We arrive at the hotel in Portsmouth, Ohio, about 45 minutes east of trailhead, the night before we plan to begin our five-day backpack trip.
Let me ask you a question. Do you know where Roy Rogers was born? I’ll tell you. Portsmouth, Ohio. We learn this as we check in to the hotel in Portsmouth and notice that just about everyone is dressed in a cowboy hat, bolo tie, checked shirt and cowboy boots. They are all dressed just like Roy Rogers used to dress. We overhear them trading Roy Rogers stories with each other.
In fact, Roy Rogers, or Leonard Franklin Slye, as he was known to his parents, was actually born one hundred miles to the west, in Cincinnati. But since this convention is in Portsmouth, what the heck, let him be born here.
My companion says to me, “Who’s Roy Rogers?”
I tell her about the cowboy thing, about the singing thing, about his wife, Dale Evans, who was one of the original American wives who didn’t change her name, and I tell her about Trigger, who is a horse, who also did not change his name.
Actually, Dale Evans did change her name. At birth, she was called Frances Octavia Smith. She changed her name on the occasion of her third marriage, but it kind of doesn’t count because she did not take her husband’s last name, as was the tradition. Rather she took her new husband’s middle name as her first, and her last name from actress “Baby” Madge Evans.
Two cowboys already occupy the elevator as we step in. On the ride up, one cowboy asks where we are from. “Pittsburgh,” we tell him.
“Pittsburgh!” he shouts, and then immediately begins to serenade us…
There’s a pawn shop on a corner
In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
And I walk up and down ‘neath the clock.
By the pawnshop on a corner
In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
But I ain’t got a thing left to hock.
This song is from 1952 and is one of the many songs written about my home town. Our singing gentleman, we can see from his name tag, is Ted LaGarde. We soon learn from a poster in the lobby that Ted is half of the LaGarde Twins singing team. Got a few records out there. What a bonus: Our very own professional elevator concert!
We enjoy dinner this evening in the restaurant adjoining the hotel. It’s actually more of a sports bar with four television screens the size of scoreboards in some baseball stadiums. Each table has a speaker like the ones at the drive-in theaters. We turn off the speaker. Our young waiter laughs about the Roy Rogeristas who have invaded the place, making fun of the square dance of the previous evening. As he walks away, the house audio system begins to play. The songs, in this order, are Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd, Casey Jones by the Grateful Dead, and a few other songs that, even if old Roy were alive and still singing, no one would square dance to.
In a Five Easy Pieces/Jack Nicholson-type scene, I ask what dark beers might be on the menu. Our waiter defers to another waiter bussing a nearby table. Our conversation goes something like this…
me: What dark beer do you offer?
waiter: I don’t drink dark beer.
me: I didn’t offer to buy you a beer. And if I’m reading the atmosphere correctly, you work here…
me: …and your job is to serve your customers what they drink, so do you think there is some way you could find out?
He turned and walked away and we never saw him again.
I believe that Roy Rogers occasionally used a gun.