Buckaroo Motel (Tucumcari, NM)

This sign is everything that wannabe cowboys wanna be. I would know because I’m the king of wannabe cowboys. I don’t know anyone who’s spent more time doing cowboy-ish things without successfully becoming one.  

I want to be clear that I’m a passable cowboy: I can saddle a horse (though I’m even better with ponies, which is indicative), I can stay on a horse while it’s doing pretty much everything a horse can do, I can take a fall from a horse while it’s doing pretty much everything a horse can do, I can help pin down a stallion for castration, I can pin a foal against a fence as I sop the lavender jelly out of his glassy eye without inciting his mother to trample me, I can herd both cattle and goats in both English and Spanish (screaming is multilingual), I can mend fences alone for so long that I start talking to myself (it doesn’t take long), I can ride a horse drunk for upwards of three hours, the list goes on...and then abruptly ends. I’m not a natural at the cowboy craft, nor am I a native to the cowboy culture. I just studied it all. I’m a cowboy in the sense that your white friend, the Asian studies major, is Asian. So, not even close.

What I am an expert on is getting cowboys to articulate, usually drunkenly, what the hell is wrong with us people who try to be cowboys (or cowgirls. In fact, a lot of the best cowboys I know are cowgirls. For the sake of simplicity I’m going to use the word “cowboy” here, regardless of gender). In my unprofessional opinion, there are three defining characteristics of the social disorder that makes people want to be a cowboy.

1) Expressive through silence

Silence makes up cowboy conversation in the proportions that empty space makes up the Universe. Every wrangling expedition I’ve gone on with a real cowboy has been five to six hours but the transcript of that time could be fit on one page.

The hallmark of the cowboy conversation is the cowboy stare. This is a silent glare, summoned from the core of a barb-wire-wrapped heart, intended and proven to crush weaker souls, that telepathically communicates, “STOP ASKING QUESTIONS, CITY BOY.”

As an example, here’s the transcript of my first wrangling adventure after I was awoken at 5 A.M., told to saddle up, and then informed that we were searching for one escaped horse among 100,000 acres.

        Me: Where is this horse?

        Cowboy: COWBOY STARE

        Me: How will we find it?

        Cowboy: COWBOY STARE

        (silence ensues until forever)

Pro Tip: If there is only one apple tree on 100,000 acres, that’s where the horse is.

2) Conspicuously broken

A cowboy once told me, “Crystal meth isn’t as bad as they say.” A lot of cowboy phrases are cries-for-help dressed up as not-giving-a-shit.

A cowboy once asked me to help him on a day-long supply trip. We spent hours riding up some foothills to wait for a rusty truck that was late by hours, during which, sitting in one of those Andrew Wyeth grassland expanses, he explained how he’d been sleeping with one of the cooks. At first it was as trade for something (I can’t recall who provided what) and now it was just enertia,  although she said she was falling in love, and now he wanted space and why can’t other people just be happy with being alone? Cowboys are great at not needing anyone. They’re also great at desperately wanting everyone else to need them.

A cowboy once held a party in the cab of his Dodge Ram, next to a cattle pen, and then, when the ladies protested the infallible cowboy-song “Wicked Twisted Road”, kicked them all out. Roughly 2/3 of these women had, or were going to have, slept with this cowboy. After listening to this high school anthem of desperadoism 3-4 times, he then confessed that all he wanted was a woman to love.

A cowboy once interrupted the viewing of some B- action movie on a dust-fileld couch to explain how the shot-pattern in which that villain was slain was both badass and accurate. This segued into ambiguous military tales of things that he may have been suggesting gave him PTSD. He then left to drink Bud Light on the porch alone.

A cowboy lamented to me about how he descended from a long line of internationally-famous ferriers (ferriers = horseshoers. And don’t you wish you were an insider on the gossip of internationally-famous ferriers?) and was clearly letting down his entire family by amounting to “nada” on this ranch.

All cowboys, all the time, are riding into the sunset.

3) Comes alive at dusk

There is a Jekyll/Hyde transformation in most cowboys at dusk. Few are the cowboys who don’t become jubilant around a campfire.

Part of it may be that this is when we all start drinking. My theory, though, is that cowboys love the idea of ignoring the darkness. There’s this time of day when the sun has set but its light is still pumping its fist into the sky like someone refusing to drown. The night sky, at this point, is squashing down all colors like they’re some kind of annoyance. This is the moment when nocturnal things wake up and say to each other, “You know what I want for breakfast? One of those animals that can’t see well in the dark.” The human brain is supposed to run from this. “GO INSIDE YOUR CAVE,” it screams.

Cowboys, as a sub-species, say “SCREW IT, I’m gon stay in the dark and get druuuunk.” Cowboys thrive in dusk.

I’ve laid out these symptoms to argue that the sign you see above is cowboy catnip. “Buckaroo Motel” is everything that cowboys want. It’s also everything cowboys are.

1) Expressive through silence

Just as every cowboy has a mouth s/he uses sparingly, this sign has a marquee that it chooses not to use at all. A marquee is essentially a conversation with potential customers. That conversation with this marquee goes something like this:

        You: HEY, WHAT ARE YOUR RATES?!!?!!!!!?

        Buckaroo Motel: COWBOY STARE

        You: Um...do you have HBO?

        Buckaroo Motel: COWBOY STARE

2) Conspicuously broken

If a motel sign could cry for help, it would only light up the word “motel” halfway, as if to say, “I may or may not be broken. Please check in.”

3) Comes alive at dusk

This sign is still handsome in the daylight. But it’s not alive. It hasn’t yet spat whiskey into a fire and bellowed into the darkness until it collapses in a rusty lawn chair. This sign, like all cowboys, is meant for dusk.

Cowboys want to be seen as handsomely-discheveled, wordless monuments of desperadoism that only come alive at dusk, and this sign is all of these things. The question is, did the signmaker and current owner intend this or did it just happen on its own?