Rescued by a cowboy.
I broke down in the American West and discovered a time warp where cowboys rope horses and strangers are welcome.
The oil can light started flashing in my Jeep. It broke down next to a cattle ranch, somewhere between Highway 5 and 101 on the 41. That long, lonely two-lane road that crosses over from the Central Valley to Paso Robles towards the ocean.
I bought the Jeep from a used car dealer in LA three hours ago. The engine was already making noises. The car suddenly stalled.
I pulled over in front of a the big wooden gate. I slept in the back. I had no idea where I was. It was cold.
In the morning, a rancher showed up with a military green AK 47 strapped across his chest.
He had three big dogs on an ATV and was all dressed up like a cowboy — deeply tanned, fleece jacket, frayed denim shirt, Wrangler jeans, trucker hat, Ariat boots. And a big belt buckle.
He looked like a movie star.
“What are you doing here?”
He softened up when I said I broke down. He introduced himself as “Jorge.”
“Come on inside — my wife will take care of you.”
She was a striking woman, sun weathered, sun bleached dark brown hair streaked with gray, maybe 70, still stunning. She slowly made me breakfast, over a gas stove from the fifties. Her English still heavily Spanish.
How you take your eggs?
Scrambled is fine.
We were mostly silent. I didn’t have much to say to her. I searched for commonalities in our different lives. I found hers fascinating. I didn’t know people still lived like this. I felt like I was traveling in a time machine.
The house was a wood panneled modest double wide. There wasn’t much but the flat screen TV to indicate we were in the 21st Century.
Her husband was a rodeo star. A roper. She motioned to the coils of rope around a stack of hats on a stool next to the armchair.
She was originally from Guanajuato. I told her I had been there and it’s so beautiful.
I thought I saw a moment of sadness in her eyes…
Yes maybe more beautiful and an easier life then our life here in California now. But I didn’t say that nor did she.
As she made me breakfast, she gazed out the window over the stove at the parched land. I wondered what the cattle were grazing on.
“It’s so dry right now,” she said. “No rain.”
The kids came in and out of the house, a steady stream of friendly dogs, chattering in Spanish. I lost count of all the people.
Big belt buckles, spurs. Cowboy hats, ropes and tooled leather boots stacked on the porch. Rodeo trophies. Crucifix on the wall.
I told her of some of the news in the outside world like the oil spill that just happened in Southern California and the forest fire that had blocked the 101 highway.
She had no idea these things were going on. And I suppose on a 15,000 acre cattle ranch there is so much work to do, and isn’t much reason to know about any of these things, either.
Finally the tow truck arrived and took me 18 miles into Paso. Jorge waved goodbye from the back of his horse.
I kind of wish I could break down there again.