Dave Simpson: No Frontier Days? Cowboy Up!

There's gotta be a pony in this pile of manure...

Dave Simpson

June 02, 20204 min read

Dave Simpson headshot
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

There’s gotta be a pony in this pile of manure…

That was the punchline from a Ronald Reagan story, about the couple with two sons, one a pessimist, the other an optimist.

“What should we give the boys for Christmas?” the wife asked. “It doesn’t matter what we give our little pessimist,” the husband replied. “He won’t be happy with anything. But let’s give our little optimist a pile of horse manure. He’ll figure there’s got to be a pony in there somewhere.”

(I miss Reagan, don’t you? Remember when he was pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey, and Sam Donaldson shouted a question at the president? The turkey kicked up a fuss, and Reagan turned to the bird and said, “That’s tellin’ him, boy!”)

(Remember when Reagan was touting the virtues of the Individual Retirement Account? He cited Moses, who lived 600 years, and said, “Imagine what he could have accumulated in his IRA!”)

We learned last week that the biggest event of the year in our town – Frontier Days, when 500,000 people come to a city of 60,000 – is canceled this year. That’s because you can hardly pack the town full of tourists for rodeos, concerts, multiple parades and free pancake breakfasts with everyone wearing pancake-blocking masks, and staying six feet away from each other. How do you whoop it up at a time like this?

A few years ago, I was getting an oil change downtown. The manager lamented the onset of Frontier Days.

“For the next week,” he said, “if it isn’t a parade blocking traffic, it’s a free pancake breakfast.”

That’s our town, but just about every town has one. In Central Illinois, Pekin has the Marigold Festival, because that was hometown hero Everett Dirksen’s favorite flower. (If that isn’t enough to make you put on your dancing shoes, I don’t know what is.)  In Mattoon (pronounced MAT-oon), Illinois, it was (no kidding) the Bagel Festival, because Lenders baked a lot of bagels there.

In our favorite town in Wisconsin, they had a fall festival in which a helicopter swooped over the main intersection, dropping hundreds of ping pong balls on the crowd. Elbow your friends and neighbors out of the way, stomp them if necessary, and you might get a ball with a cash prize printed on it.

Standing in a long line, sweating in the heat and humidity, waiting for your chance to score a butterfly pork chop, or a roasted turkey leg, was never my idea of fun. Local festivals tended to drive me out of town, and I’m told that a lot of Cheyenne residents plan their out-of-town vacations to coincide with Frontier Days. (I tend to come down from the mountains for a day or two, just to see the Air Force Thunderbirds buzzing the town.)

Summer will be a more subtle pleasure this year, one of the few positive aspects of the long coronavirus lockdown, and I hope the folks who love standing in long lines, sweating, waiting for a butterfly pork chop, can adapt.

Better than any local festival I ever attended is the smell, on a summer afternoon, of sagebrush after a rain. It’s the most wonderful smell you can imagine, and I always stop the truck, roll down the windows, and breathe it in for a while. There’s nothing like it, and if you don’t agree, you need to take a long, hard look at your priorities, young fella.

Years ago, my father had a big garden in Wisconsin. On vacation, I could send my son out behind the house with a steak knife, to cut a handful of asparagus, right out of the ground, for dinner. In the morning, we could pick fresh raspberries and put them on our bowls of cereal.

(My father, in retirement, once told me, “This is the good life,” and he was right.)

A crackling campfire high in the Rockies, with the Milky Way in all it’s glory above, is enough to make a guy sit back and wonder what the heck this life deal is all about, anyway.

There’s a pony in this 2020 pile of manure, if we look hard enough.

All we need to do is cowboy up.

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Dave Simpson

Political, Wyoming Life Columnist

Dave has written a weekly column about a wide variety of topics for 39 years, winning top columnist awards in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois and Nebraska.