Back to River Ranch

My head swam with gratitude for the vast knowledge and influence received through Dorita during my time in Sarasota. New Year’s Day I was back at River Ranch ready to assume the rigors of my role as resident artist. Once landed at the luxury dude ranch, I became busy. I entered into my productive routine. I had found a wonderful place to thrive. The wonders didn’t stop.

Among the amenities at River Ranch were the lodge and accompanying hotel, marina with another restaurant and the skeet and trap shooting range. A little village area had a post office and little shops that included ceramic painting activities, a beautician and a good old country store where you could get hand scooped ice cream. Throughout the property were five swimming pools with hot tubs, a golf course and perhaps what was the unanimous favorite feature of all: The Phase Two camping area.

Roads meandered back and forth in this special part of the campground beneath old growth oak forest made even more picturesque with landscaping. The coach owners planted tropical greenery and large leafy vines that climbed the tree trunks. Party decks of every description and configuration surrounded the RV sites to make the forty-foot luxury motorhomes – just making their way onto the RV scene – seem almost surreal in a Swiss Family Robinson sort of way.

The owners of these massive and fancy machines enjoyed the festive energy of this place and it showed as they enthusiastically walked their dogs through paradise and waved at one another. This was where I worked.

Each day was filled with enterprise but by Saturday night I wanted to see what was going on at the saloon. I mustered up some courage and went down to the end of the boardwalk and pushed open the saloon doors and went inside. After scoping out the situation I found a seat and sat down.

There I sat. My back against the wall in a beat-up, spindle-back chair at one of the many worn pedestal tables. I investigated this strange new world. Loud country music and smoke filled the air along with laughter. This opportunity existed for the sexes to mingle. I just sat there wishing… wishing I was up there on the dance floor having fun, line dancing with the rest of them. I had arrived to expand my horizons by investigating the saloon. All I could do was sit.

A few days later, on a typical afternoon in the campgrounds, I met Art.

While working on the stepladder I heard a voice behind me, “you’re wasting your time.” 

I looked down and immediately recognized him as the dapper dressed retired gentlemen who enjoyed line dancing at the saloon on Saturday nights. Art had observed, along with everyone else, my process of applying masking tape and paper onto the back of a motorhome. In the midst of all this beauty he had watched me clean and sand many surfaces prior to the application of paint.

This man with an impish smile climbed up and took the tape and paper out of my hands.  He proceeded to continue with what I had been doing.

He added with a smile, “from now on, I’ll be doing this.”

That was my introduction to Art Burch. Art was a retired manager from IBM in Endicott, New York.  Art had a heart as big as a dump truck and recognized an opportunity to assist the mural making process and free me up to concentrate on the creative aspects of my service to the RV community.

Later, during a visit at breakfast, our mutual friend Gene told me a story about Art. When Gene’s family moved to a new town in New York, he went to his first day of class in the fifth grade.  Gene was scared at this new school. When he found his room assignment, class was already underway. He approached the teacher with his piece of paper and she read it.

Without looking up she said, “go find a seat.”

Gene looked around and saw Art with his trademark grin waving at him. He pointed to the empty seat next to him. Gene was immediately relieved and glad to have found a friend. That was Art’s style: to look out for the other guy.

Having Art as an ally added to the effectiveness of Letterfly, now a team.  Art was retired and liked the idea of what I was doing: traveling, seeking adventure and creating murals on motorhomes. Art helped me all that winter. Then he chose to spend an entire year on tour with me. Once the winter season was over at River Ranch, we headed north.

We formed a convoy. My truck with ladders pulled my gooseneck horse trailer with living area and the VW bus filled with painting gear. Art drove his jade green ‘62 Chrysler Newport that pulled his travel trailer. We soon found our rhythm of getting to the next project or rally. We found a series of artistic opportunities from Michigan and Indiana, Virginia to Louisiana, then over to Fort Valley, Georgia and back again to River Ranch during that year.

While he did the prep work, I interviewed my customers and composed a sketch of my idea for their mural. When the entire painting process was complete and the clear coat intact, Art handled the masking paper removal. He also loaded the ladders, plank, hoses and rolled up the electric cords. Then we headed out again.

Art had a gift.  He was a natural as a manager of people at IBM.  He was sensitive and able to zero right in on what was going on with a person. Rather than to barrage them with advice, he provided a simple word of wisdom they could translate into a solution. On several occasions while we traveled, life had me perplexed. 

He would inquire, “what’s up, Bud?”

In response to a complicated explanation of the dilemma I was experiencing, he’d say something simple like, “get used to it.” 

The concept he offered propelled me past the mire and into a mode of acceptance that brought about peace. 

Ironic was that these tidbits of wisdom came from a man whose life was a complete mess. He had love for everyone, a perpetual smile and an ear for a stranger but seemed to be lost in regard to his own healthy needs. I have many fond memories of Art enjoying the others at pool side, teaching a group to do the Boot Scoot or watching the live entertainment at the Saloon. Art added to the fun of those in his company in his own special way.

During lulls in the rhythm on the road, he began to teach me the foot pattern for the line dance known as the ‘Electric Slide’. At first, I was very confident. Surely, having mastered rhythm in my previous vocation as a drummer and the coordination developed as a horseman gave me an advantage. But the movement did not have the regular cadence inherent in most song structures. I wondered if my good-hearted dance mentor was presenting something wrong. As my internal struggle continued, my kind-hearted teacher repeated his demonstration. I wondered, why can’t I get this thing?

I had to break through the contempt that kept me separate from what Art freely provided. The obstacle was arrogance and the assumption that this new skill would come as easily as all the other skills I possess. I would learn; this is different.

When I assumed an attitude of humility, I became able to imitate the simple foot pattern and the irregular cadence that made up this popular dance step. As we continued our travels, I occasionally practiced the dance pattern. Several months went by before I took the acid test.

In the fall of the year our trek took us through Georgia. Art met a woman in a restaurant who told him about a place with music and dancing. Later we met his friend Polly at a local country bar. When the right tune came on the jukebox and the other line dancers rose to assume their places on the floor, my trio was among them.

Surrounded by the other dancers, I was on the spot. I felt a panic that seemed to grip the back of my throat. Frozen with fear, I went completely brain-dead. While the other dancers around me effortlessly maneuvered around the floor, I just stood there. After what seemed to be an eternity, the song ended. Back at our table my friends surrounded me and offered encouragement. I internally assessed the situation and remembered what had kept me separate.

Later that evening the song came on again. The dancers assumed their positions as did I. This time I flawlessly initiated the pattern and continued to repeat it along with everyone else until the song was over. Triumphant about successfully overcoming part of myself, I left with a new feeling.

A higher sense of confidence through humility is another valuable lesson learned on the road of life. Not only do I belong but also with perseverance, things that seem impossible can be accomplished.

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