Lee Pitts: No free ride (Best of)

Lee Pitts

About this time of year the Las Vegas strip is descended upon by Dodge Rams, Chevy Silverados and Ford 150s and 250s. They’re in town for the National Finals Rodeo. You’d think a bunch of cowboys would feel out of place in Vegas but they don’t. In fact, they feel right at home amongst the carefree mobs gambling their money away. But there is one thing the cowboys will never get used to… valet parking. A real man ought to at least be able to park his own truck without paying someone else to do it but for ten days in December in Vegas the letters NFR stand for “No Free Ride.”

The problem is that the huge hotels with pyramids, volcanoes and ferris wheels out front don’t have any room left for parking. And the parking spaces they do have are for compacts which don’t accommodate 4x4s well. Ranch trucks need their space, they won’t fit between the narrow lines, and so ranchers are forced to valet park.

You’d think that during the NFR the casinos would proudly park the big rigs out front with the other expensive vehicles, but the last time I was there they hid my truck half way to Salt Lake. I suppose a ten-year-old truck with only a bumper for brakes wasn’t the image that management wanted to convey.

If paying to park galls most ranchers it is even more stressful for the parking attendants who have never been exposed to spit cups, the smell of KRS or the feeling of sitting on a fence staple. I learned of this culture gap while visiting with a parking attendant as we waited for my truck to be retrieved from Utah.

“I realize Las Vegas has a certain reputation,” said the attendant, “but why do ranchers carry around an assortment of leather chains, padlocks and whips? Are they kinky or something? And what are the plastic gloves and jars of petroleum jelly for? Although I must admit, I do admire the rancher’s vision. Most tourists don’t have the foresight to bring their own penicillin to Las Vegas with them.”

“It’s not what you think,” I tried to explain.

“I feel very uncomfortable,” interrupted the valet parker, “driving trucks with drug paraphernalia such as needles and syringes openly exposed on the front seat. But the thing that really baffles me is the assortment of items located on the dashboard below the cracked windshield of every ranch truck I parked.”

“You never know when you’ll need a piece of wire or a lag screw,” I explained. “And the bottle of extra strength Tylenol and rabbit’s foot are management tools.”

“I understand,” said the attendant, “but how do you explain old Copenhagen cans, empty Pepto Bismol bottles and a calendar older than the truck itself? And why does every rancher’s truck have a roll of toilet tissue on the dash?”

“We use it for cleaning our sunglasses and writing notes. It has many other uses other than the one it was primarily intended.” The parking attendant seemed to grasp the concept. Then I noticed a rather large knot on his forehead. “Did you ride bulls at the rodeo?” I asked jokingly.

“No, I got hit in the head when I tried to put truck keys in a sun visor of a rancher’s truck and a barrage of receipts, traffic tickets and yellowed invoices cascaded down on me. I failed to notice that buried in the debris was a pair of these large crazy-looking pliers with a hook on them that whacked me on the forehead.”

“That’s a nasty bump. The tool you got hit with was a pair of fence pliers,” I explained. “I thought you were going to say that you got that bump on your noggin’ when the rancher hit you over the head for destroying his sun visor filing system.”

“No. He was nice about it and he even gave me a big tip, which was… “Unless you want to get hurt NEVER ride another man’s horse, slow dance with his wife, order his dog around or drive his pickup truck.”