Even around here, the site of a saddled horse ground-tied in front of the War Wagon Saloon attracted attention. Even if it was obvious by the brand that it was Hooter McCormick who'd left him there.
“You're taking this a mite seriously, aren't you?” mused Peetie Womac, nursing a late-afternoon Pearl, perusing the newspaper. “I mean, gas and diesel are obscenely high, but time's worth something, too. What, it took you about a half hour to get here instead of 10 minutes or so? That's 40 minutes extra round-trip. If you were one of those big city, work-in-town types you could pay for a gallon of gas and still be money ahead driving.”
“That's just what they want.”
“Those oil companies is who. Ain't nobody believes in free enterprise more than me, but when you're talking fuel, basically a public utility, and they're raking in billions in profit, that doesn't set right with me. No sir, this is my way of protesting, even if it costs me a little more in the long-run. Besides which, if you've studied your economics, the sure cure for high prices is over-production, reduced demand or both.
“And you're working on the demand side?,” said Peetie with a wry grin.
“Yep, if there's enough folks like me, prices come down. Prices come down enough and those ethanol plants start to shut their doors. They shut their doors and the price of corn gets livable again and running cows and feeding cattle gets a whole lot more fun again.”
“That's parti-pppar—kind of right,” slurred Delmar Jacobs, in the War Wagon for one of his frequent re-fuelings. “Prices will drop ba-ba-baaaack. Not much. Too many Chinese and Indi—Indi—Injuns. ‘S why I make my own.”
Readers of this column will recall that Delmar's penchant for moonshine making also lent itself to the grain and wood alcohols he'd blended with his gasoline for years. The oil wells that had been in his family for a couple of generations didn't hurt, either.
“See there, Peetie, that's exactly what I'm talking about. Figure out alternatives on our own and maybe some of the rest of this stuff becomes an option again. I tell you, gas at $4 a gallon and Copenhagen at $4 a can, it's downright un-American.”
Peetie took a shallow sip of Pearl. “Now I get it. Charlie told me you'd laid in some tobacco plants. Going on strike against the U.S. Tobacco, too?”
Before Hooter could answer, Jackson snapped his towel at a fly that had the nerve to settle on a table. “You old hens about done taking up space or can I get you another?”
“Let's” said Delmar brightly. Hooter and Peetie shook their heads.
“Look,” continued Hooter, “All I'm saying is $4 a loaded mile to lay in calves, right at $8 a hundred on a five-weight calf; more basis risk than price risk and no way to hedge it; something's gotta give.”
“Bingo,” agreed Delmar.
Peetie smoothed his newspaper to fold it. “I'm right there with you, but you've got to give the market some time to sort all this out. Neither of you boys were that big when we had the price freeze back in the 70's. Everybody figured it was the end of the world, at least the end of the cattle business. But, it shook itself out eventually. Hooter, both you and me paid off some notes from the 80's at nearly 20 percent interest. We didn't have any earthly idea how we'd do it, but it worked itself out. I understand what you're getting at. All I'm saying is, it'll work itself out this time around, too. Just give it some time to see where the chips land and who's holding ‘em.”
Hooter scooped a sizable dip of Copenhagen from his can. Peetie grinned at him. “It's gonna be a while before those tobacco plants grow,” said Hooter defensively. “I hear what you're saying, Peetie, but I already know who's holding the chips—oil companies and the bleeding heart liberals that won't let us develop oil that we already know we've got in this country, oil that we don't even know we've got yet, too. That Barnett Shale over to Fort Worth? One of the biggest, if not the biggest, natural gas pockets in North America, and we're just now getting around to it.”
Delmar slapped Hooter on the back in agreement and came close to falling out of his chair. “You're right, Hooter. Besides, that's a good loo—gooood-look—fine horse you've got. See ya.”
“Careful!” shouted Jackson as Delmar partly stumbled, partly staggered out the door.
Hooter was shaking his head, chatting with himself more than Peetie. “Seven-dollar corn on the board, clear through a year from September. Wheat upwards of $10; what do you suppose the odds are of finding wheat pasture this year at those prices? And oil spiking up close to $140 a barrel, before the hurricane season.”
Peetie did what pals do: he listened.
“No sir, a horse was good enough for granddaddy. I reckon it's more than good enough for me, too,” said Hooter.
Jackson tapped him on the shoulder: “There might be one flaw in that plan you hadn't counted on.”
Jackson was pointing out the window at Delmar, who was veering wildly from one side of the swells to the other, in slow motion, both hands glued to the saddle horn, doing his best to stay upright on Hooter's pony at a slow walk.
“It's dang tough to lock your horse.”