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  • "Cowboys and Indians"

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December 1991

Cowboys and Indians

by Matt Bergstrom

One would think that the student of the German language would be forced to buy an expensive plane ticket to find a place to practise his or her accent among native speakers, but fortunately this is not necessary. All that is needed is a trip to Ruby’s Inn, next to Bryce Canyon in Utah.

I was attracted by the bright lights to the rodeo, at first, but discovered when I arrived that I was too late. The Germans had moved on. I soon came to a tiny "Old West Town" just like a movie set. The soft country music on the boardwalk in the late evening falsely soothed my mind into peace...but when I entered the general store, I was surrounded by noise and light and commotion. Germans dressed in chaps and vests and hats were milling about waiting to get their Old Tyme pictures taken. Germans in Bryce Canyon T-shirts were poking at the Cowboy poetry books and walking sticks. Germans were pushing and squabbling to get a look at the postcards and glass mugs, dolls and keychains, hats and leather belts. In the rockshop, Germans were laying down dollar after dollar to buy crystals, geodes, bookends, petrified wood and paperweights. During a lull in the traffic I spoke to the rockshop owner. He said 75% of his customers were German, all year round.

I wandered down "Main Street". If I had been here during the day, I could have ridden a helicopter or a horse, panned for gold in a wooden trough, petted goats and sheep in the tiny zoo, or even made a reservation for the Chuck Wagon Dinner Theater. For this attraction, the visitor gets to ride on a covered wagon headed west accompanied by such colorful characters as "Nasty Elmo". On the other side of a hill, the wagons stop in a circle protected from the costumed and painted Indians looking down. A the sun sinks low over the Western plains, the diners are entertained by a family cowpoke band all dressed in fringed pink shirts, even the littlest cowboy.

Scared by that tiny cowboy hat, I ran across the highway to Ruby’s Inn itself. Here I was confronted by a huge giftshop with everything the tourist would need. Racks of postcards, Navaho rugs, film and batteries, snacks and food, coffee table books, film processing in 15 minutes, sweatshirts... It was past ten at night but the Germans were still here, too. Some of them bought gifts but most just wandered the aisles pointing at things and holding T-shirts up for size.

I exited the giftshop looking for some relief in the lobby of the hotel. Every couch was occupied by Germans discussing their travel plans and what they had seen already. I asked Shane, the desk clerk, for an explanation of all this. He said that he had lived here in this tiny town of a few houses for his entire life, and that the Germans came year-round and had been as long as he could remember. Other than that he did not know.

I left Ruby’s Inn that night for the coolness and solitude of a Utah highway. Would the Germans recognize the dumpy RV park I was camped in as the real America? Would they recognize the Wild West in an empty weed lot, broken picnic table, and trash surrounded by strangers hiding in their campers? Perhaps not, like any good tourist, they would see what they came here for, nothing more.


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Copyright 2012 Matt Bergstrom. Text Copyright Matt Bergstrom