Incident At The Occidental

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Occidental Hotel

More–Travels With Sandy

Helen could croon a tune and play the best honky-tonk piano any of us can recall.  She had a gig at the Occidental in Buffalo on a Saturday night, and she asked if I would like to drive her and hear her group The Homesteaders play some country music.  I agreed, and invited Sandy to ride along so I would have some company while Helen performed.  We would travel in Helen’s white Cadillac and I was the designated driver.

We drove to Kaycee to get Sandy and headed north on old Highway 87.  Sandy was riding in the back seat and removed her shoe and sock to work on her “sore toe.”  Dad used to say 87 was nothing but a paved cow path, and as I took a sharp curve and then suddenly braked to avoid a mule deer near the edge of the highway, Sandy yelled out in pain.  She was attempting to trim a toenail with her pocket knife and had inadvertently stabbed herself.  I think I knew then the evening was going to be somewhat unusual.

We drove into Buffalo and got Helen settled in the saloon at the Occidental, stopping to say hello to Dan Carlat and Charlie Firnekas, who would be joining her on stage.  Helen ordered dinner and hurriedly ate as there would be no opportunity later in the evening.  Helen was diabetic and missed meals were a big deal.  Sandy and I settled down at a table in the saloon, ordered drinks and were soon immersed in conversation with locals who were gathering for the evening’s entertainment.  We were having a thoroughly enjoyable time when a tall, good looking guy walked over to our table and said, “Hi, Sandy.”  She got all flustered she didn’t immediately recognize her boss from Sheridan who was having dinner dinner with a group in the restaurant (she later told me he had a mustache last time she saw him).  She declined the offer of a drink and I felt like kicking her under the table as she obviously wasn’t going to introduce me.  More about that later.

We managed to stretch out a couple of drinks, including ice cubes, for the entire evening and when 11:00 p.m. rolled around, the band dispersed and we were loaded in the car for the return trip.  We got a couple miles south of Buffalo, just at cruising speed when “BLAM!”  I hit a whitetail deer crossing the highway in front of us.  Stopped the car, jumped out to view the damage, worried over the deer, who disappeared.  A womanly huddle ensued and it was decided we should drive back to town since the damage might be more severe than we imagined and we could be left stranded on the interstate if the car somehow failed to make it home.  The huge dent in the right front fender and missing headlight were a very real problem, however.

Buffalo’s finest might be waiting for a dented Cadillac with a missing headlight driven by a designated driver who had at least two drinks (possibly more).  They might also be waiting for Sandy, who had enjoyed at least two drinks (possibly more) and whose license was restricted to Kaycee and environs.  They might also be waiting for Helen, who could no longer drive due to her diabetes but who had not been consuming any alcoholic beverages all evening.  Take your pick.

Helen got the short straw and climbed behind the wheel.  We drive slowly back into town, peering right and left for state highway patrol and/or city cop cars, all the while watching the white lines to determine whether Helen could actually see where she was driving.  At least I was watching.  Sandy could not see the white lines.

We parked in an alley so as not to be too noticeable and decided to return to the Occidental to call Helen’s husband a.k.a. my big brother Jim to report the good news.  A restroom break was the first order of business and Helen was digging fiercely in her over-sized purse for her insulin.  “I forgot to shoot up after eating tonight, and I’m real shaky!”  I scrambled to help her find her insulin kit, insert a needle into the bottle and measure out the dosage she thought she needed (she couldn’t see the markings on the bottle and a lot of guesswork ensued). That’s when it dawned on us she had been driving to town on the edge of a diabetic coma!  She went into the restroom to “shoot up” as she called it and came out looking very wan and weak.  We sat down in the saloon, which by now was nearing closing time, to wait for Jimmy to rescue us and to try and imagine how to tell him what our evening had been like and why his wife’s car had a banged-up fender and missing headlight.

Sandy called next day to say it had been “a hulluva good time.”  She wasn’t sure she wanted to go again any time soon, however.

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