Once it was established that my people skills weren’t my main selling point, my technical ability came into question.
“Have you ridden much?” the man in the cowboy hat asked.
My limited experience with my grandmother’s horses, my single trail ride over a decade before and the word “LIAR” flashed across my mind.
“Not much, but I HAVE ridden.” I stammered.
The man looked me up and down and then looked over to the blonde girl. After what seemed like years he sighed. I tried to look like a seasoned horseman as I gawked at the herd. Much like a beginning birder or field botanist, I found it was infinitely harder to distinguish breed without my trusty books and manuals for cross reference. I did pat myself on the back mentally for being able to distinguish the single palomino from the bays and the sorrels.
“Get boots and a hat and show up tomorrow. You can clean pens in turn for a ride at the end of the day.” Just like that, I was dismissed.
My naivety in those early years knew no bounds. Having secured what I felt was a steady position at my dream job, I hopped back in my boyfriend’s car and directed him to the nearest Walmart. Surely Walmart had a vast array of cowboy boots and hats, right?
Now would probably be a good time to mention that while I had toned down my appearance slightly since we had made our move (I had taken out my eyebrow ring and dyed my hair a more natural color than jet black with red highlights for instance) I really had no idea what a wrangler would wear, or where one would acquire the basic necessities.
While I was gazing out the car window, mentally trying on western ensembles, my boyfriend brought up a very good point.
Ever reticent, he said simply. “How are you going to get there?”
Oh, did I mention, not only did I not know how to dress any way other than a city punk rocker, I didn’t drive. Not that it would have mattered if I did. We had said goodbye to our little red jalopy back in Phoenix, and used what little we made off of it on the move up. Having been vehicle-less we had managed to hitch rides to the big city of Payson from our very kind neighbors. Anything that was a must have, my mother and I could purchase with our tip money at the little local store.
The good news is, even in my limited world, I had already come up with an answer to that.
“I’m going to buy a bicycle and ride back and forth.”
I mean why not? That’s how we got around in the city growing up. None of us, even the ones who could afford vehicles, could really afford to waste a bunch of fuel. We’d dart around, in and out of traffic, jumping curbs, dodging cars, always carrying backpacks. In the summer heat, we’d all have the same sweaty wing marks. “Angel wings” we’d all joke, because none of us were.
If I could bike all over Phoenix, there was no reason that I couldn’t bike the 10 round trip miles a day in order to work with horses. Never mind that it was along a busy highway during tourist season and major hills were involved.
With that out of the way, we fell back into silence and I went back to worrying about more important things like whether or not Walmart carried blue cowboy boots.
The fluorescent lights welcomed us in that brainwashing way which always ends with too much money spent. Before long, I had a cart with generic wrangler jeans, a cheap black cowboy hat and Faded Glory roper type boots. I was set! All that was left was a bicycle. We found a pretty reasonably priced mountain bike and my boyfriend wheeled it toward checkout as I steered the cart.
At the junction of two aisles I came face to face with my boss from the restaurant. He looked in my cart and then at me with a question on his face.
I still assumed that life was as black and white as you work hard and follow the path you are meant to follow and it all ends up a field of flowers. No one could possibly begrudge me switching jobs, if the job I was moving to was my DREAM job!
I was jumping up and down excited to answer his unasked question.
“I get to start at the stable tomorrow! I needed boots!” I declared.
The obvious was then asked.
“What about the restaurant?”
What about the restaurant?! I was just a bus girl. It had become apparent early on that my painful shyness combined with my ridiculous clumsiness ruled me out as a back up waitress for when things got busy. I couldn’t bring myself to walk up to a table and take a drink order. And even if I had, I wouldn’t successfully fulfill the order without dumping it on some unsuspecting bystander. I wasn’t getting any better either. Not that I had actually tried. I didn’t care if waitresses were the ones who made the real money at the restaurant. I wasn’t going to be there for long anyway.
My explanation didn’t come out quite that logically. Or maybe it did and he just wasn’t buying it. My current (past?) boss shook his head and walked away. If he did any gesture or vocalization of disgust it was lost on me. I was still high on the plain and obvious fact that my dream had come true. If he was upset it was obviously just jealousy that his dream hadn’t come true yet!
My mother, having received a phone call from our (her?) boss met me at the door of our little trailer. I told her about my day. She looked skeptically at the bike, and then at my boyfriend. He assured her he would take me at least the first few days.
I tried to sleep that night. I really did. It didn’t happen though. I had done it! I had proved everyone wrong. Getting what you wanted, doing what you were meant to do WAS just as easy as just doing it! One try was all it took, and God just handed it right to me. Surely it was going to be easy sailing from here on out and in no time I would have my own stable full of my own horses!
It was with that absolutely ridiculous blind faith that I crammed myself into those cheap wranglers and boots in the morning. It was with that dream and ignorance that I confidently strode, with a smile ear to ear, to the front of the old west barn, bright and early, to meet the cowboy and the blonde girl.