Lee Pitts: Where’d Everybody Go?
I don’t get out much these days and the other day I went to the auction market for the first time in a long time. At least I thought it was the same auction market. There was a freshly painted sign out front, the auction barn was sporting a coat of fresh paint, the parking lot was covered with a fresh layer of asphalt and it was full of brand new pickups and Cadillacs. Was I lost? Was this a dairy auction barn?
I saw an elderly couple in the parking lot that looked vaguely familiar but it couldn’t be my longtime friends Ma and Pa Wilson because they were getting out, or trying to get out, of a brand new four wheel drive truck that was four feet off the ground. It couldn’t be the Wilsons because they always bought their pickups from farm and repo auctions. But both of them waved at me like they knew me. It sure looked like the Wilsons.
I walked inside and could barely navigate because there was such a long line of consignors waiting impatiently at the pay window. They all had worried faces and wanted their windfall immediately for their crippled range bulls, barren cows and $1,500 calves before the bank closed, the market crashed, the cow buyers stopped payment on their checks, or they woke up and realized the wild market had all been a dream.
It was lunchtime so I went into the Saddles and Spurs Cafe only to find out it was now a restaurant called Le Pattesserie. It kind of looked like the old coffee shop only it had curtains on the windows, they served wine instead of beer, the menu featured Thai food and failed to list any prices. A big machine hanging from the roof went “ZAP!” every time it electrocuted a fly. And there was new naugahyde on the booth seats so you didn’t feel like your butt was falling into the Grand Canyon when you sat down. I recognized the old waitress, Aphis, only now she was wearing a white apron and she greeted me in a foreign language. I think it was French.
After I ate I went into the restroom and was shocked. It actually looked like it had been cleaned recently. The communal experience had been eliminated as all the stalls had new doors and locks and there was a air blower so you no longer had to wipe your hands on your jeans. At least not much anyway.
When I entered the sale pavilion it was like entering a new dimension and my first reaction was “Where’d everybody go?” Was that Charley who’d been working the outgate for as long as I could remember? He had a facial resemblance to Charley but he was wearing a new Stetson, Cinch jeans, a Wrangler shirt and boots so fine you could see the wrinkles in his socks. Instead of a whip he had a rattle paddle in his hand and was treating the livestock with new found respect. He probably didn’t want to damage the high priced steaks and roasts as they walked out of the ring.
A cow buyer I’d known had a beautiful lady on either side of him and the dog that usually sat under his seat was now sitting in his lap, sporting a new collar encrusted with fake diamonds. At least I assumed they were fake. Instead of tobacco juice leaking down both sides of his mouth he was now smoking an e-cigarette. You won’t believe this but I swear I almost saw him smile.
It appeared that Rulon, the auctioneer/owner, had finally hired a new auctioneer but he later got off the block and passed by me in the hallway. “You certainly are rude. Aren’t you even going to speak to me?” he asked.
“Is that you Rulon? I thought it was you but I wasn’t sure. The diamond stickpin and Polo player on your shirt threw me off. I haven’t recognized anyone or anything since I got here.”
“Well,” said Rulon, “you better get used to it. This is what good times in the cow business look like.”
“Oh, is that it? You’ll have to excuse me Rulon but I have a good excuse. I’m only 63 years old and never knew what good times looked like.”