When I was a boy my father used to sing me cowboy songs. These songs often involved cowboys coming to bad ends: bleeding to death after a shootout or dying of thirst out in the desert. You know: cheery little ditties perfect for pondering as you drift off to sleep. I decided early on that if ever I were to become a cowboy I would carry an extra canteen and a styptic pencil.
The best song was "Cool Water." Like many good cowboy songs, it's sung to a horse. Mirages tempt a cowboy and his trusty beast, Dan, as they trudge through the range: "Old Dan and I with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water, cool clear water." The listener can't help thinking the pair are going to give up, their bleached bones discovered years later when the interstate is put through or the Sizzler steak house thrown up.
I thought of Old Dan and the cowboy when I saw this story about how restaurants in Britain are being urged to serve tap water, rather than charge for bottled water. (Or, as I'm convinced happened to me the other day, charge for tap water they put into a bottle.)
In a country that puts the "surly" in "service," the restaurateur's disdain for free tap water is what bugs me the most. Ask for nothing and you will receive nothing. Ask for water and you will receive a bottle of water (one pound fifty at the last restaurant I ate in: $3). Ask for tap water and you will be given a withering look of disgust, as if you just wet yourself. In a country almost comically obsessed with "being green" it's strange how people would rather drink water out of little bottles with a big carbon footprint than quaff the liquid that comes out of the pipes.
Well, perhaps this campaign will make a difference. Old Dan and I will do our part and stick to tap water. Either that or cut the top off a cactus and suck the juice out.
Come Don't Fly With Me
Dueling announcements from various governments about making flying "safer" make me consider using a rowboat to next cross the Atlantic. Yesterday the Guardian had a story headlined "Bush Orders Clampdown on Flights to U.S." (Putting "Bush" in the headline is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of Guardian readers.) The European Union is upset at American demands that armed U.S. air marshalls be allowed on flights originating in Europe and that passengers provide detailed information even if they're just overflying the country.
Today's front page news in The Post that European countries may require fingerprinting for U.S. travelers almost sounds like a tit for tat but it's more tat for tit, given that the U.S. already requires fingerprinting and photographing. Treating everyone as a suspect will continue to do wonders for America's standing in the world. Why don't we just tell people we don't really want them to visit?
Now I have cowboy songs on my brain. "El Paso" by Marty Robbins is a good one. The song about an ill-fated romance with lovely Mexican beauty Felina has that great lyric: "Something is dreadfully wrong for I feel a deep burning pain in my side." (Or, as Marty Robbins sang it, "my siiiiIIIIIiiiiiiiide.") Yes, unnamed protagonist, that means you've been shot.
Then there's one of the saddest songs my father used to sing, "Streets of Laredo." A cowboy--"wrapped in white linen, as cold as the clay"--lays dying in the street. It's a cautionary tale, as the dying hand admits to his misdeeds, tells the passerby to notify his next of kin and even makes his own detailed funeral arrangements.
Cowboys really knew how to live back then and they sure knew how to die.