Pitts: A rare bird
The closest town to mine is a well-known bird sanctuary, and once a year “birders” migrate to the big bird bash where they fill up the hotels, dine in local restaurants and put a smile on the face of the fine-feathered folks at the local Chamber of Commerce. Believe it or not, 20 percent of Americans are proud to call themselves bird watchers, and they annually spend in excess of $36 billion to add to the “Life Lists” of birds they’ve seen.
There are thousands of rural towns in this country struggling right now and they could sure use the cash derived from such bird-brained activities. The problem is that most towns just don’t have the birds for it. Oh sure, they might have their share of lemmings, pigeons and jail birds, but that’s just the city council, and I really doubt rich people from the east would pay to see them. So I asked myself, “What do rural towns have that are vanishing everywhere else that folks would flock to see?”
Cowboys, that’s what!
There are many advantages of “cowboying” over “birding.” Cowboys are more colorful, interesting and they don’t bomb you from above, if you know what I mean? You don’t need expensive binoculars, spotting scopes or cameras and unlike bird watching, you can watch for cowboys in the air-conditioned comfort of a mall, bar or airport. Like birds, the cowboy species you’ll see will vary by where they’re from, and are identifiable by the shape of their hats, their saddle rigging and the sounds they produce. In Nevada, you’ll see the black-booted buckaroo, in Texas it’s the red-necked cow puncher, and in California you might catch a fleeting glance of a silver-saddled vaquero.
To watch cowboys all you do is find a bench on Main Street and start watching. You can do it anywhere, although cowboy watching might be a little slow in Santa Monica or New York City. Even if you did spot one wearing colorful plumage in their hat and silver tips on their boots, it’s probably just a hair dresser.
Species of cowboys include dudes, rodeo and drugstore cowboys, along with the much-rarer working varieties. Subspecies include team ropers, stove-up old cowboys who had to resort to sheep herding, corn farmers who would run from a uterine prolapse. Harley riders who look like they could bulldog a steer from their bike and politicians who wear boots in states like New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming where the cowboy vote can swing an election.
Spotting the genuine article is not as easy as spotting someone in a hat and boots and walking like their legs were wrapped around a barrel. It could be a sheriff, lawyer, or line dancer. The drugstore species wears the right clothes and can be spotted watching rodeos but wouldn’t know the difference between a Hereford and a heifer. They are not to be confused with the multimillionaire absentee owner who flies in once a year like a migrating goose, honking and generally making a mess of things.
Rodeo cowboys are easy to spot because they sleep in the same trailer they haul their horse in. If you see a cowboy walking into a jewelry store, bank or a Mercedes dealership, it’s a cow buyer, not a buckaroo. Speaking of bankers and cow buyers, the dead giveaway they aren’t cowboys is that real cowboys wouldn’t be caught dead roosting in a vegetarian restaurant.
You’ll know right away if you spot a working cowboy because he’ll be driving a broken down pickup and have silver on his spurs. But his kids are barefoot. The working cowboy has small feet, is missing at least one digit, has a white forehead but the rest of his face is sunburnt and is as rough as rawhide. Skin cancer is a common blemish and there is usually a ring on the back pocket left by a can of Copenhagen. Speaking of rings…cowboys are usually monogamous mates but can often be see seen alone and without a band around their ring finger. All because their last wife wanted to live in a house with indoor plumbing and heat she didn’t have to chop first. Imagine that.
So good luck. If you see one, congratulations! A real cowboy these days is a rare bird indeed.