Will Rogers, the great American cowboy, comedian, actor and trick rope spinner, was famous for his saying, 'I have never known a man I didn't like.'
Notice he said 'known,' not 'met.' Like all of us, I am sure the Oklahoma Cherokee cowboy met some people he would not want to spent an hour with much less a day or heaven forbid, a weekend or longer.
I understand Rogers' philosophy and wholeheartedly agree with him. Gamblers, barbers and bartenders have one thing in common: they get to meet a lot of people. And to my way of thinking, every person I meet is a walking, talking book, especially those who rub elbows with you at a poker table.
I feel sorry for individuals who are addicted to cell phones and those headsets they jam into their ears while playing poker, blackjack or some other game at a casino. To me -- and this may not be the case -- they seem to be anti-social.
Certainly a person with a plug in his ear who is playing with a 'Smart' phone has done an effective job of keeping himself at a distance from somebody who might want to communicate with him. I traveled to Las Vegas for a get-away weekend recently and lost count of the people who were so tuned in to whatever they were listening to that they weren't even aware of the folks around them.
Oklahoma Johnny Hale, a veteran poker player, is probably one of the most intriguing men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He is a story-teller who can regale you with his tales of cowboys, Indians, Hispanics and rattlesnakes.
While I cannot verify to the authenticity of his tales, I can assure you that his stories will keep you on the edge of your seat waiting for the punch line. Of course, by the time Johnny has arrived there, the hand is over and he has probably scooped the pot, which was his intention in the first place.
Having lived in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and California for the better part of the past half century, I have met cowboys, ranchers, lumberjacks and gold prospectors who gamble at everything from roulette to Keno to poker. And I can vouchsafe that I have learned something and profited from almost every one of them.
Al Blackman was a cowboy artist from Phoenix. He had three passions in life -- horses, panning for gold and gambling.
Al and I became friends after we met at the 100-year-old home of Nancy Wright, a Phoenix artist who specialized in painting spirit. While Al's paintings ranged from seascapes to the desert, Nancy, a beautiful Blackfoot Indian, painted angels and spiritual beings who talked to trees and bathed in waterfalls surrounded by a rain forest.
Along with several other artists, we formed a group called the Artists Round Table. We met weekly at Nancy's home, discussed art, sipped wine or Expresso, and shared our dreams of what life was and what it should be.
Since Phoenix and Palm Springs, CA. were only a five-hour drive away, we spent many weekends traveling to places like Lake Elsinore, CA., Laughin, NV. or Las Vegas where we whiled away the hours playing poker, drinking, and exchanging stories.
Win or lose, we were enjoying all the adventures life could provide. I still recall a weekend in Las Vegas when Al lost $600 and I won about the same amount he lost. We played blackjack, poker and the slots. On our way back to Phoenix, we stopped at the Arrowhead Bar just outside Wickenburg, AZ.
While Al sipped whiskey and I drank a Coors Beer, a grizzled prospector ambled over to our table. He had a toothless grin and showed us several gold nuggets he had panned out of Weaver Creek.
'It's just down the road 'bout a mile from here,' he said, pointing over his shoulder. 'Just keep driving til you get to Stanton. It's a ghost town, with nary a human being about. Plenty of gold in that creek if you get lucky.' He chuckled, winked and walked unsteadily back to the bar.
Al had brought his green plastic gold pan and a metal detector along, so we decided to test our luck. Three hours later, as the sun was settling over Rich Hill, Al heard a clunk in his pan. He swirled the water around, separating the sand and gravel, and said, 'I think I found something.'
He picked up a black coin. It looked like a penny.
It was much more than a penny. Al took the coin home with him, scraped it off with a knife and shouted so loud that neighbors could hear him a block away. He had found a $20 gold piece, dated 1878. It was 1984 and the coin was worth over $1,000 as a collector's item. That was back when gold was trading at $35 an ounce. You can just imagine how much it would be worth today.
No, gamblers, cowboys and prospectors live a life that is much larger than the one most people go through. Trust me on that. Now excuse me please while I pack up my deck of cards, gold pan and metal detector. I'm heading west of the sun and you never know what you're going to find.