A Road Lined With Sunflowers
A Road Lined With Sunflowers
Which Way Is Left In Canada ?
By Chuck Ritenour
We left Riverton, Wyoming early on the twenty-second of August. Our "agent of doom" had us booked in a bar/strip joint/pool hall in Winner South Dakota. It came as no surprise that it was 500 miles from where we were. Our new bass player, Jim Bob Robinson was very laid back and seemed to enjoy the adventure even with all the paranoid drama created by our band leader, Chuck. One of his favorite saying was " Thank God, stupidity is not contagious". He sat between me and Bean and was in charge of changing the tapes in my cassette deck. We listened to a lot of western swing and every now and then, he'd put Hall & Oates LIve in for Bean. I guess I liked JIm Bob from the very beginning so I was determined to shelter him from Chuck as much as possible.
We traveled down US 20 East. Once we we passed Interstate 25, we hit a stretch of highway with nothing but sunflowers on both sides of the road. We rode for an hour and a half with nothing to see on either side but fields of sunflowers. I had never seen anything like it and have never since then. The three of were hoping it was good omen.
With no air conditioning in my old van, we rode with the windows down. It was a very warm day. We stopped in Gordon, Nebraska for a rest and gas fill up. We were going to drive through the RoseBud Indian Reservation and didn't want to run out of gas on tribal lands. We had been warned by our agent to avoid stopping anywhere on the reservation. He had told Chuck some horror stories about "tourists" being robbed and nothing ever being done about it. Chuck was already paranoid enough. We used the bath rooms, bought a few beers and chips, topped off our vans and were on our way in about 20 minutes.
As we entered the reservation lands, the scenery changed. Both sides of the road looked barren and bleak. We never saw anyone on the road coming or going. I felt a bit uneasy like maybe I had managed to warp our vans to another planet. My throat started getting soar. In retrospect, I guess it was the pollen from all the sunflowers. By the time we made it to Winner, I could barely speak much less sing.
We parked right in front of the Pheasant Lounge and Billiards. Big Louise, the owner met us at the bar and showed us around. Above the floor level bar and stage was several apartments occupied by the strippers. There was a three bedroom apartment for the bands.The strippers rotated weekly just like the bands. On the basement level were several coin operated pool tables. Big Louise must have weighed 350 pounds. There were framed pictuires of her behind the bar. Big Louise had been a very famous stripper when she was younger. She laughed and said, "Yeah, I bought this place by taking my clothes off for the cowboys and selling a little tail when I felt like it". She paused for a moment to let that sink in and said, "Hell, I always felt like it. Still do every now and then" and she winked at Jim Bob. She said, "Where you from, Slim?" Jim Bob looked at the floor and said, "Texas mame, Lubbock." Big Louise laughed and said, 'Well now, Bashful if you get lonely, let me know." Chuck said, "Boys, lets get the equipment in and set up. I want to get a sound check. If we can get that done, we'll have all day tomorrow to rest before playing." Big Louise winked at JIm Bob again and walked back into the kitchen.
It took about two hours to get set up and do a sound check. My voice was raspy and my throat was raw. We all headed for the apartment and a much needed rest. While the others took showers, I went shopping. After spending nearly $75.00 on the trip up. I had managed to have enough money to buy some food. I bought two chickens, a small bag of flower, a pint of milk, Crisco, 5 pounds of potatoes and a bag of frozen peas for the nights dinner. Across the street from the Pheasant was a drug store. I stopped in and asked the man behind the counter if he had any thing that would help my throat and voice. He said he had a codiene cough syrup that I could get just by signing for it. He assured me it would help, so I bought the eight ounce bottle of yellow liquid for $12.00 and signed the register.
When I walked in the apartment, it was quiet and all the blinds were drawn shut. I went to work in the kitchen cutting the chickens up. I was very surprised to find the kitchen well stocked with pots and pans, knives, forks and spoons, dinner plates, soup bowls and serving bowls. I found a large cookie sheet. I love to cook and this was going to be fun. I put some Crisco in the pan and turned the burner on medium to heat the oil. I floured the chicken and put as much as I could in the pan to brown. While the first pan of chicken was browning, I peeled the potatoes, cut them into small pieces and put them on to boil. Once all the chicken had browned, I placed it all on the cookie sheet and put it in the oven at 375 degrees to finish cooking. I found a mixer with beaters and once the potatoes were done set them aside to make mashed potatoes. I saved the grease in the frying pan for some brown flour gravy. One by one, our little group of adventures started stirring. Bean was out in the dining room doing her Thai Chi which she had up until then neglected. I set the table and when the chicken was done put it on a serving platter and was walking into the dining room. Bean turned around just as I entered and did a high kick. She kicked the entire platter of chicken out of my hands and it went all over the dirty carpet. Looking back on it a few days later, it was damned funny, but at that moment I was in a fury. We scrambled around picking up the platter and chicken. She couldn't stop laughing. Between fits of laughter she said, "let's just rinse it off and put it back in the oven, no one will know." I said I will know. I tackled her and held her down. She was too weak from the laughter to put up much of a fight. I found a drumstick on the dirty carpet and rubbed it all over her lips. She laughed untill tears rolled down her cheeks. Suddenly, I wasn't angry any more. I let her up and said, "you've got to help me before the others find out. I'm not throwing two chickens in the trash."
We rinsed the chicken and put it back into the oven for another half hour. Bean heated the peas and mashed the potatoes while I got a shower. I returned about 20 minutes later and made the flour gravy. Dinner was a huge success. When Penny asked me if I used a recipe, I said it was an old recipe from Bean's family called "kicked chicken". Bean looked at me and I looked her straight in the eyes, but neither of us laughed. That night, we enjoyed some of Chuck's home grown combustibles and I drank half a bottle of cough syrup. I slept for twelve hours.
Big Louise let Bean wait tables while we were playing. She wore a very short black minnie skirt and a white halter top. Big Louise liked her and made sure she got some good tables. Bean worked from 5 PM til closing at 3 AM. She busted her ass. We had a plan. If things didn't start improving, we were going to head back to Virginia. As the week progressed, my voice got better and my guitar playing improved greatly. It seemed as if things were back on track. The night before we left, no one could find Jim Bob. The following morning, he was asleep on the couch. He never said where he had been, the two huge hickeys on his neck told the story. All in all, it was a stress free gig. We were paid well and invited back. Bean and I teased Jim Bob about "taking a hit for the team". The road was becoming fun again.
On August, 29, we headed out for our next gig, Bowman, North Dakota and the Red Dog Saloon. It was just a few miles shy of 600 miles away. The gig started on August 31st. We were going travel through the Badlands and see Mount Rushmore on our day off. It was already starting to get cool at night.
I was beginning to wonder if our agent was throwing darts at the map to see where he'd send us next.