RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Computers seem to have taken even the cowboys out of Amarillo

By Rheta Grimsley Johnson

AMARILLO, Texas – If a computer named Watson handily beat two human opponents at “Jeopardy,” and the Internet organized a revolution in Cairo, is there anything left for us mortals, with our great lapses in knowledge and energy, to do?
I mean, really, what’s the point of getting up in the morning?
I’m pondering this while sitting in a motel lobby in Amarillo, waiting for a waffle machine to create a delectable breakfast shaped like Texas. The motel, as it happens, is about a block from the national quarter horse headquarters. I chanced to see the building getting to the motel and thought, “My, there it is.”
In my head it once was a mystical place I fantasized about in childhood, when an Appaloosa named Joker B was the love of my life and my wish book was a magazine about American quarter horses. I saved my allowance and Christmas money for a saddle to put on a horse I didn’t own.
Those were flesh-and-blood times, compared with now, when computers arrange our dates and publish our books and keep us in touch with our relatives and remind us of our children’s birthdays and tell us what new music releases we’ll probably be interested in if there’s any loot left in the PayPal account.
Amarillo smells of cattle, unless it’s my imagination. I like the smell, and the thought that it is cowboys, not computers, herding the cows through loading chutes or inoculating calves or riding bulls in the rodeo. There are so few jobs left that don’t involve computers, or can’t be done better by computers, that the thought of wiry men who, best case, look like handsome Heath Ledger and put on their boots before light every morning and drive an old pickup to work excites me.
It’s downright nostalgic.
Driving west from Arkansas the day before, I had the phrase “Amarillo by morning” running through my tired, disheveled head. For the life of me I couldn’t remember the second line, or any other line, of the famous song, which didn’t work for me anyhow, as I was trying to make Amarillo by sunset. If only I had one of those telephones with built-in computers, I could have looked up the lyrics, I thought in a weak moment. I have a young friend named Jacob who can whip out his telephone and unlock the secrets of the universe and spill them out for you in seconds. I don’t “Google,” as people now say with meaning. If I hit a snag and it’s convenient, I “Jacob.”
But Jacob wasn’t anywhere near Amarillo.
My cell phone, a concession to too much time spent on the road, doesn’t have Internet access. It barely has the capacity to call another phone number. Most times, unless there’s an emergency, I save the calling impulse till I can roost and find a phone that’s tethered to the wall and the Mother Line.
I digress. I look around the lobby hoping to see a cowboy, but there’s only a businessman checking his cell-phone messages and a clerk making computer copies of hotel receipts and a child staring at a handheld device that presumably displays a game he cannot beat. And here we are, next door to the Oz of quarter horses.
Not a cowboy in the house.

Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.

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