Vinnie Asks The Stranger, “Are You a Cowboy?”


The SUV cruises along Interstate 27 at 75 miles per hour heading toward Amarillo.

The storm siren warning of a tornado goes off in the backseat in the guise of Vinnie’s frantic demand, “Dad, Dad, it’s four miles. We’re going to miss Happy, Dad. It’s our only chance to be happy, Dad. Don’t you want to be happy, Dad?”

Vinnie’s mom glances over at Vinnie’s dad content to let him handle the crises.

Vinnie’s dad takes a deep breath trying to remember how to do Zen breathing. Was it count to five on breathing in or eight or six and should he breath out through his nose or mouth or maybe it doesn’t matter as long as he’s breathing. The thoughts ramble through his mind at the same speed the SUV travels.

“Dad, Dad, it’s two miles now, slow down, you’re going to fast. I want to be happy, Dad. Dexter wants to be happy, Dad. Rupert wants to be happy, Dad. Even Mom wants to be happy. Everybody but you, Dad, wants to be happy. I can see the exit. Do you need help with the turn signal? Rupert will help, Dad. He has a driver’s license.”

“I am happy, Vinnie. I am very happy. I don’t need to go to Happy, Texas, to be happy. I don’t think everyone in Happy, Texas, is happy. We are not going to stop until we get to Amarillo,” says Vinnie’s dad.

“Mom, Mom, Mom, I’m not happy if we don’t go to Happy. Why can’t we go to Happy, Mom? It will be my science project. You want me to get a good grade, right, Mom?”

Vinnie’s Mom says, “Do you want to listen to this or multiple variations of this all the way to Amarillo, another hour and a half, or do you want to end it by turning off driving to the center and turning around and getting back on the highway. It’s fifteen minutes versus ninety minutes. Your choice, Dear. A possible one hour and forty-five minutes of peace or relentless questioning why you didn’t want to stop at Happy.”

Vinnie’s dad touches the turn signal and begins to slow down. 

“Wise decision, Dear,” says Vinnie’s mom.

The SUV turns left off the exit ramp, crosses over the Interstate heading toward Happy, Texas. 

“Dad, Dad, Dad, look there’s the sign. Wow, wow, wow, Dad. It’s says, Welcome to Happy, Texas. The town without a frown. It even has a cowboy riding a horse like he’s at the rodeo, Dad. If they have a rodeo, can we go? I think I want to be cowboy when I grow up. Can we get a horse when we get back home? Can we, Dad?”

“Our yard isn’t big enough to have a horse, Vinnie. Where would we keep a horse?”

“That’s easy, Dad. You and Mom can park in the driveway and the horse can sleep in the garage. Rupert and me can ride him to school. I’ll be the coolest kid at school. Nobody else rides a horse to school. Maybe we can find a saddle on the trip, Dad. Dad look at Mom, she’s happy. Mom always laughs when she’s happy. Are you happy, Mom?”

Vinnie’s mom turns a bit and wipes tears away from her eyes. She says, “I’ve never been happier Vinnie. Honestly, it’s the happiest I’ve been in weeks.”

“See, Dad. See. Can we move here, Dad. There’s a house for sale, Dad. It has a horse in the yard. This is the best town in the whole country, Dad. Dad, there’s a Dairy Queen. Can I have an ice cream? Can we get one for Dexter. He’s starving.”

Dexter hears his name, sits up, looks to the left and then to the right and then up at Vinnie. He doesn’t see food, but he heard his name. Dexter forces himself to stay awake. His beagle instincts tell him he’s going to be fed soon.

Vinnie’s dad turns into the Dairy Queen on the belief that Vinnie can’t talk and eat at the same time. 

The family walks into the Dairy Queen. Dexter, overflowing with optimism, is sitting in the driver’s seat staring out the front window waiting for his family to return and bring him food. Vinnie’s mom and dad go to the counter to order, Vinnie spots an older man ruddy faced man wearing a white cowboy hat and red bandana around his neck drinking a cup of coffee.

Vinnie walks over to the man, “How come you’re sitting alone? Do you want company? Are you a cowboy?”

The man tips his cowboy hat back, turns his head  and checks out Vinnie. He smiles and says, “Pull up a seat, son. I can use some company. I live alone, except for my dog, Cactus and my horse, Brother Joe. I think you can call me a cowboy since I have a ranch and a hundred head of cattle. How about you? Where are your parents? Do you live around here? I haven’t see you before.”

Vinnie points toward the counter, “There’s my mom and dad. We’re on a trip. We live in San Antonio. I have a dog too, his name is Dexter and he’s a beagle. My parents think Dexter is overweight, but I think he’s all muscle. What kind of dog is Cactus?”

“Hah, Cactus is a mutt. He’s part of everything. He showed up one day and forgot to leave. Probably because I feed him.”

“That’s just like Dexter. I’m always sneaking food for Dexter when my parents can’t see me. Dexter knows I’m his best friend. Fist bump?”

The cowboy and Vinnie fist bump.

Vinnie sticks out his hand and says, “Here come my parents. Thanks for talking to me. Will you shake with me?”

“Of course, pardner.”

The Cowboy takes off the bandana around his neck and says, “I’m as happy as a man can be. I’ve want you have this cowboy bandana to remember the day we met. My name is Sam. What’s yours?”

“Vinnie. Thank you, Sam. I mean, sir. I told my mom and dad if we stopped in Happy we’d be happy. You made today the happiest day ever for me.”

“I’ve got to head back to the ranch, Vinnie. Anytime you come through Happy stop by and see me. My ranch is only ten miles up the road, you can’t miss it, it’s the Circle S. Adios,” said Sam rising from his chair and tipping his hat toward Vinnie’s mom.

Vinnie’s mom smiles and waves. 

“How does Vinnie do it, Dear? asks Vinnie’s Dad. 

“Somethings are a mystery, Dear, and cannot be explained,” says Vinnie’s mom.

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