Biff America: Different parties, different hats

Jeffrey "Biff" Bergeron

It was your typical ranch truck that stopped next to us — dirty, dented and hauling a horse trailer. Inside, silhouetted by the sun, were two cowboy hats and a gun rack.

I whispered to Ellie, “Oh boy, this is gonna be good.”

This fall, we traveled as far north as North Dakota and south to New Mexico. Between the two was ranching, church and Donald Trump country. We had just crossed the Montana border when we parked our camper and biked about 8 miles up a steep, narrow dirt road. Our hope was to bike to a nature preserve that we had visited many years before. At the turnoff to our destination there was a locked gate with a sign saying the preserve was closed.

We leaned our bikes against the entrance and discussed our options. We could continue up the dirt road though, according to our map, it didn’t look to be that scenic or interesting. Or, considering it was all downhill to our camper, we could coast down and move on.

It was during this discussion that the truck pulled up next to us and shut off its engine. I asked Ellie quietly, “Are you sure we are on public lands?”

Assured that we were not trespassing, I walked over as the window rolled down.

From inside the dark cab came, “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” When I got closer I saw two old dudes wearing work clothing and mustaches with cheeks full of tobacco — I learned later they were brothers in their late 70s.

My dad used to say, in a street fight or a battle of wits, “The best defense is a good offense.”

After taking a quick glance at the full gun rack, I responded, “Whatever the hell we want; this is still America, isn’t it?”

I heard Ellie take a quick inhale next to me. Though I had a good feeling about these guys, just in case, I explained, “We are parked down the road and biked up to go into the preserve.”

The cowboy driving said, “Yeah, we saw your rig back a piece. The preserve is closed. It’s elk rutting season.”

I was thinking that it might be a good time to end the conversation when the passenger elbowed the driver and added, “I could use a little rutting myself.”

I leaned in a little closer and said, “Yeah but those elk can be mean, so I’d pet them some first.”

As soon as we got back to the camper I took notes on the rest of our conversation. What follows is the best of my recollection. And I will admit I can’t remember which cowboy said what.

Them: “If I was born a gal, there would have been an easy woman in the Johnson family.”

(I’m guessing Johnson was his last name.)

Me: “Women need a reason to make love, men just need a place.”

When they asked what I did for a living, I told them I used to be on TV.

Them: “Don’t you have to be good looking to do that?” They gave each other a nudge and cracked up.

Them: “You must have saved some money doing that if you can travel all around just to ride bicycles. When I was your age I spent all my money on whiskey and women. … The rest I wasted.”

Then things turned political.

Them: “I lived here my whole life. Ain’t no socialists or liberals around here, thank the Lord.”

Ellie took another quick inhale when I replied, “Are you sure? Because some of those liberals can look a lot like you and me.”

I swear to God, both cowboys looked at me — up and down — and then each other. The driver actually considered his image in the rearview mirror and said, “Nah, I’da knowed one if I’d seen one.”

After about 20 minutes they said they had to get up the road and check on their cattle. Before they left they said if we needed a place to camp to go down the road about 10 miles, take a right at the sign that reads “Keep out! This means you.” About a quarter mile after that there is a nice grassy meadow on their land. We thanked them before they drove away.

We did not take those cowboys up on their offer. The day was young so we headed south to find another place to camp and ride. But the encounter reminded me that whether you’re a conservative, liberal, an old cowboy or a slightly younger hippie, the common denominator of happy people is they love to laugh.

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