The Wild West in the Frozen North

When at the tender age of 18, I flunked out of college, I knew I had to do something, but had no idea what it was. Then, on a whim it hit me?-?I was going to hitch-hike to Texas.

At the time I had no idea why I wanted to do it; it just seemed like the thing to do and place to go.

As The Fates and freeways would have it, I made it to the Lone Star State by thumband made it out of there by thumb as well. And all the while was clueless at my choice of destination.

But now I think I know. It was all due to the cowboy movies that were my steady diet from infancy to adolescence.

There was nothing unusual about my cowboy movie fixation I think every kid my age had it. And why wouldn’t we, since we were constantly exposed to them. They were a staple of the Saturday matinees at the Pontiac Theater, the regular flicks, and they were on TV as well.

I remember around dinner time, turning the telly to channel 3, WCAX TV, Burlington, for Chuckwagon Tales, hosted by Dusty Boyd. Dusty was a legend among North Country kids, since he was on every weekday, spinning his tales of the Old West, as well as showing two or three cowboy movie shorts.

The shorts themselves were ancient by the time we saw them maybe from the ’40s or even the ’30s, and about as predictable and hokey as it gets. The Good Guys wore white hats; the Bad Guys wore black hats, of course. Plus, the GG’s were clean and well-groomed; the bad guys were pretty sloppy and had five o’clock shadows.

Beyond that, in the inevitable chase scene, everyone was getting at least 50 or 60 shots out of their six-shooters, each shot accompanied by a puff of smoke that would’ve shamed a 105 Howitzer. If the chase scene was being filmed from the front, sometimes we could see the film truck’s tire tracks, and maybe even its shadow. But so what? It was just one more thing to enjoy, anomalous as it was.

Dusty Boyd himself was a pretty mild-mannered guy who looked more like a clerk than a cowpoke, but this was TV’s early days, and mine as well, so my Skeptical Years were still far in the future.

A funny story about Dusty Boyd. On a day trip to Burlington, Marion Griebsch actually saw him on the street. As you can imagine, this was Big News. When asked her impression of him, she said, “Why, that man looked like he had a sack of potatoes in his pants.” And thus any thoughts of Dusty ever ridin’, ropin’ or brandin’ (let alone shootin’ it out on the mean streets of Tombstone) were immediately?-?and permanently -?laid to rest.

The best of the best -?Western hero style

We had a huge array of cowboy heroes to admire.

One was Gene Autrey. Truth is, he never floated my boat. Overall, he was a pretty paunchy-looking cayuse. And while he could sing like a nightingale, that didn’t count one iota in my book.

Another was Roy Rogers. I liked Roy a lot (then again, how could you not?). He was squared away, top to bottom, had great animals and a fine wife, but somehow he never became Numero Uno. I don’t know why. Certainly, his singing didn’t help, nor did his sidekick, Pat Brady. Although there for comic relief, I found Brady a distraction – a goofball comedian where a hardcore cowpoke should’ve been.

And that’s why there was no real competition for my rave fave -?the Lone Ranger.

The Lone Ranger had it all. He was tough, fair, and undeniably decent. He was also a maverick in the truest sense. He started out a Texas Ranger, was caught in an ambush where everyone else was killed, including his older brother, Captain Daniel Reid. He was wounded, and after he recovered, he swore revenge on all the Southwest’s baddies, and then set out to do it – anonymously of course, since he was taking the law into his own hands.

And how did he recover from his wounds suffered in the ambush? That’s another great bit: Tonto happened on the scene and nursed the Lone Ranger back to health, recognizing him as the person who saved him (Tonto) as a youth. And of course this led to their undyingly faithful partnership.

Ultimately, I think I loved the Lone Ranger because he was the existential hero. There he was, outside the law – outside all society, really – just him and his faithful partner, champions of justice in an unjust world. And he did it all anonymously the paragon of heroic modesty. He and Tonto were protecting and serving, long before that slogan got slapped on the side of a cop car.

I saw the previews for a new Lone Ranger movie starring Johnny Depp. It looks wildly action-packed and sure not to have any slow-moving scenes or down time. It’s the perfect flick for today’s action movie fans – full of special effects that were not only unheard of but undreamt of in my youth.

Yep, we just had the old Lone Ranger and Tonto, decent, deliberate, and dauntless. We didn’t have spectacular chase scenes, unbelievable action, and violence galore.

All we had to understand the Lone Ranger’s message were the simplest technologies, acting and plot lines. Then again, we didn’t need anything more.