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On the Edge of Common Sense: Hot old times

Baxter Black Published on 07 August 2007

I took a trip back in time.


Maybe a little like Moses visiting the Dead Sea 40 years later. It looks smaller, somehow…not as deep as when Pharaoh and the Egyptian hordes were on his tail.

Forty years ago this summer I took a job in a feedlot in Thermal (as in HOT!), California. 50,000 cattle on feed. It was well managed and had a place for a student with an interest in cattle feeding.

I was in veterinary school. I knew my way around feedlots. This was not my first. They put me on the doctor crew, $300/month, Wednesday was my day off. The cowboys, feed truck drivers and mill hands took me in. They questioned my sanity when I insisted on necropsying every dead beast, no matter how putrid, disgusting or swollen the carcass. I admit I probably exuded an aroma of rotting flesh which would have made me unwelcome in an elevator on its way to the 62nd floor.

Often Simon Urbina, who was the head doctor, would invite me home for lunch. His wife heated the delicate tortillas on the burner, and Simon and I chowed down on chile colorado using the tortillas as silverware.

We were on the job by 5 am. It hit 100˚ by nine. By noon you could fry an egg on the vet shack’s tin roof. We fed lots of straight braymers out of Florida and Texas. 200-pounders…tough but fragile. I remember we had lots of time on our hands. I sharpened my knife a lot.

I had a room in the northwest corner of the first floor of the Thermal Hotel. No A/C. $50/month. After work each day I would drive up the road to Ramon’s Bar and Café in the nearby town of Coachella. I stayed there ‘til dark eating greasy rolled tacos with hamburger meat, a dollar apiece, drinking beer (rehydrating) and shooting pool. It had a jukebox and a swamp cooler. It was my haven and my refuge from the heat, the empty hotel room and the pressure of tryin’ to learn all I could about my chosen profession.

This summer I took time to make a pass through that corner of the world that for 3 months was home. I couldn’t find where the feedlot was, the Thermal Hotel was gone, but there on the corner, little changed from my remembrance, was Ramon’s. Same sign, though now it said Las Flores Bar & Mexican Food. Same wrought iron windows and peelin’ paint.

It was closed that Sunday morning, but I have no doubt it was open the previous Saturday night. It was enough for me to see it, to take a picture that means nothin’ to anybody but me, and to say a few words. I don’t often speak to inanimate objects, but at the time it just seemed right.  end_mark

Baxter Black