A Real Cowboy

Davie. A throwback. A town that time forgot. But a place that real estate developers, those uncanny visionaries, know all too well. Now that the home front consists of an eighth of an acre or less in South Florida, it would seem that cowboys would have nowhere to roam. Confined to a screened-in patio with a pool and a grill, a wrangler might end up kicking his boots off and giving those calloused feet a little manicure. Or maybe he'd marinate some of them salmon in an Asian plum glaze and have himself a bar-b-cue. The possibilities are endless. And they could be ugly. Real ugly.

If you drive south on University from I-595, past Costco, Old Navy, and Buca di Beppo, you will come to a canal-side road called Orange Drive. On this avenue you will notice something you don't see much in this suburban metropolis: horse shit. The trail of plop will lead you past some hokey spaghetti-Western architecture to a more curious site: a large barn-like structure with a wooden porch, where tall meaty men pose in cowboy hats and cast side-long glances at passersby. That would be Davie Junction, the 15-year-old watering hole.

I went there last Saturday night trying to catch a glimpse of the last of the dying breed amid the throng of pseudocowboys. I paid 15 fat ones to the man at the front counter, which looked like a county fair's makeshift jail, and drank free all night. Sitting beside the dance floor, staking out the scene, my career-girl companion and I took in a live country band that jumped down from the American- and Confederate-flag-bedecked stage and finished its set on the dance floor. When the music finished, my friend said, "Thank God," and when loud country music started blaring from the speakers, she rolled her eyes. A group of folks, ranging in age from 20 to 70, were line-dancing to country music. The scene was set. We were about to start searching the shadows for the elusive cowpoke when all of a sudden Will Smith's "Men in Black" started playing. Double take. A woman in overalls jumped up from her seat, ran out onto the floor, and got in step with the line dance that about six others were doing; yes, that included older folks. They were shimmying; they were two-steppin'; they were exhuming the Roger Rabbit from a grave that the rest of the world would rather forget.

We heard mutters of disapproval behind us and turned to find two young dudes in cowboy hats talkin' to a girl. I asked them, "Why in the hell are they playing hip-hop at Davie Junction?"

One of the young men pointed to his black hat and replied, "I don't know. I really don't." They walked off, and we gathered up our drinks to follow, but the club was crowded, and we couldn't see where they went.

"Up the stairs," career girl suggested, and so we went. But they were not upstairs. We leaned over the railing that overlooked the dance floor and scanned the crowd. They had slipped into the shadows.

Behind me was a man in tight black jeans, a patterned shirt, and a cowboy hat, standing next to a woman with long black hair. It was their first date, and I was to be the icebreaker. Jimmy was in his mid-40s, most likely, with a strong silent aura. She was amused.

Jimmy and I leaned over the railing at the corner of the balcony as we talked about Davie, and his date stood on the other side of the beam, hearing half of our conversation.

He's lived in the town for more than 15 years, he said, and has seen a lot of changes in that time. "When my daughter was 4 years old," he told me, "the schools here were 94 percent white, 4 percent black, and 4 percent Hispanic."

Gotta love that bar-scene math!

"It's not like that now. My daughter is 16 now, and she listens to hip-hop."

I asked him if that bothered him. He tilted his head to the side and said, "There's nothing I can do about it."

So, Davie is a-changing? I asked him. What's happening to the old cowboys?

"Lots of the people who used to live here are moving up north, to Ocala."

Jimmy was no cowboy.

Next we tried Roger, a tall young man with dull dark eyes. But Roger seemed to have been bitten by the slow-thinkin' bug, and he took to me like a cat to water: not too well.

"Are you a real cowboy?" I asked him.

"Yes, I am," he smugly replied.

"So, what makes someone a real cowboy?"  

"A real cowboy wears tight jeans. He's good with animals. A cowboy has manners. He listens to country music."

"Hmm." I had a few questions about that. "So do you only listen to country music? Do you listen to other kinds of music?"

"Yeah, I guess I listen to other stuff," he said.


He twisted his cheek in the affirmative.

Shelley, a friend of Roger's, tapped my arm and commented, "He says that I look like an ice cream cone, and he wants to lick me up."

"Oh, really," I replied. Then I looked up at Roger and asked, "What do I look like?"

He thought for a second as he looked me up and down, and I was suddenly sorry I had asked. "Remember," I said, "a cowboy has manners."

"You look," he struggled for a moment, "alternative."

I was wearing blue jeans, boots, a belt with a big hideous cowboy buckle, a basic white shirt with a couple of laced strings down on the abdomen, and no makeup.

"I look alternative, right? I don't look like a cowgirl to you?"

"No," he said. "You want to talk about cowboys, talk to that fella right there."

He pointed to Rodeo Mike, who insisted that we call him Rodeo. Rodeo was a man of medium height with a long scar along his jawline. He was wearing dark blue jeans and a long-sleeved, black, button-down shirt. He curled his lip as he smiled at us and spit some chewing-tobacco juice (read: brown spit) onto the floor.

"I'll show you somethin'," he said. He pulled a stool away from the bar and stood behind it. Then, he launched himself, planted his thighs around the cushion, and put one hand in the air like he was riding a bull. Career girl was taken aback.

Shelley stood up and took her turn with the stool. There was some whoopin' and hollerin'. Career girl and I made a little noise ourselves.

Rodeo showed me a world championship finalist buckle, which I thought sufficient credentials to value his opinion on what makes a cowboy or girl.

"Being a cowboy is about freedom. Cowboys do what they love."

"So," I gestured toward career girl, "we could be cowgirls?"

Rodeo asked, "Do you do what you love?"

I thought for a moment and replied in a way I probably should not have, "I'm talking to you, aren't I?"

Rodeo curled his lip into a smile and spat on the floor.

Thinking of that Luke Perry movie, 8 Seconds, that was my only rodeo reference point, I asked Rodeo and Roger if they could stay up on a bull for eight seconds. They looked at each other and chuckled. "Eight seconds is nothing," Rodeo said.

So I asked, "Why don't you boys give me some of that chaw?" Rodeo had the loose stuff, but Roger had dip packets that he gave to career girl and me. Rodeo ordered us a couple of dip cups at the bar -- empty cups with napkins tucked inside. We pulled our bottom lips out and slipped in the dip.

We asked whether this was unfeminine. No one seemed to think it was a big deal. This is Davie, after all. In fact, we started getting intrigued looks from men down the bar.

John came over. A tall balding man in his 40s. "You talkin' to these cowboys, but have you talked to any rednecks?"

"No," I replied and spit into my cup. "Are you a redneck?"

"That's right," he said.

I looked back and forth between Rodeo and John. "What's the difference between a cowboy and a redneck?"

John said, "I used to be a cowboy, but now I've got a truck. A redneck has got a vehicle, and a cowboy has got his animals."

Career girl was lost in a funk. She smiled vapidly and nodded when I asked her if she felt nauseous.

I asked John what he thought of Davie, if he thought it was changing.

He asked, "You mean 'coons?"

God, I hope he doesn't mean what I think he means. "'Coons? Do you mean raccoons?" I asked.

He smiled slyly as if we were sharing a joke. Rodeo smiled too.

"Yeah, you sure got a lot of 'coons around here."

"I'm sorry," I said as if struggling to understand. "Do you mean the furry little creatures?"

He leaned in close to me and said, "Yeah, what did you think I meant? Black people?"

"Actually, that is what I thought you meant," I replied.

Rodeo grabbed a short, thick friend of his and told him, "She wants to find out about cowboys." The man smiled at me as he shook my hand and said, "There's only one way to really find out about a cowboy, and you can't do that here."  

"How's that?"

He smiled coyly.

"How do I really find out about a cowboy?"

He released my hand, nodded at Rodeo, and walked away.

Career girl seemed to be slipping off. I followed her to the bathroom, where she affirmed that she felt as if she might vomit.

We went outside for some fresh air. We sat on the curb in front of the Junction, and career girl leaned back in the grass. She seemed exasperated and unwell.

A man leaning on the wooden fence out front offered to give her the "best 13 seconds of her life," but she waved him off with a languid arm. Rodeo came out, and I asked him how much he nets a year bull riding.

"I was engaged for two years, and I didn't ride," he said. "But when I do ride, I make about $2 or $3 million a year."

I asked the young bouncer standing next to him if this was true. He gave every indication that it was.

Rodeo continued, "I just got back from Canada. I made $675,000 for one rodeo."

Damn, that is freedom! I asked him how many bulls he rode. "Eight bulls in two days," he answered.

Rodeo lingered, wondering when we were coming in to dance. Career sat up. I whispered to her, "Do you want to get out of here?"

She let her eyes do the talkin', and I harangued Rodeo for lettin' such an upright girl get involved with tobacco dippin'. We walked slowly for a block, then took to our heels.

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