As usual, winter is taking a chunk out of our budget. We’ve been trying to cut back on just about everything in order to pay our heating bill and keep the feed tractors full of diesel fuel. This is when I realize the most valuable things I learned in college had nothing to do with the biomechanics of anterior cruciate ligament injuries or the proper technique for taping an ankle sprain.
In college, we learned you can survive for thirteen days on twenty-four dollars and seven cents. To subsist on a diet of hamburger, ramen noodles and that case of French fries your roommate’s boyfriend snagged when the frozen food truck hit black ice on the interstate. That you can’t turn the thermostat in a single wide trailer below sixty-two degrees in the winter without the pipes freezing (and when the pipes do freeze, certain females will call in sick rather than go to work without washing their hair). We learned exactly how far a pickup could go on empty.
At my penny-pinching best, though, I couldn’t start one side of Rooster. He took frugality to the point of near death.
When you first met him, he seemed as normal as most cowboys, if quite a bit more entertaining. It wasn’t until college rodeo season started that his true nature began to emerge. Diesel engines were just starting to get a toe-hold in the pickup market back then, so Rooster drove a gas guzzler, pulling a twenty foot stock trailer with at least five horses in the back, four guys crammed into the cab and a couple more stuffed up in the gooseneck to split the fuel. In other words, just like the rest of us.
Our first clue that he might be operating on a slightly different wavelength was on the drive home from Cody, Wyoming. Rooster pointed the rig down a particularly steep and winding hill…and turned off the engine.
“Saves on gas,” he declared, as he wrestled a few tons of metal and horseflesh and screaming passengers to the bottom without the benefit of power steering. Or brakes.
By the end of the season, the number of people lining up to jump in with Rooster had dwindled. Even his girlfriend was beginning to have doubts, but by virtue of attending a different college, she never had to travel with him. Then one weekend he came to Bozeman and they went to an event at the Montana State University fieldhouse.
The fieldhouse is situated on the brink of a small hill, with the main parking lot on the upper level. As you pull out and head toward town, you’re going down an incline. On this particular evening the parking lots were packed. When everyone tried to leave at once, the usual stop and go traffic jam resulted.
There they sat, idling away precious fuel. Finally, Rooster couldn’t stand it any more. He switched off the pickup and turned to his girlfriend.
“What? You can’t leave the pickup in the middle of the street.”
Nothing she could say would change his mind, including pointing out that it was her pickup and her gas. With several hundred people looking on, they got out and pushed that pickup twenty feet at a time, down the street to the stop sign at the bottom of the hill. Rooster was downright proud of himself. He figured he saved at least half a gallon of gas.
The relationship, however, was beyond salvage.