The Starlite Lanes and Lounge
The Starlite Lanes and Lounge
Which Way Is Left In Canada
by Chuck RitenouR
The Starlite Lanes and Lounge
On Sunday, August 8th, we left Lewellen for Riverton Wyoming and the Starlite Lanes and Lounge. Riverton was about four hundred miles away. The sun was up and the road was hot. Tom was now riding with Bean and me. He refused to ride another mile with Chuck and Penny. Chuck was my friend and I liked him, but he still got on my nerves. For someone who had just met him, he could be absolutely impossible. Bean and I listened while Tom ranted on and on about Chuck.We had travelled two hundred seventy non stop miles. I was mentally and physically exhausted from listening to Tom's five hour bitch session. As we approached, Casper, Wyoming, I saw a drive inn movie on the side of the road and pulled over. Chuck was against staying to watch a movie. It costed two dollars a piece. I told him I had had enough driving and we were going to watch the movie before going any further. He didn't want to get seperated again, so he and Penny agreed to a movie. "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas" was playing. Chuck splurged and bought a large bucket of buttered pop corn. I had cokes and beer on ice in the cooler. The gig in Riverton didn't start until Tuesday. We spent Sunday night in our vans at Poisen Creek Park. The following morning at ten o'clock we continued our journey to Riverton, Wyoming.
About three hours later, we arrived at the Starlite Lanes and Lounge. Reno, the owner met us at the door. He was a thin balding man with a grip that would break your hand. Reno had been a professional boxer early on and had no feeling in his hands. He would just squeeze your hand until you turned blue or cried. Reno, a widower owned a ranch outside of Riverton and held a full blown rodeo every Sunday afternoon during the summer. He was a champion roper and wore a huge gold belt bucket that shouted that fact to the world. It was a bit after one o'clock in the afternoon and the place was full of bowlers. Reno's son, James and daughter, Linda helped run the place. Linda was standing over by the shoe stand talking with with Tom. She had long dark hair and brown eyes that never left Tom. Tom could be very cool oozing Texas charm like the perfect southern gentleman. I had seen this act the previous week in Lewellen. I remember wondering what kind of washer and dryer Linda owed.
Reno had Chuck in the office going over the details of this two week stand. James came over and asked if we enjoyed bowling. Bean and I had never bowled. Penny had been in a doubles league in Tallahassee. James told us we could bowl free, but had to rent our shoes. The rental was only fifty cents.We promised we'd try our hand at it later in the week. Chuck and Reno were finally finished. We were set up in three rooms at the motel which was right next door.
The Mission Motel was two long white bock buildings facing each other across a double parking lot. There were two doors about every fifteen feet. Our rooms were not beside each other this time. Tom had the room on the far end of one building while Chuck and Penny's room was in the middle of the opposite building. Bean and I had a room on the end of the building opposite but directly across from Tom. Tom was very pleased with the room arangement. He smiled and told me he didn't think he'd be using it much.
It was Monday. Reno told Chuck we could load in and set up on Tuesday at about two in the afternoon after the league was finished bowling. League days were Mondays and Tuesdays. We could not rehearse in the lounge at all. The rest of the week was early evening individual competitions which ended at about nine o'clock. We would start playing at about ten o'clock and would play until one in the morning. Forty minutes on and twenty minutes off. Chuck said Reno advised us not to become overly friendly with the local Indians. Many of them were staying at the Mission Motel. He said never let them see what you have in your rooms and never lend them anything. Never, never give them any money. Reno said they were mainly Shoshoni and Cheyenne and still hated whites. Chuck was usually a bit paranoid, but now he was frantic. The first night, he slept in his van.
Tuesday morning arrived and everything was still here. Everything that is but, Tom. Apparently, Tom had spent the night at Linda's and would be using his room just to keep his things in. Chuck told him if he wasn't going to use it he'd get Reno to give us more money for the one less room. Tom agrued that if he did that the extra money should be his alone as he was giving up his room to get it. This went back and forth the entire time we were setting up. I finally took Chuck aside and asked him if he was willing to play this gig without a guitarist. Chuck finally announced that we would keep the extra room for Tom whether he used it of not. Tom was fine with that, but Chuck had made a decision at that point to get rid of Tom. Though he never said a word, I knew it. However, Tom was making getaway plans of his own.
At this point, I was losing heart. I could see a nasty pattern developing. Chuck hires guitar player. Chuck argues with guitar player. I coddle guitar player through a few gigs. Chuck fires guitar player. I had spoken to my mom earlier and a court date would soon be announced. I promised to call on Friday. I had decided that if things didn't start looking better. I'd give serious thought back to Virginia with Bean and get a steady job. I was not happy.
The gig went very well. Tom loved to sing those old Bob Wills' tunes and they were Reno's favorites. We played "Faded Love" three times a night while Reno waltzed with the ladies. Our crowd consisted of several dozen middle aged single ladies as well as a few dozen American Indians and young cowfolks. The ladies came every night just to have a dance with the most eligible bachelor in Riverton, Wyoming. At the end of our last set on Saturday night, Reno got up and invited everyone to his ranch for his weekly rodeo. I swear I don't know why I did it. I said I'd like to try bull riding. Shit, what was I thinking.
Reno said he'd have Linda pick us up for the rodeo. He wanted to see how a Virginian fared on the back of one of his bulls. Chuck and Penny were crazy with fear. What if you break your arm, your leg or even your back? I admit Bean was cool and collected about it. Afterall, she had witnessed me face down a Mexican with a sword in the parking lot of Four Corners. Sunday morning came and went with no sign of Linda. Sunday afternoon came and went with no sign of Linda. Chuck decided to check Tom's room..no Tom. I realized I owed Tom and Linda a debt of gratitude for quite possibly saving my life. We would not be able to attend next Sunday's rodeo as we would be on our way to the next gig. I was never going to ride a bull.
Monday afternoon, Bean and I went over to the Starlite to get some lunch. Reno came up to me and apologized for Linda not picking me up. He said she called late yesterday. She had taken Tom to Yellowstone Park and they wouldn't be back until Tuesday afternoon. Reno shook his head and said, "she's head strong just like her mother was. She's divorced and thirty-five years old and thinks she'll never have any home life of her own. I'm sorry you missed your chance to ride, son. I guess it wasn't meant to be." He grabbed my hand and nearly shook it off my wrist and went into his office. Bean looked at me a smiled. She said,"you sure had him fooled. If you had gotten on a bull, you'd have been killed." I laughed and said,"you're right. Think I'd like to try my hand at bowling tonight if you think I won't get hurt."
Friday night after playing, Chuck asked me and Bean to drop by his room. We smoked a few bowls of his wonder weed and he started pacing around the room. "I'm firing Tom tomorrow night after we finish. Now, don't say anything to him before I do. I don't want him to leave early and screw up this job. Reno likes us and will have us back. Two weeks, no travel, decent rooms and pay. We can't lose this one. I've got a new bass guitar player. His name is Jim and he's going to meet us at the Casper Trailways station. He's coming up from Lubbock, Texas. I don't think he sings. That means you'll be lead guitarist and vocals until I can find us another player. Our next gig is at the Pheasant Lounge in Winner, South Dakota." He then stood by the door and opened it for us to leave. We were dismissed.
Saturday night was a night of surprises. Tom came up to me at the lounge and bought me and Bean a beer. He was peeling the label off of his long neck Coors, Trying not to make any eye contact, he said," I'm leaving the band. Tonight's my last night. I wanted to tell you first. I know Chuck's gonna shit, but I've had enough. Me and Linda, well its getting pretty serious. After tonight, we're driving down to Dallas so she can meet my folks. After that if everything seems good as it does now, I'm gonna ask her to marry me. Linda thinks I could put a little band together here. I'm just not cut out for this kind of life."
Bean and I sat there in stunned silence. This was a twist I hadn't expected. Chuck and Penny came in and saw us sitting there and froze like deer in the headlights. Chuck then walked up and asked, "what's goin' on here?" Tom stood up and said,"Chuck, I'm quitting the band after tonight." Bean and I couldn't keep the smiles off our faces as Tom spilled his guts to Chuck. To his credit, Chuck told him we'd miss his playing and singing, but he understood.
That night, we played great. Tom's decision to quit the band had removed the weeks of built up tension. Reno came by to apologize once again, this time for Linda stealing our guitar player. After the last song, I auctioned off my bass guitar from the stage for forty dollars. Chuck reminded me that he had bought it for me. I gave him twenty dollars and told him we were even. I told him that I would quit and go home if I had to play bass guitar again. We agreed to stay one last night in the Mission Motel. I told Chuck that I'd pick up Jim and he'd ride would ride with Bean and me. I told him I wasn't going to take any chances that he was going to alienate this guy and start this shit all over again. To my surprise, he agreed. There still was no word on a court date in Virginia. We were going to head for Casper, Wyoming in the morning. Looking back on it now, I really don't understand why I felt so positive about things. I just did. It was the twenty second of August. We were still on the road and we were still doing it.