked just to make sure, as I had never before seen the man out of his business suit.
“Yes, I am,” he confessed.
We engaged in a little small talk, which I cut short, as I did not want to keep a man talking while he was out of breath.
Later on, I found out that FortuneX was running a business meeting at the resort for some 100 or so top executives - “Senior Leaders” - as they put it.
This unexpected meeting brought back memories of another chance encounter a few years ago, at the Marriott Camelback Inn Spa in Scottsdale, also a five-star resort. I used to go there as a private member almost every afternoon to swim laps and work out. So I was used to seeing various celebrities around the clubhouse all the time. But nothing, not even seeing Mr. Marriott himself there, or Cindy Crawford, or the Saudi Royal Princesses (one of them swimming topless!), prepared me for what happened one day…
A black Suburban was parked next to the circular drive around the pretty fountain outside the spa. As I walked in, I waved to the front desk staff as I did every day. “Who is our ‘special guest’ today?” I asked.
“You’ll see… Just go on to the men’s locker room,” replied the receptionist, grinning enigmatically.
I walked to my locker and changed into my sports outfit, as I also did every day. “You have an interesting neighbor today, Mr. Djurdjevic,” said the locker room attendant, referring to the daily locker next to mine. He was also grinning mysteriously.
“And I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me who that is, either, are you?”
“Just look at who’s coming down the hall.”
I did. There were two men. One was fully dressed in a business suit. The other man was stark naked and red as a lobster. It was evident that he had just walked out of the Turkish steam bath.
“Hello, how are you?” the red lobster said as he reached for a towel and started drying himself in front of a mirror.
That’s when I realized who he was. It was none other than George H. Bush, “Dubya’s” father and a former president himself. In his birthday suit!
“I am fine thanks,” I replied. Then looking at the secret service agent (the man in the business suit), I added. “I can’t believe you guys are still having these wires sticking out of your ears,” I joked. “After all the money we’re spending on taxes, I would have thought that you would have been upgraded by now to some wireless technology and the Internet.”
Bush laughed. The agent didn’t. As a security guard used to tell me about his experience in a security detail of the US Army, “ours is to do and die, not to ask why.” Or to laugh. Guess even the $30 billion a year that we spend on intelligence services can’t buy a sense of humor. Or a peace of mind, as the 911 events have shown…
I walked on to the gym and left the twosome to cool off and dry off. J
Bar Scene… Early Evening
After doing a few laps in the pool to limber up after the long drive, I changed and walked on to the patio in front of the resort’s bar to enjoy the sunset. The deep shadows stretching across the orange glow of the Sandia mountains made the scenery look like a beautiful three-dimensional painting (see the photo below).
“Sandia” means a watermelon in Spanish, I was to learn the next day. The mountain must have earned its name at exactly a time like this… a low setting sun drawing a few masterful red and orange paintbrush strokes over the gray stones.
After the sun had set, I walked into the bar and ordered a diet 7-up. The place was jumping, with hockey and basketball playoff games being shown on the two TV sets above the bar. “Sorry, Sir, we only have diet Pepsi.”
“What about a 7-up?”
“We have that.”
“Okay, I’ll have a 7-up with a twist of lime.”
I noticed that a lady (again 40-something, again good-looking, and again a dark blonde, but this one with curly hair) was smiling at me, probably having eavesdropped to my exchange with the bartender. I sat next to her.
“It’s funny how they always focus on the ‘diet’ part, and not on the drink itself,” I said.
She laughed. This led to a lively, almost an hour-long conversation during which we swapped tales and jokes but not phone numbers. She had told me she was married. And I like to keep my life simple.
As I got up to leave, saying
tongue-in-cheek I’d better check on my horses, she invited me to visit
her on Sunday at the gallery that is a part of the resort (she is a former
fitness instructor-turned-sculptor who works part-time at the gallery).
I said I would if I were still here on Sunday.
But I knew I would not. After
all, Sarah and Diana would not approve... More importantly, nor would
their new friend and my old mate - my soul.
“What a fool!”, my soul’s twin and sworn enemy (my body) grumbled as all three of us left the bar.
Bar Scene… Late Night
After answering my e-mail correspondence and checking to see who did what to whom in the world while I was “having so much fun,” I went back to the same bar for a late dinner. The place was only half full even though it had live music, a very good trio. A young female singer and two male guitarists’ repertoire ranged from country, to popular pop, to jazz. Plus the Lakers-Kings game was on TV. I sat so that I could go back and forth between music and basketball and dinner. Now that was fun.
It didn’t last long, though. Shortly after 10pm, a whole bunch of dark suits started to arrive and gather around the bar counter. Some were carrying plaques and certificates. I figured that was the FortuneX awards banquet breaking up. Soon, the noise was drowning out the nice music. Credit cards and drinks were flying across the bar counter.
Suddenly, I felt at least 20 years younger. This could have been an IBM function from the 1980s or the 1970s. Dark business suits, white shirts, “power” ties… You don’t see much of that anymore. Especially not on a Friday night at a spa and golf resort. Plus the suit occupants were mostly male and mostly fat. And noisy! I felt sorry for the unappreciated musicians.
It was time for me to leave and return to the 21st century. I finished watching the basketball game in my room.
Finally, the “big event” - my horseback ride - to which I was looking forward so much, was just around the corner… But first, I went to the gym to work out with weights after breakfast. And then on to the pool for some laps, too. That’s where I had another interesting encounter with “corporate America.”
Only one swimmer was in the pool doing his laps. I’d found it strange that he was swimming across the width of the pool, rather than using its full length, about 3-4 times greater distance.
When I came closer, I saw the reason for it. A buoy was strung across the pool, separating the two halves. The area where the swimmer was doing his laps was blocked from the rest because of a big water slide that fed into that part of the pool. But since it was still fairly early Saturday morning, and no kids or any other persons were using the slide, it seemed silly not to use the full length of the pool. The only other people in the pool were some women doing water aerobics in the shallow end at the far end.
So I walked up to where the buoy was anchored and unhooked it. At that moment the swimmer came up for air. He was a large and rotund man. I was glad for his sake he was doing this kind of exercise. I could not help but wonder if he were one of those blue suits from the last night’s bar scene.
I explained to him what I was doing, and encouraged him to join me in swimming the full length of the pool. “But what about those women?” he said referring to the water aerobics group.
“What about them? They are not in our way. Besides, do they own the pool?”
“But they come across sometimes.”
“In that case, they’ll be the sorry ones if we swim right over them.”
I started doing my laps. I noticed that the man joined me and was now also swimming the full length of the pool. Going on the assumption that he was a part of the FortuneX “Senior Leaders” group, I shook my head even underwater about what kinds of obedient wimps “corporate America” breeds and chooses for leaders.
Of course, if they had a mind of their own and the courage to voice a dissenting opinion, they’d be probably out on their touches in the street, rather than at a plush resort yielding to a buoy and kowtowing to a bunch of women doing water aerobics (who never interfered with our laps anyway!).
No wonder “Dubya,” our Potus
Potatus Primus, also a product of the corporate world, can get hurt by
a pretzel while having his yes-men entourage fight his “war on
terrorism.” No wonder Bush looked like an Ariel Sharon poodle during
Israel’s latest “incursions” into the West Bank (see US
Prestige: Bushwhacked and Disempowelled by American Poodles ... ).
TiM reader, a lawyer and a Vietnam war vet, later wrote back and
complained that such an analogy was an insult to poodles who are fine and
brave animals. Amen!).
I reminded myself that I was supposed to be “having fun” this weekend rather than writing my stories while doing laps. So I quickly snapped out of my underwater “work mode.”
Face-to-face with My Legacy for the First Time
At 10:30 sharp I appeared at a prearranged place for my horseback ride. A fat man and a fat boy were sitting on a nearby bench.
“Howdy,” I said.
“Hello. Looks like it will be another scorcher.” [It was 105F (42C) yesterday on my car thermometer].
“Yes, but at least there is a nice breeze blowing this morning.”
A horse-drawn wagon approached from the west. It was our ride to the stables. “Whoa!” the cowboy pulled the reins and the horses stopped.
“Hello, folks!” he said to us. “We have to wait for two more people.”
“No you don’t,” said a female employee who had just walked down the path from the hotel. Holding a list in her hand that fluttered wildly in the strong wind, she read out the names of the two people who had canceled at the last moment.
“Okay then. Let’s go,” said the cowboy, a thin man in his 50s.
Once on board in the back of the wagon, we all introduced ourselves to each other. It turns out the heavyset man, Barry, who must have weighed at least 250 pounds (113 kg), and his 11-year old son Hayden, were from Rhode Island.
“Oh, so you’re from waaay up there in the corner,” the cowboy said. He looked appropriately scruffy, with a dusty black hat and about a three-day beard.
“And where are you from?”
“Phoenix.” Guess my hometown was mundane enough not to warrant any further editorial comments.
“You know, when you turned the corner and drove in with these two big draught horses, I expected to see beer barrels on that wagon,” I joked.
“Oh, no… those kinds of horses are a lot more expensive. I could not afford the Clydesdales.”
“What kind are these?”
“What’s the average life expectancy of a horse like that?”
“That depends on the care they get.”
“These two look pretty well cared for. At least to me.”
“Yes, but they used to be abused when we got them.”
“The one on the right had an ingrown molar that got infected. And the infection had spread throughout his body.”
“And the one on the left?”
“The one on the left also had trouble with his teeth.”
“Looks like both of them are enjoying a good life now.”
The cowboy smiled at me devilishly. “It’s a tough life... the life at the Hyatt.”
I then noticed something strange at the rear ends of each of the horses. At first I thought it was a piece of leather intended to protect them from rubbing against the front of the wagon. Then I realized it was a black leather bag. It was strapped to the back of the saddle. Its purpose? Evidently to collect the horse’s droppings.
“I see how pampered they are now. They even have horsy diapers. Do you call them Pampers, too?”
The cowboy laughed. “That’s because the Hyatt people didn’t think it was a good idea to have horse manure in front of their restaurant. I tried to tell them that it would make the place look even more authentic and western, but they wouldn’t listen.”
“Guess that’s a fancy five-star restaurant,” I said.
“It sure is. It’s too rich for me. Bet you could not get out of there for less than $150 for a dinner for two.”
“You’re probably right,” I said. “Which is why I had my chicken caesar salad at the bar last night. By the way, while I was looking at the menu, I could not believe the price of margaritas. They ranged from $7 to $11 each! And I saw people ordering them, too!”
“I gave up drinking in bars a long time ago. What I like to do now is come home after work, have a drink - just one - and reflect on my day.”
“What’s your name?”
“Darby. What’s yours?”
We rode in silence for a while. “So this is the pace at which the West was settled,” I said contemplatively.
“Yep. The Spaniards were the first to arrive here, riding up the Rio Grande. They claimed the place in the name of the Spanish king.”
“Now that you mentioned the Rio Grande, I crossed it yesterday on the interstate coming over here.”
“And you didn’t think much of it, huh?”
“Right. I thought, ‘that’s the Rio Grande?’ It doesn’t look all that ‘grand’ to me at all.”
“But at least it’s better than the Salt River in Arizona,” I added. “Most of the year it’s completely dry.”
I looked up to examine an interesting vertical red rock formation under which we were passing. “Is that a hawk over there?” I asked Darby, pointing in that direction.
“That’s a crow.”
“A crow? You have crows that big around here?”
“Oh, that’s nothing,” Darby said, immediately triggering in my mind associations with that oft-repeated line by Dustin Hoffman in the “Wag the Dog” movie. “When we were filming the “Four Riders of Apocalypse,” three of the four riders died!” Hoffman exclaimed, playing the role of a Hollywood producer. “And we still finished the movie!”
“That’s nothing? That crow looked pretty big to me.”
“When I was rounding up some cattle on a ranch up in the northern country, one day a flock of crows arrived. Each crow perched on top of a fence post. The posts were about five feet (1.5 m) off the ground. And the crows were sticking at least three feet above them.”
“Wow!” I said. “I’ve never heard of crows that big.”
“Hey, Hayden, see my baby crows over there?” Darby said to the boy, pointing at an indentation in the rock where a nest and three black birds were visible.
The boy had trouble spotting them, but eventually “found” them. “They grow fast. These ones are only three weeks old.”
“Only three weeks old?” I said. “That’s incredible.” They were at least a foot high. “What do they feed them? Steroids?”
Everybody laughed. Darby then explained how the baby crows’ parents catch snakes, mice, lizards… etc. and bring them to their babies’ nest. “And the darnedest thing is that they even wash them.”
“They wash the food before serving it to their babies. The elder crows bring their daily catch to our well and wash it. Sometimes we find food droppings at the bottom of the barrel.”
“Interesting,” I said.
“This is getting good,” I thought to myself. “This will be a fun outing. We’re not even at the stables yet, and I am learning all these nifty things about nature and life at a ranch.”
As if reading my thoughts, Darby continued. “I once saw a crow steal a snake right from the mouth of an eagle.”
“Yep.” Darby described how it happened.
“Was the crow nuts, or what? Messing with an eagle?”
“It must have been suicidal,” Darby agreed. “I watched what happened after the crow tried to get away. The eagle circled for a few seconds, as if taking a good aim. Then he nose-dived straight down. He hit the crow right on the head. The next thing I saw was the snake again in eagles beak, and the lifeless crow slowly spiraling toward the ground.”
“So the crows and eagles are pretty useful around here,” I said.
“Yep. They clean up pretty good.”
“Do the crows ever attack humans?” I asked. “When they are having babies, for example?”
“No, they just crow a lot,” Darby said with a grin.
I laughed. “I’ve been once attacked by a bird.”
“Yep. In Australia.”
“And at an airport, too.”
“At an airport? I'll be darned...”
I described what happened to me in September 1999, at the Perth International Airport in Western Australia.
I was walking on the sidewalk that connects the domestic terminal with the local puddle-hopper hangars, from where my 10-seater, 30-minute flight on Maroomba Air to Busselton was supposed to be leaving. Suddenly, a bird swooped down on me and almost hit me on the head. I took my jacket off and tried to shoo it off. He followed me for a good 50 yards or so, making repeated attempts to nose-dive and hit me.
Later on, when I shared this story with some local Australian friends, they told me that that’s pretty typical for magpies when they are having their young in the spring (September is the spring season Down Under).
“They’ve been known to attack and even blind a child on the way to school,” one friend said, adding she had been bloodied herself by a magpie once. Ever since, I’ve appreciated the Aussie mandatory bike helmet law when riding my bike on country roads, albeit not for the reason it was intended (see “Helmets Are In, Bikes Are Out,” Jan. 1999).
I was also attacked another time by an Aussie magpie while standing on a verandah.
“I’ll be darned,” Darby said again. “I never knew the little black and white birds can be so aggressive.”
“Oh, so you know what they look like? You have magpies here, too?”
Darby nodded affirmatively. “Their body looks a lot bigger than it is because the feathers stick out so much. When I was a child, I used to shoot them with my Bee-Bee gun. And they would just fly away. Very frustrating…”
“Not if you’re a magpie,” I thought, but didn’t say anything.
We had just arrived at the stables. We had to put our “wild west” stories on hold while temporarily returning to “civilization” to fill out the paperwork and sign the waivers at the office. Then it was time to mount our horses.
Hayden got Mark. Barry’s horse was Cochise. That meant that the black stallion that Darby was leading toward me was my horse for the day.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Legacy? That’s a strange name for a horse.”
“Well, when you have to name as many horses as we do…” Darby started but never finished his sentence.
“Have you ever been on a horse before?,” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “But for the purposes of this ride, consider me a beginner.” So Darby gave me some brief riding instructions, as he had just done with Hayden and Barry, both virgin riders.
We took off. Slowly.
“Where should most of your weight be when you’re sitting on a horse?” I asked.
“On your thighs,” Darby said, demonstrating what he meant. “Then if my legs get tired after a while, I lean forward like this, and stretch them out. That also helps straighten up your lower back, and take some weight off of it.”
I tried it. It felt good and comfortable. I was glad of all of my leg press exercises in the gym. But having bum knees from basketball and mountain climbing injuries, I was wondering how they would stand up after two hours on a horse. I was soon going to find out.
“Have you ever seen the movie ‘City Slickers?’,” I asked Darby.
“Oh, yeah…” he replied. “And have you ever seen “The Man From Snowy Mountain?”
“Aha,” I replied, scratching my head to recall what it was about. Later on, I found out it was Australian.
“That’s the one I also liked,” Darby said.
We rode again in silence for a while… Darby first, then Hayden, then I, and finally Barry. In fact, Barry and his son hardly talked at all, while Darby and I were chattering most of the time. Guess the two Rhode Islanders were the “strong and silent” types. Or just scared? We were soon going find that out, too.
“In about 10 minutes, we will be coming down to where two rivers meet. This is where Jase [sic] river flows into Rio Grande.”
“So that’s why the soil is so sandy. Guess we are riding on the old river bed.”
“Yep,” said Darby. He proceeded to explain how the early Spanish settlers had tried to irrigate the Rio Grande, which left large areas of sandy soil behind. “Later on, the U.S. army engineers did the same thing.”
“Do you speak Spanish?”
“Aha. I had to learn it if I was to survive. I was one of only two white boys at my school.”
“Were your classes in English or in Spanish?”
“I see. Have you ever been to Phoenix?”
“Yes, but a long time ago. I was transporting some horses from California when I heard there was a snowstorm around Flagstaff. So I turned south from Phoenix. And I couldn’t believe it… I also hit snow in Tucson, Arizona!”
“That’s because Tucson is at a higher elevation than Phoenix. I know it seems strange that a place that is further south is cooler, but that’s the reason.”
“I asked you if you’d been to Phoenix because there are parts of the city in which you also need Spanish to get by these days,” I continued.
I told him that in the neighborhood in which I live in the northeast part of the city, the demographic line of demarcation between the Hispanics and the whites has moved up northward several miles during the 20 years or so that I have lived in Phoenix.
“Just the other day, a friend complained to me that she was going to quit the fitness club to which she belonged because you could hardly hear English there anymore. To which I replied with a story of my own. I told her how in a part of my neighborhood south of Thomas Road, one can see now the billboards in Spanish and overhear people only speaking Spanish. ‘So forget Nogales!’, I said. ‘Now the Mexican border runs along Thomas Road’.”
Darby laughed. “It’s the same here, only worse,” he said (also see, “Repressing White Americans Through Rampant Immigration”).
“What’s the name of your horse?” I asked Darby.
I laughed, given the context of our conversation. “Pancho Villa? The Mexican revolutionary?”
“Yep. The horse is Mexican-bred.”
“And what kind of a horse is mine?”
“Legacy is a quarter horse. We got him from Tennessee.”
“That’s a long way from here. How did you hear out about him?”
“Through the Internet,” this scruffy-looking cowboy replied, realizing the paradox of what he had just said, and snickering about it at the same time.
“Well, why not?” I said. “If you can buy a car through the Internet, and you can these days, why not a horse?”
As if on cue, someone’s cell phone rang at that moment. It wasn’t mine. I turned around to see whose it was. It was Darby’s! J Another paradox. Here’s a scruffy-looking cowboy who buys his horses over the Internet and carries a cell phone in his saddle bag.
“I don’t want to talk to anyone while I am working,” Darby said, looking at the cell phone disgustedly. “I only carry these things in case we have an emergency on the trail,” he added, sounding quite apologetic.
“This is not exactly a John Wayne image, is it?” he added sheepshly, lifting a cell phone to his ear while still riding.
I smiled. “That’s okay,” I said. “Someone once sent me a picture of an African tribesman who had a spear in one hand, and a cell phone in the other. I wrote a story about it and what he used his computer modems for” (see “IBM Modem Cracks African Nut”, Jan. 1998).
We were now at the banks of the two rivers. A white skeleton was sticking out of the water. “What’s that?” asked Hayden.
“That’s a bull. Or was a bull, I should say,” Darby replied. He explained how the bull got stuck in the mud. And how he tried to save him by tying a rope around his horns and dragging him into shallow waters. “But he was just too exhausted by then and gave up the ghost.”
“So did the buzzards eat the corpse?” asked Barry.
“They started it. The snapping turtles finished the job.”
“You have snapping turtles here?” I asked.
“Yep. In fact, if you look over there,” Darby said pointing to the northern bank of the Rio Grande, “you’ll see four of them right now getting into the water.”
We all looked. But only Darby’s trained eye actually spotted them. A few minutes later, I also saw a few of the snapping turtles and pointed them out to others.
“And what are those big birds in the distance?” I asked, pointing a few hundred yards upstream to a flock of about a dozen large gray and brown feathered creatures.
“Those are Canada geese.”
“Canada geese all the way down here?”
“They actually fly south to the Gulf of Mexico to spend their winters there.”
“So why are they called then Canada geese and not Mexico geese?”
Darby smiled and shrugged. “Dunno.” Evidently no one asked him that before.
“So what are these geese still doing around here instead of being in Canada? It’s almost summer now.”
“More and more of them are staying here for the summer, too, rather than fly to Canada. They like it here.”
“Smart birds,” I thought. With air travel in America being “only for the birds” these days, only humans are acting like bird brains and putting up with security and other airline hassles.
As the path widened on the banks of the river, the horses went at their own pace and rearranged the order. Suddenly, my Legacy surged to the front. While I was riding parallel to Darby and his Pancho Villa, I had a better look at his horse.
“That’s a beautiful horse,” I said, referring to Pancho.
“He is an ‘alpha’ horse. Meaning, he is a leader. He doesn’t mind running into any other male at the stable.”
“I know. I saw how you rode him into Mark when Mark stopped to graze on the trail. How long have you had him?”
“I’ve been riding this horse for five years. He is very fit. He eats half as much as the other horses and can go twice as far. I can ride him 60, 70 miles a day, and he’ll think nothing of it.”
“That’s a lot of riding. For the rider, too, not just the horse.”
“Oh, I used to get on a horse at 4:30 in the morning and ride till 10 at night.”
“When? When you were a youngster?”
“Even when I was a 40-something youngster.” J
“Your body must be pretty resilient then. That took a lot of endurance - riding from 4:30am till 10pm.”
“That took a lot of stupidity.”
“Guess you must have also fallen off your horse a few times?”
“Oh, yes. But falling off a horse is not the hard part. The hard part is when a horse falls on you.”
Darby then proceeded to tell me about the various riding accidents he has had, including the one time in Chicago during a riding competition when a horse stumbled and tumbled on him.
“He broke just about every bone in my lower body,” Darby said. “The doctors told me I’d be paralyzed for life.”
“So what happened? Did you go through some physiotherapy?”
What Darby said next was typical of a dying breed of self-supporting Americans who built this country with their own blood, sweat and tears, without any help from governments or any other social agencies.
“What happened was, I went back to work. I stayed at the hospital until they replaced my hip and fixed up my knees. Then I got up and started walking. And riding. That was my physiotherapy.”
I looked at him in admiration.
“And I paid for it all myself,” he added.
“You mean your medical expenses?”
“Yes. I don’t believe in loading up on insurance companies. I even drained my own knee when it so swollen it looked like a softball.”
“You drained your own knee?”
“How did you know where to put the needle?”
“I put it where it hurt.” J
Darby added that some of his veterinary friends had taken X-rays of his knee. “So I had a pretty good idea of what was wrong before I drained the knee.”
I smiled. I tried to think of how many people I knew who would be willing to drain their own knees. I could not think of any. My… when I had my own knee injuries two years ago, I asked my family doctor to drain it, rather than drive across town to a specialist-surgeon who performed (read botched!) the $10,000-surgery. My doctor refused. “I don’t do that kind of stuff,” he said.
Maybe I should have gone to a vet, too? Maybe that’s what I should do when my other knee gives out, which will inevitably happen, sooner or later?
“I don’t believe in pain killers,” Darby continued. “I think a little pain is good for you. It stops me from doing crazy things and injuring myself even more.”
“Guess you’re also an ‘alpha’ cowboy, like your horse?”
“If someone asks me how fast can this automobile or a horse go, I’ll say, ‘I don’t know. Let’s find out. And then I’d go as fast as I can... pedal to the metal.”
Meanwhile, we had left the river banks, climbed up a little hill, and were riding through some woods now. I was still riding first. Or more accurately, Legacy was still leading the pack. Darby had gone back to check up on Hayden whose horse Mark was dragging his heels and grazing on the bushes every chance he got. Hayden was too small and too shy to give the horse a proper kick when that happened, so Darby went back to let Pancho Villa teach Mark another lesson.
When we continued, Darby kept turning to check back on Hayden and Mark. So it looked as if Pancho Villa was walking sideways. “How come you’re riding your horse sideways?” Hayden chirped in.
“Because after 50 years of riding, I am too old to strain my neck by turning around. So I make my horse do it,” Darby replied.
“You’ve been riding for 50 years?” I asked.
“Yes. I started when I was five.”
“Did your family have horses?”
“No. We did not have any horses at all.”
“So how did you get to ride then?”
“I’d go out an catch some wild ones.”
“At the age of five you’d go out and catch some wild horses?”
“How did you do it?”
“I’d corner them into an arroyo. And then I’d pick one that I wanted to ride, put my hand on his mane, jump up, and off we went.”
“So you rode bareback when you were five?” That seemed like a “tall tale” to me.
“Yep. And then I’d get home smelling of horses, and my Dad would get real mad at me. He’d give me such a lashing with his belt that I’d have black marks for days. So I’d sit still for six or seven days, and then I’d go out again to catch myself another horse.”
I just shook my head and smiled. I never caught any wild horses, but I did catch some vicious lashings from my own father when I was a child, albeit for getting into different kinds of mischief.
I remember once when I was in grade school, for example, coming to classes in long trousers on a hot summer day. The teacher asked me why I didn’t wear shorts like other boys. I said I didn’t want them to see the welts on my legs from my Dad’s belt. The teacher understood and said nothing further. But if something like that happened nowadays, she and a bunch of lawyers would probably be filing parental abuse charges against my Dad.
I smiled again, thinking how luck Darby and I were to have had fathers who wanted to make men out of boys the only way they knew how - by toughening them up early. Then I thought back to that scene at the pool this morning with one of the corporate-grade “leaders.” “Bet Darby wouldn’t have swum across the short end of the pool, either.” Like his horse, he probably ate half as much as the fat swimmer, and could go twice as far.
That’s the leadership difference between “alpha” cowboys and “beta” executives. That’s the difference between American’s “alpha” past and our “beta” presence, enroute to an “omega” future. “No pain, no gain,” our parents used to say. “Get rich quick,” is what many Baby Boomer parents’ lifestyles seem to be teaching their kids.
“Cowboys are a dying breed,” Darby said, as if again reading my thoughts. “But I still have fun every now and then. Like the time I roped a wild mustang.”
“You caught a wild horse around here? I didn’t think there are many of them left.”
“There still are. Some. Not many. I caught mine not far from here, over there in the hills.”
Darby then went on to describe his struggle with the wild mustang. By the time the battle was over, Darby and Pancho Villa were able to pin the mustang down on the ground long enough for the cowboy to slip his rope around the wild horse’s neck.
“I then told the female wrangler who was riding with me to go down to the stables and get some help to bring the mustang down. She came back after about half an hour, and said, ‘you won’t believe how stupid I’m feeling. I rode all the way to the stables, saw that there was no one there, and only then realized that I had a cell phone’.”
“Don’t worry about,” Darby replied. “I have a cell phone in my shirt pocket, too, and didn’t think of it, either, until now.”
“So did you bring your mustang back by yourself?” I asked.
“Well, I had him on a rope following Pancho and myself, at about the distance you are now from me (which was about 10 feet or so behind). I gave him too much rope. At one point, he suddenly jumped up and tried to hit me in the back with his hooves. He didn’t get me, but as he jumped his front two legs landed across my horse, right in front of me. ‘Oh boy, here comes trouble,’ I said to myself, feeling my horse ready to explode with 1,000 pounds of the mustang on top of him. So I quickly pulled out my hunting knife and cut the mustang loose.”
“So he got away?”
“He did. I saw him one more time after that. He had managed to lose somehow the four feet of rope with which he took off after our bout.”
Darby sighed contentedly. “That evening, when I came home and reflected on my day, I thought… ‘how many people in this world caught a wild mustang today’?”
“Probably not many in this country, anyway” I opined.
“There are still some wild horses in Mongolia or Russia,” Darby continued. “And maybe someone had a big day like me over there, too. But let me tell you… that was some day! My little heart fluttered when I thought of it,” Darby said looking at me almost tearfully.
And my little heart fluttered when I heard Darby say that.
We were now within eyesight of the stables. Seeing that the ride was almost over, Darby then tried to get some conversation going with the other two riders. He first asked Hayden if he enjoyed the ride, and got only a monosyllabic answer back.
“Are your legs sore?”
“No,” Hayden replied.
“It’s okay if they are. Everybody gets sore, even experienced riders. It’s just that some people won’t admit it.”
Then Darby turned to Hayden’s Dad, telling him the story of his horse, Cochise, and how they looked for quarter horses like that because of their mild temperament and (in this case) the big size, too.
“I am probably too heavy for him,” Barry, the 250+ pounder, said.
“Oh, no, that’s nothing for horses like this,” Darby tried to reassure him.
Sensing that the barn is near, my Legacy again sped to the front of the line. I tried to hold him back. And then I thought, with a name like Legacy, maybe it’s not a he; maybe it’s a she.
“I can’t see it from up here, but is Legacy a male or a female?”
“It’s a male. We only have boys around here.”
“You only have boys? Why?”
“Because having boys and girls in the same stable spells trouble.”
“So do you ever let your ‘boys’ have fun with the ‘girls’?”
“No. I tried once the breeding game, but that’s a lot of hassle.”
He added that some of his helpers have mares. One day, they rode their four mares to the stables. “And we had nothing but trouble. It was trouble for the boys, and for the girls.”
I smiled. It was cute to hear him speak of his horses as children.
Suddenly, I heard a thump behind me, and then all hell seemed to break loose. My horse jumped at least 15-20 feet, almost throwing me out of the saddle. I barely managed to hang on to the saddle grip and calm him down.
When I turned around to see what was happening, a cloud of dust was rising from around around Barry’s big body, which was sprawled in the dirt. His horse had evidently thrown him off. Darby was on the ground trying to help Barry up on his feet. Cochise, the horse that caused all the commotion, was standing nearby. Hayden, his eyes as big as saucers, was still in the saddle, a few paces behind his Dad. Pancho Villa was waiting patiently for his master to return.
“Are you okay?” I asked Barry.
“Yes, I am fine,” Barry said, dusting himself off. “Just a few scratches.”
I then looked at my left forearm and noticed that I also had a lump there and a couple of cuts. I have no idea how I got them, except that it must have happened as I struggled to stay in the saddle when my horse jumped.
The funniest part of the whole episode was what happened next. Darby was trying to get Barry back in the saddle. The big man just had too much weight for his muscles to lift. So here was tiny Darby, grabbing Barry’s ass and trying to push him up to the saddle as hard as he could. For a few long seconds, it was unclear who the winner will be - the gravity or the two men. Finally, the humankind’s perseverance paid off, and Barry was once again lodged in his saddle.
When Darby also saddled up, I rode over and asked him what had happened. “Since I was riding up front, I didn’t see anything. I just felt my horse suddenly jumping,” I said.
“Something must have spooked Barry’s horse,” Darby said. “Cochise put his front leg down, and maybe it was a hole and he lost his balance. Then he tried to recover by jerking his right shoulder up. Which threw Barry out of the saddle.”
“But you should have seen Hayden,” Darby added. “His horse also jumped. But he jumped backward. I watched Hayden’s eyes. They were as big as saucers as he was trying desperately to hang on.”
“I know,” I said. “He still had that frightened look when I turned around.”
“Good for you, Hayden!” Darby encouraged the boy. “Now you can tell everyone you’re a better rider than your Dad. And you can tell your Dad he can stick to bicycle rides from now on.”
“Guess tactfulness is not one of cowboys’ strengths,” I thought to myself without saying anything. For, he was saying all of this in front of Barry.
Soon we were back at the stables… Legacy and I first, then the rest of the riders. The story of our exciting finish was being retold among the rest of the cowboys over and over. Back in the men’s room, Barry was washing off his scratches and putting some Band-Aids on them. Hayden was standing by, remarkably calm, without saying anything. A man of a few words. Like John Wayne.
Once back at the hotel, I went to the concierge desk to thank Jacquie for arranging this ride for me. There was another lady with her, evidently a second concierge (Judy). Maybe a shift change?
I told them both about the exciting ending to our ride. Judging by their reactions, it doesn’t seem as if guest-riders get thrown off their horses very often, if ever.
“Did you get it all on film with your video camera?” Judy asked excitedly, although I suspect half in jest.
“No. I’ll do something better. I am a writer. And I’ll write a story about it. By the time I am done, you’ll be even able taste the gritty sand between your teeth, just as the big man did.”
Well, do you? Are we all having fun yet?
The Legacy I left behind thinks so. He is back in his stable, free of city slickers, and munching on yummy hay. Until the next day… when the next city slicker comes to mount his Legacy.
P.S.: Following my arrival home on Saturday night (June 1), I sent the following e-mail to my daughters and close friends:
Hello. Guess you can
tell that I survived my horseback ride.
But you'd probably never guess from where I am sending you this
message? From Phoenix.
85018. Yes, my house!
It was a whirlwind 36-hour, 1,150-mile (1,840 km) weekend, full of
stories to tell. In fact,
I've decided to write a story about it, so won't go into any details now -
so as not to spoil it for you.
I drove back via Las Cruses and Tucson. It's about 160 miles longer, but more interesting doing a
circle than retracing my steps via Flag.
It took me 6.5 hours from Santa Fe to Tucson, and another hour from
Tucson to Phoenix. I left NM
at about 1pm, and was in Phoenix by 8:30pm.
And again, no speeding tickets, although if you do your math, you'll
see that I averaged 85 mph (136 km/h) Phoenix-Santa Fe round trip.
[and that's including four gas and bathroom pit stops, and even one short
snooze this afternoon, just south of Albuquerque.
I just couldn't keep my eyes open after all the fresh air an
excitement during the horseback ride.
On wings of angels? No.
But the J30, my radar detector and my new tires do deserve credit.
Oh I forgot... my new $700-fan belt, too ($600 of that was labor...
crazy, huh?). But that's
Anyway, off to get some Western Pizza now...
And yes, Sarah and Diana accompanied me on my way home, too. All the way. But now, I’ll have to give them a rest for a while, and other soul masseuses a chance. J After all, it’s another month now. “Hey, June, here I come…”
P.P.S. What comes after "the end?" Well, a "P.P.S.", of course... J something I have been forgotten to mention, yet I thought of it early on during my drive toward Flagstaff on the I-17. It's about the pseudo-patriotism that the post-911 flag-waving mania brought out. You could have read about it contemporaneously in my notes from the September 2001 road trip and photo essay. But seeing some of these pseudo-patriots still on the road with their now well-worn flags and tired-looking "United We Stand"-signs, I thought of an appropriate cartoon, including a second line to that slogan. Here it is, in "living color," "fresh off the press" (I've just designed this cartoon):
(click on the above image to see the latest reasons why it is an "appropriate cartoon")
For a photo
essay from this writer’s post-911 road trip through 10 western states,
including two Canadian provinces, click
here (at our web site).
For other Travel Vignettes from around the world, click here.
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