By CHRIS BATEMAN
Special to The Union Democrat
Sorry, Visitors Bureau, but now it’s just “Ride and Ribbit.”
“Rope,” formerly Part 1 of the bureau’s promotional trifecta linking May’s Mother Lode Roundup, Amgen bike race and Calaveras Frog Jump has fallen prey to Coyote Sam and his gang of avaricious, armed recidivists.
“Try ‘Rob, Ride and Ribbit,’” Sam spat as he rode out of town with Sheriff Jim Mele’s crucially important parade boots. “Try Boot Hill.”
The drama unfolded early Thursday afternoon outside Emberz restaurant on Sonora’s Washington Street, where the Roundup-sponsoring Sheriff’s Posse had spent the better part of two hours wining and dining a group of high-rolling event sponsors.
But as the self-satisfied Redshirts sloshed out the door with their corporate sugar daddies, Sam grabbed Mele’s custom-cobbled parade boots amid a hail of bubbles, Silly String and very badly aimed gunfire.
“Without those boots, I can’t lead the parade,” lamented Mele, who witnesses said had all but given his “manly footwear” to the cigar-chomping outlaw.
Crafting a new pair of boots is out of the question. It takes at least two months to make a pair of triple-wide models that will fit Mele’s almost clownishly large feet, pancaked from years of walking the beat as a flatfoot.
Rumors that the sheriff merely wanted an excuse not to ride in the May 12 parade — and perhaps become the first Western lawman to be thrown from his mount in front of 20,000 parade watchers — were deemed “ludicrous,” but not entirely discounted.
Unless Mele rides, of course, the parade won’t happen. And without the parade, Saturday and Sunday rodeo sessions — as well as all the rest of the Roundup’s May 12 and 13 festivities — will be canceled.
Meanwhile, confusion reigned in the aftermath of the daring, but not entirely unexpected crime. A meticulous search of Sonora Police records showed that similar daylight robberies have occurred on roughly the same day in April for the past 30 years.
Yet not a single Sonora cop was on the scene. “It’s like going to see ‘Titanic’ every day for a month never suspecting that the ship would sink each time,” said a criminologist hurriedly dispatched to the scene from UC Berkeley. “I mean, what were these guys thinking?”
Sonora Police Chief Mark Stinson said he had assigned several officers to Alfredo’s Mexican restaurant, where almost identical heists had taken place annually for the last decade.
Inexplicably, none of them noticed that Alfredo’s was closed, or that gunfire was erupting just up the street.
“Well,” stammered Stinson, “we knew the sheriff and those posse guys would be there, and figured they could handle it.”
They didn’t: The Redshirts’ only apparent strategy — opening the bar to Sam and his gang and hoping they’d get too blitzed to pull off the robbery — backfired.
Shots of rotgut only emboldened the desperadoes, who guzzled at Emberz and insulted the possemen and their guests for at least 45 minutes before swaggering out, saddling up, and coming back with guns drawn.
“These guys told the Redshirts exactly what they were going to do,” said one flabbergasted Roundup sponsor. “It was like a kindergarten teacher reading ‘Robbery for Dummies’ to the class. But amazingly, no one there picked up on it.”
In fact, the posse guys were so startled when the gang rode back that several of them thrust their weapons into the dainty hands of the queen contestants and cowered behind them.
Many of at least 100 witnesses credited queen hopefuls Trisha Berg, Taylor
Howell and Layne Olson with foiling Sam’s attempts to kidnap reigning Round
Queen Cat Gulizia and with keeping damage to a minimum.
“A few angry drivers and Silly String on the street was pretty much our only problem,” said Sonora City Administrator Tim Miller.
Embarrassment and mortification, however, were in no way contained.
Fending off sponsors’ shouted demands that their money be refunded, Roundup General Chairman (and former sheriff’s deputy) Jim Earll blamed fate, a decaying political climate, residual effects of last Sunday’s exploding meteor, a nationwide loss of civility, moral decay, and a poor economy that “forces guys like Coyote
Sam to the streets,” for what observers said was the posse’s “most humiliating setback in at least a year.”
“Just let us keep your money for another year, and we’ll have a really great Roundup in 2013,” Earll told the mob of bellowing, red-faced sponsors.
More unsettling were rumors that the Redshirts, through an intermediary, have promised to not only let Coyote Sam become a member of the posse if he returns the all-important boots, but to promote him to the new rank of “Supreme
Commanding General,” give him a fancy uniform with epaulets, medals and gold stars, and let him lead this year’s parade.
Meanwhile, Mele was philosophical.
“Look at the bright side,” said the bootless and bamboozled sheriff. “At least I’m not running for re-election this year.”