It was a number of years ago. I was living in Trinidad, Colo. and periodically I would go down to Raton to catch the horse races there at the track which was so much a part of the area about three decades ago.
I am not a big gambler, but I do enjoy watching a man and animal work in tandem and I enjoy watching a horse run well. On this particular Saturday afternoon, I had watched the horses run for most of the day and won a few dollars, and had lost a few dollars; all-in-all, a good day’s entertainment.
After the race, I decided to get a beer or two and have a good steak in kind of classy surroundings, and at that time there was basically one place in northern New Mexico to do that, Tinnie’s Palace. The Palace at that time, it closed not long after the racetrack closed, was not like anything of the 20th century. It was more like something from the century before. It had stained glass windows and cut crystal, little intimate private dining rooms for romantic dinners and a wine cellar that would do a New York restaurant proud. In short, it had a class that simply does not exist any more, and when it did exist, it was a rarity.
Being race day, it was crowded. I was standing at the bar waiting for a place in the dining room and I got to talking with a gentleman there who also seemed to be on his own waiting for a table, or possibly just taking in the atmosphere. The Palace had tons of it. He was dressed in what my father used to call “Sunday cowboy”, a good pair of boots, a nice hat upside down on the mahogany, a dark shirt, and a western cut sports coat.
After we began to talk, it became clear he was clearly a well-read man and as reading people often do when they get to talking, we talked books. We actually got to comparing whom we thought the best books or authors in specific genre were. I would mention science fiction and he said he thought Robert Heinlein was the best and I agreed he was good especially Stranger in a Strange Land, but my preference was Isaac Asimov. I would put forth Raymond Chandler for hard boiled detective authors and he would counter with Dashiell Hammett who wrote the Maltese Falcon and Thin Man. I would suggest Pushkin and he was say Dostoyevski. He would suggest Agatha Christie and I would counter with Arthur Conan Doyle. Each time we would discuss the merits of the specific author and why we thought he or she was preferable.
We went back and forth like that quite some time on a variety of different books. In fact, we had our food brought to the bar so we could enjoy the conversation and food as we stood there. Finally he brought up western novels. Here I became adamant. I told him that I would not accept any argument about this. I said that he might argue Zane Gray, for actually starting the modern western novel or suggest somebody like Luke Short, there was really only one person that could claim the title of best western author and that was Louis L’Amour. I said everybody else was a poor second. I went on in this vein for some time (remember we had been drinking beer for most of our discussion), and I didn’t notice him fiddling with his wallet and sliding something over to me on the bar.
When I paused in my rant to glance down at the thing, and I realized that I was looking at the drivers’ license of Louis L’Amour. I had just been telling Louis L’Amour what a great writer Louis L’Amour was. At this point, I am not certain just what I said. I vaguely remember it was something to the effect of “um…ahh…err….um…ahh“ stretched over what seemed like hours, but I have a hunch it was only a few seconds.
He put out his hand and took mine and said, “Ya know, I like your taste.”
He died about 15 years ago, but last week would have held his birthday and I thought this might be a good time to tell this story.