I take back all the nasty things I said about Nebraska over the years. The dad-blamed corn huskers have administered woeful whuppins to my beloved west coast teams on football fields of battle. Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Babs and I did just that one year, when we received a royal invite to come on down for all the fun at the 35th annual NEBRASKAland DAYS in North Platte.
I felt like a fraud prince. Figured they had me mixed up with Clint Eastwood or something. I don’t exactly wear shades because of limelight glare. (Actually, I don’t need glasses—just a question of seeing.) We accepted pronto before they could change their minds, boarded the great silver bird and flew to the surrealistic Denver airport. Ever been there? Looks not unlike a scene from the Arabian Nights. A strrretch limo pulled up. I reckoned a local college’s pole vaulting team would debark. Instead, we were greeted by two dudes in wide-brimmed hats and wider smiles. “Hop aboard, pards,” said they, and across the rolling plains we rode.
We saw a few clouds, deer and antelope playin’, buffalo roamin’ and we heard nary a discouragin’ word—not a car horn—Nebraska provides shelter for an endangered species: the considerate driver. I thought they were extinct.
We pulled into North Platte, and a motorcycle brigade awaited to escort us out to the state-of-the-art rodeo grounds. The arena was jam-packed. Looked as if all of Nebraska showed up. We witnessed the best carnsarned rodeo within memory, especially the clown bull fighting. A barrel o’ laffs. Over the loud speaker the “Sugarfoot” theme. I sauntered out to mid-field for the thrill of a lifetime. Governor Mike Johanss presented me the Buffalo Bill Award for “Outstanding Contribution To Quality Family Entertainment In The Cody Tradition.”
Ah, yes! Those glorious days of yore when TV, flicks, and pop music were fit for human family consumption. I dedicated the trophy to my Mom—during the ‘30s she took me to the circus each year, but we couldn’t afford to stay for the Wild West Show that always followed. I held Buffalo Bill to the sky and proclaimed, “Look, Ma! We finally made it! The greatest Wild West show on earth!”
Buffalo Bill’s statuette reminds me of a George Montgomery sculpture. Ol’ Bill’s taller, heavier, and rarer than Oscar. He’s a man of bronze—Oscar’s gold-plated tinsel. (Beulah, peel a sour grape).
Our wonderful hosts put us up in a snazzy suite with separate but equal bathrooms. The hotel reminded me of Tara in “Gone with the Wind”. A red-carpeted winding stairway led to our digs on the second floor. One night Babs and I recreated Scarlett and Rhett’s big scene. We drew gasps from the throng below when Babs tripped and almost dropped me.
Some more of the highlights of this sensational shebang: Flapjack and pork chop feeds—a silly radio interview in which I pantomimed bronc ridin’ and steer rasslin’—an antique car parade, Babs and I rode on the side of an old red fire truck, tossing candy to children of all ages. I shouted, “I wish these were diamonds!’ The kids were happy with the candy.
Warm hearted mayor Jim Whitaker presented me a plaque officially designating me an admiral in the Nebraska Navy. In response, I sang a slightly bawdy rendition of “She Was Just a Sailor’s Sweetheart”. We met some real sailors assigned to the nuclear sub Nebraska. They stay submerged to make the world safe for democracy and only surface when it’s time to re-enlist.
Then the big parade! We sat in a percheron-driven buggy, Governor Mike and Mrs. Stephanie Johanss gingerly walked behind us—At parade’s end, Babs asked our driver to hitch up in front of a garage sale. Babs is a cowgal second, a woman first! In town, at the majestic old Fox movie theatre, we were thrilled by the super-talented Georgeann Sheets and Red Steagall and their cowboy music and poetry. A trip to the breath-taking sand hills of the 34,000 acre 77 Ranch—A tour of the Buffalo Bill Ranch, Scout’s Rest. Lillie Langtry’s lovely portrait graces a bedroom wall.
I tellya, these Nebraska flat landers are a hearty breed. They grow tall, live long, and where do they get the stamina to last the fortnight of activities? Babs and I were bushed after our four days there. Take a bow, dear old NEBRASKAland DAYS! You put on quite a show. Thanks for your invite and hospitality. You’ve rekindled our belief in humankind. You sure made it awful tough to say…