I navigate through the airport security checks like a malfunctioning human droid, and just before boarding, I indulge in the last decent cup of double-shot vanilla latte.
As I sit on the plane, I pull my sleeping mask over my eyes, ready to snatch a couple of hours’ extra sleep during the journey.
Once we land, I rinse and repeat, pulling my sleeping mask on the moment my assistant and I step into the black truck a member of the film crew drove to Louisville to pick us up.
I’m jostled awake a while later when the pickup comes to an abrupt stop. The arrest is so sudden, only a fastened seatbelt prevents me from bumping my head into the front seat.
I yank off the sleeping mask. “What’s going on?”
Jerry Mallon, the driver and our on-set carpenter and handyman, turns back toward me. “A cow is blocking the street.”
I exit the truck to check the situation. We’re on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields. No, not even fields—more like pastures. An endless expanse of grass on both sides. And in front of us, blocking the way, a gigantic brown cow with white patches is grazing the grass growing at the side of the road.
I get closer, and Jerry and Celia join me. “Can’t we just side-step it? The ground seems pretty flat at the road’s edges and we have a pickup.”
Jerry inches his chin in that direction. “There are ditches on both sides, hardly noticeable in the tall grass, but I’m not sure how deep they go and I wouldn’t want to risk getting tipped over or stuck.”
I shield my eyes with my hand against the midday sun and squint at the winding road ahead. Nothing beyond the cow.
“Can we take a different route?”
Jerry removes his baseball cap and scratches the back of his head. “The thing is, the GPS gets iffy in these parts, and I’m not exactly sure where your farm is.”
“My farm? What do you mean, my farm?”
“Sagebrush Ranch, isn’t that where we’re going?”
“No. We’re going to a hotel in town.” I turn to my assistant. “Aren’t we?”
Celia wrings her fingers and looks at me apologetically. “That was the plan, but the two inns in town had most weekends booked and couldn’t accommodate us for such a long stay. I had to find a more creative solution. A ‘bed and breakfast’ sort of thing.” Celia puts her hands forward. “Which is much better because we’ll have access to a fully equipped kitchen. We couldn’t have survived three months on take-out.”
I’m about to reply that I’ve survived most of my life on take-outs, but then I remember this is Indiana and not New York. I’m not sure how many healthy delivery options they have in Emerald Creek.
Oh my gosh, what am I going to eat? Then, once again, I remember we have to accommodate a full cast of Hollywood-spoiled actors and their dietary quirks. Hence, we have an on-site chef and a community barn for meals and meetings at the ranch we’re renting as the primary set.
“Don’t be silly,” I tell Celia, irritated. “We’re going to eat with the rest of the crew.”
“Oh, right. Sorry, I’ve never been on location. Anyway, the bed and breakfast was the only spot with rooms for the entire summer.”
I wonder why. Oh my gosh, she probably booked us into a hovel.
“And what about the on-site cabins?” I snap.
My head is already hurting. And not just for the lack of sleep or the excessive alcohol intake of last night.
It must be all the fresh air.
I need to sleep and, hovel or not, I don’t care as long as they have a bed for me.
But before we can get there, we need to overcome our little cattle problem.
I stare at the other two and they stare back at me, expectantly. “So our only hope is to make that cow move?”
They nod sheepishly.
“Let’s make it move, then. How hard can it be?”
Again, they both just stare at me.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake.”
I approach the cow and size up the animal. My opponent continues grazing, unperturbed. I give her a gentle pat on the hindquarters. Nothing happens. I slap her harder, saying, “Move.”
The wretched animal lifts her head, still munching, and observes me, unimpressed. Once she’s finished chewing, she moos at me.
“What does that mean? I don’t speak cow. Can you please move out of the way?”
I try to push her forward, at which point she raises her tail and… I jump backward just before a pile of brown mush hits the ground, specks of the semi-solid substance landing dangerously close to my precious calf-hair stilettos. Then the smell hits my nostrils, making me want to gag.
Before I even have time to put a hand over my mouth, an uproarious laugh to my left makes me turn.
A man is sitting on horseback near the road. I take in his cowboy boots and hat, the faded jeans smudged with dirt and dust, and the checkered shirt.
Dude, you couldn’t be more of a stereotype if you tried.
Under the shadow of that giant, ridiculous hat, and with the sun coming in from behind him, I can’t properly see his face, but the smile is arrogant enough to irk me even more.
“Is this yours?” I ask, pointing at the cow.
The man tips his hat at me. “Sure is, miss.”
“Would you mind moving her so we can be on our way?”
The cowboy whistles in response. “Come on, Betsy, yeeha, yeehaw, yeeee-haw, time to go.”
The cow flattens one ear but otherwise ignores her owner.
I cross my arms at this poor display of cowboy showmanship.
In response, the man bends sideways over his saddle and grabs a rope that he swings over his head once, twice, and then throws it around the cow’s neck.
Cow secured, he whistles sharply at her to move. Nudged by the rope around her neck, Betsy has no choice but to follow. She abandons her grass, hops across the ditch in a surprisingly graceful jump for such a large animal, and goes to stand next to the horse.
“Road’s all clear,” the cowboy says. “Where are you folks headed, anyway?”
“Sagebrush Ranch,” Jerry replies. “Is it far?”
“Not at all.” The cowboy points at a bend in the road. “Once you pass that turn, it’s another two miles before the gate comes into view.”
“Thanks,” Jerry says.
“No problem.” The cowboy tips his hat again. “Have a nice day.”
He frees Betsy from the lasso, then turns his horse around and, emitting clicking sounds, he digs his heels into the stirrups and leaves at a trot.
I watch him go, then stare back at the pile of dung in the middle of the road that pretty much summarizes my impression of Indiana so far.
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