Sunday, January 13, 2013

Road Stories: Cowgirls and Illinoisans

We were having a much too long discussion recently on an old roadie forum trying to identify various mustachioed youngsters in an old photograph, when my old roadie friend Jim made a comment comparing me to my old roadie friend Kevin, with the implication that we not only "favored," as they used to say in Texas, but that we were more or less interchangeable. I initially found this to be a ridiculous statement, since Kevin was a Chicago street kid about half my size, very high energy, and so cute that we tried not to have him around when we were trying to meet women. He also climbed like a monkey, which was a definite plus in our line of work. I was a lumbering, laid back, shy Southern boy with no real street smarts and a fear of heights. But then, as with pretty much anything anyone says to me ever, I was reminded of a story. Or at least a fragment of a story.

This is part of the lighting rig for the Hong Kong Trade Show, at that time billed as the largest fashion show in the world. It's also where I learned that many models really are as dumb as they are portrayed on TV. Some are even dumber. I'm seated third from the left, rocking the flannel shirt and three stripe Adidas. My roommate is on the far right, sporting the Quaker beard. As far as I recall, he never threw away a single piece of trash in our apartment. I should probably look for him on Hoarders.

Lighting roadies really didn't meet a lot of women on the road, or do much of anything else, really. We started work too early and stayed too late. The occasions when we managed to grab a slice of normal life -- a cookout at someone's friend's house on Lake Michigan, or a round of golf at Pine Knob -- shine much brighter in our memories than the endless shows and hotel rooms.

I found myself in Arizona once (Tempe, I think) with that rarest of road holidays, the day off with no travel. I don't remember exactly where we met Cowgirl and her friend. I think she may have been working at whatever bar and grill we wandered into. What followed was one of the most pleasant and comfortable twenty-four hour periods of my young life. We spent most of the day riding horses through the desert. She made a home-cooked meal. There was napping.* In short, we really hit it off. So much so that I kept her address, and promised to call on my next trip through.

Instead, it was Kevin who called on his next trip through. They apparently hit it off as well, because he left the road before too long to join her in the desert. They ended up married with children. They were an unlikely couple, but perfect for each other in many ways. Maybe we were more interchangeable than I thought.

It's probably impossible to adequately describe the culture that allowed Kevin to ask me for Cowgirl's number, and for me to give it to him, without an impact on our friendship. Frankly, it's hard for me to understand it myself, from this far removed. But I'm confident that it wasn't a matter of devaluing or objectifying women, at least not in this case. I saw Cowgirl as more of a friend and peer than any sort of sex object. He was looking for one of those slivers of real life on the road, and I thought they would enjoy each other's company. Plus, he had never been on a horse, and everyone should ride a horse at least once. I think it was more a matter of devaluing sex. And it cut both ways.

For example, when my roommate's girlfriend drove from Oklahoma one weekend for a surprise visit, only to discover that he was on the road, she seemed determined not to return empty handed ... or, whatever. So we drank some tequila, she pierced my ear, and we passed a very pleasant thirty-six hours until she had to drive home. No one felt particularly guilty, and we never spoke of it afterwards.

It seems that while Kevin and I may have been somewhat fungible, those years really are not like any others, and not just because they were the years I was young. It really was a different time, the full flower of the cultural experiment begun in the 1960's, right before it collapsed into the Reagan years, and the resurgence of traditional values. A better time? Maybe not. But definitely a great time to be young.

* It is almost impossible to overstate the pleasure of an afternoon nap to the chronically sleep deprived.


  1. Oh, Chris. What a lovely trip back into the past. I wasn't a lighting (or any other kind of) roadie, though I wish I had been. I do recognize the times and the people, and the feelings.
    It was indeed a great time to be young!

  2. That culture is still around today, for sure, but like you say - "No one felt particularly guilty, and we never spoke of it afterwards" - is the crux of it. The ones who speak out the most about these things are trying to convince themselves, and the world, that they're comfortable with their lifestyle. So you don't hear about the healthy ones.

    Rad picture, by the way.

  3. love that picture... very cool find! tha line "no one felt particularly guilty" - it is possible to still make this happen, but as rassles says, you really can't be explaining yourself to people others than those immediately swappin' fluids. especially if you're a woman. jealousy/possessiveness - whether it be over a phone number or a friend - just doesn't make for living well.

  4. Another wonderful 'roadie' memory and slice from your full and thoughtful life. Thanks for sharing it.