This particular tale has been bugging the heck out of me to get written for well over 2 years, and I’m finally yielding to the pressure. Any relationship between the characters and events in this fable and any persons and events in real life are strictly accidental. The events depicted here are not beyond the realm of possibility, and if they didn’t happen this way, then they damned well should have! But this is my story, and I’ll tell it any danged way I please!
The small town of Florence, Arizona, roughly halfway between Phoenix and Tucson and about 30 miles east of Interstate 10, has been around since shortly after the Civil War (1866) and is the sixth oldest non-Native American community in Arizona. In addition to being the County Seat of Pinal County, it hosts the Pinal County Jail, the Arizona State Prison at Florence (which was constructed by the inmates back in 1908 when prisoners were still considered to be perps, not victims, and paying the “debt to society” involved some actual skin in the game), and a Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention Center.
Besides the government activities, there are numerous cattle ranches and feed lots,
and the Florence area is home to a number of irrigation canals that turn the desert into a fertile expanse of cotton and alfalfa farms (gotta fatten up them cows in the feed lots, and provide the cowboys with their Levis, don’cha know!).
Just south of Florence, along Arizona Highway 79, you will find the Charles Whitlow Arena, established in 1932 and self-proclaimed “Home of the Oldest Junior Rodeo.”
A couple of miles further south of town along AZ 79, you’ll find the LDC Winter Get Away at Desert Gardens RV Park (https://www.dgrvp.com), and about a mile south of that, the East Cactus Forest Road (see the area on Google Maps at this link.) that connects south Florence with south Coolidge – the upstart rival small town in the area about 10 miles to the west.
Coolidge is the new kid on the block and was founded in 1925. It hosts the area’s airport, constructed by the Army Air Corps during the Second World War. Coolidge is also the home of the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (https://www.nps.gov/cagr/index.htm), honoring and preserving the Casa Grande (Great House) Ruins, which pre-dates ALL other current local activity, having been around since well before Christopher Columbus mistook some Caribbean Islands for fabled India.
The East Cactus Forest Road provides a classic transition from a virtually pristine (discounting power lines, telephone lines, the odd cell phone tower, and the decaying road surface, of course) Sonoran Desert environment, to cattle ranching, and then extensive cotton and alfalfa fields cut by a network of canals and irrigation pipes and ditches that suddenly merge with the town of Coolidge.
The desert has a typical Sonoran mix of Saguaro Cactus, various species of Cholla (choya), Barrel Cactus and other smaller cactus varieties; Palo Verde, Mesquite, and Ironwood trees; and a whole raft of smaller shrubs, flowers, and grasses that provide limited grazing for cattle.
As you get closer into Coolidge along Cactus Forest Road, the transition to irrigated cotton fields is quite abrupt.
At the first curve in the road coming west from AZ 79, there is a cattle crossing as you emerge from the Cactus Forest,
with stock holding pens on the north side of the road. About a half mile or so before you reach that curve you see one of those roadside litter control acknowledgement signs that governments use to help save money on maintenance by giving local residents a sense of ownership and pride in a particular stretch of highway. This mile stretch on either side of the curve has been adopted by someone “In Memory of Bob and Bubba”
– and there, ladies and gentlemen, is the hook that got me started on this tale! So, FINALLY – on with the story…
Bob and Bubba grew up on neighboring ranches in the Florence-Coolidge Arizona area, and both attended school in the Coolidge area, eventually entering Coolidge High School, and were active on the Junior Rodeo Circuit during their High School years. Bob was into bronc busting and calf roping, while Bubba – a big old boy, none too bright, who played on the offensive line of their High School Football team, was more into Bull Riding and Steer Wrestling. Neither Bob nor Bubba followed the circuits after High School, being too busy with the day-to-day operations of their family ranches, but they remained avid Rodeo fans and always went to cheer on the current crop of young Rodeo stars.
So one Saturday afternoon many years later, Bubba shows up at Bob’s place in his old pickup truck and convinces Bob to forget about fixing the fence line on the back forty ‘cause it’s Junior Rodeo time, and the Charles Whitlow Arena is hosting the Regional Semi-Finals. “C’mon, Bob, get the lead out! I got’s us a half-rack of Miller in the cooler in back, and we still got time to catch the first round of Steer Wrestling!”
So there they go, speeding down the old East Cactus Road to Highway 79, a quick left turn in front of a pack of old retirees on their Harley Trikes trying to recapture their youth, and it’s off to the Rodeo! Bob is regretting that he hadn’t grabbed the keys, ‘cause Bubba’s obviously well into what must have been a full case of Miller, if he’s only got a half rack left in the cooler!
The afternoon seems to pass swiftly, and the kids in the Rodeo are having a great time, with some actual pretty decent performances. Bob and Bubba are reminiscing the whole time about their times in the arena some 20 years back and comparing what they’re watching with how they remember it being back in the olden days. And Bubba’s been making numerous trips to the Sani-Kan row next to the parking lot, and seems to keep taking lots of detours back by the truck. Bob’s drinking Pepsi from the refreshment stand.
As the festivities close, and the kids are awarded their belt buckles, Bubba staggers back to his truck. When he can’t make the key fit in the lock, Bob grabs the keys and guides Bubba around to the passenger side. Bubba protests at first, but then reaches into the cooler in the back and grabs one more High Life – The Champagne of Bottled Beer.
Driving more sedately south on Highway 79, Bob makes the right turn back onto East Cactus Road, and drives west into the setting sun. As they approach the curve by the cattle crossing, Bubba suddenly sits up and yells “Bob! Bob! Pull over and stop the truck!”
As Bob pulls off onto the shoulder, a steer wanders toward them on the other side of the road, just up from the corner. Bubba shouts “Here, hold my beer and watch this. I used to be pretty danged good at this stuff and I can still show them kids a thing or three! That steer needs to be taught a lesson!” And off he goes, running toward the steer.
Bob watches in amazement as he absent-mindedly takes a swig of Bubba’s beer, then chokes and spits it out. Yuck! “What the heck did I do that for?” Meanwhile, Bubba has managed to get in beside the steer and is attempting to grab him by the horns from behind his head. But Bubba forgot he wasn’t riding a horse coming up on the steer from behind and to the side.
Things are not going well…
Bob realizes that Bubba is now in a heap of trouble, and the steer has Bubba on the ground goring him. So Bob drops the beer, grabs his neck kerchief, and waving it and his cowboy hat wildly, runs across the road trying to distract the steer long enough that he can grab Bubba and drag him back to the truck. Unfortunately, despite all his good intentions, Bob’s not quite as fast as he used to be either, and wrestling a steer is a bit different than tying down a calf after you’ve jerked him to a stop with your faithful horse keeping the rope taught.
The steer, who is now mightily incensed, makes short work of Bob and then wanders calmly back through the break in the fence and back into the desert as the sun falls behind the mountains to the west.
A half hour later, just as it’s getting dark, a passing motorist sees Bubba’s old truck standing there with both doors open, and slows down, only to discover the carnage on the south side of the road. He calls 911, and an ambulance responds within about 10 minutes, but by the time they get to the Florence Hospital, north of town near San Tan, it’s too late.
RIP, Bob and Bubba. We’ll always remember you!
As always, May you never stop learning and may your journeys always lead to new and exciting destinations!