Steve the Gambler

Once I finally got my hands on the Rascal, I headed north to Leeds where there were spare parts waiting. The initial plan was to pick up the Rascal early in the afternoon, head to Leeds for parts, and then start back towards London. My rugby buddy, Rich, is competing on Gordon Ramsey’s new show. There was a taping on the 4th and I wanted to cheer him on. Unfortunately, I didn’t get out of Sheffield until much too late. By the time I found my way to the M1 and headed north, it was closing in on 7pm and the spare parts shop was long closed.

I spent the drive reminding myself to “do the wrong thing.” I have spent the past 23 years making sure that I always am on the right side of the road. All that went out the window when I pulled out of the driveway and started down the road. I promised Michelle that I would be safe on this trip, and I don’t think driving in the wrong lane and getting into a head-on collision would be a good idea. I had to keep reminding myself to do the exact opposite of everything I had learned: drive on the left, turn signal on the right, look right then left.

I slid into Leeds a little after 8pm with nowhere to go and nothing to do. So, being me, I found the nearest “local” bar and made myself at home. As soon as I ordered a beer, a man sidled up to me with something akin to the swagger of a drunk John Wayne. Between his thick accent and the half-empty glass that was clearly not his first it took me about four tries to figure out what he was saying. He was asking me if I was a “Yank” or a “Reb”. Taken aback by this line of questioning I managed to stammer, “Neither?”

He laughed and introduced himself as Steve, but everyone calls him “The Gambler.” Turns out that Steve (in all my time in the bar, I never heard anyone actually refer to him as “The Gambler”) is a member of the local Country and Western society which holds regular re-enactments of American Civil War battles for charity events. He rattled off an impressive list of battles that he and his compatriots re-enact (Gettysburg is his favorite). With a few good men, he assured me, and about a half a dozen horses, he could put on quite the show! He says that his mother once told him he was born 120 years too late. “The battle of the Alamo was in 1836. You were born in 1956. You are 120 years too old!”

Steve has always had a love of Americana and the great battles. He went into great detail about the pains he has taken to assemble authentic period outfits, going so far as to fire off rounds into the floor and ceiling of a different local establishment when someone questioned whether his guns were real. That may explain why the bartender kept a close eye on him. Apparently Steve enjoyed studying American history in school. He delighted in explaining to me the proper form for dueling in the Wild West (sneak up behind someone and shoot them in the head), and why both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee were actually both Northerners. When I suggested that he should come to the States for a visit and participate on one of the Civil War re-enactments that take place on the historic battlefields, it was like I had just suggested that John Wayne wasn’t a true American. “Oh, no mate,” he began. “I couldn’t do it. It would be like-” and he got very quiet. He started rubbing his hand a few inches over his arm. “Makes the hair on my arm stand on end. It’s like walking on someone’s grave.”

We discussed the great Western movies. Steve had seen them all. While the Jack Daniels might have slurred his speech and jumbled some of the actors in his mind, the plots and great scenes were all there for him. He conceded that the remake of 3:10 to Yuma was better than the original, but would never believe that any remake coud be better than the original if it re-cast John Wayne’s role.

The more the Jack and Soda flowed, the more he opined how his “troubles” after getting out of the military were keeping him from emigrating to the United States. He is the proud owner of a Quarterhorse, a “California” saddle, and a Bowie knife modeled after the original. (He told a dubious story about him, the knife, and the Falklands War, but I didn’t want to press him on it too much.) He refuses to wear anything but denim and cowboy boots, and his nicotine stained fingers are dripping with Native American silver designs. His dream is to move to Texas and visit the Four Corners so it pains him that he could never truly be an American citizen.

He regaled me with tales of visiting Miami and New York when he was in the military. The other boys would get all dressed up in their finest to go hit the town. But not Steve. He always dressed like a true American: cowboy boots, denim jeans, and a checked shirt. I think he was a little disappointed to see me at the bar in my Scotland rugby jersey sporting a pair of hiking shoes, nary a six shooter to be seen.

Eventually Steve’s credit and good will with the bartender ran out. He finished his last drink and walked into the fading light. Oh, and “The Gambler”? You expected me to say that “somewhere in the darkness he broke even”? But you’d be wrong. “The Gambler” is from a John Wayne line in the movie The Alamo. Steve wouldn’t have it any other way.

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