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AUTHOR’S NOTE: I grew up in a county that was 65 percent Spanish-speaking. The biggest distinction between races was not color, it was Catholics and Baptists. My first experience with prejudice was the summer I spent on a job in Kansas City in 1978, the year after the city burned itself down.
Years ago in Kansas City, I set out one night to find one of them ‘down home’ guitar blues pickers I had read about in the Sunday paper. I was drivin’ around Saturday night lookin’ for Walter’s Crescendo Lounge. I had some ribs at Money’s on Prospect, and asked directions. The feller told me not to go over there after dark. Then, after thinkin’ about it, he scribbled his name and phone number on a piece of paper and said, “When you get in trouble, have’m call me.” Nice of him, I thought.
Somehow I never found Walter’s, but at the corner of 39th and Jackson I spied Willie’s Total Experience Lounge. I recognized the name from the newspaper so I went in.
I was dressed normal: hat, Wranglers and boots. The bartender was a lady named Bertha. She served me a scotch and cream soda. I sat at a table in front of the band. As the clientele came in they all sat around by the walls. Kind of like they were circlin’ me. Nobody said much and they weren’t friendly. Finally, the band leader, Freddy, came over to my table and asked me, “Hey man, what are you doin’ here?”
I told him I heard this was the best music in Kansas City and I came to find out!
Well, he must have thought the same thing ’cause it sure tickled him! He couldn’t do enough to make me feel at home. His sister was the waitress and he told her to make sure my grape Nehi never went dry.
By then I was smarter’n a tree full of owls, 10 foot tall and bullet proof, as Tink would say. But I couldn’t get nobody to dance with me! Eventually this lady named Elizabeth consented. She must have figured I wasn’t so bad after all ’cause she sat at my table and invited Louise and Wilma to join us. The four of us danced until closin’ time. It was a fine evening and, although they didn’t take to me at first, they must have decided that cowboys aren’t from outer space, just different.
I remember that little lesson when I see a kid wearin’ a headband and sandals in a cowboy bar. I always try to give’m the benefit of the doubt. After all, he might be friskin’ customers at the door next time I make it to Willie’s Total Experience Lounge.