Note to the reader: This is the first in a series of occasional articles on real life encounters with intriguing people, places, and things across the New South. There are a lot of “everyday heroes” out there, percolating just beneath the surface …

He’s never picked up a lariat, roped any steers, or driven any cattle over the open range. Cowboy Dan is not that kind of ‘cowboy’. ‘Course, you’d think that ‘Cowboy Dan’ would be all ‘worn out’ by now.

Over his first twenty-five years, Ol’ Dan has written and recorded a  gaggle of country western songs, managed to graduate from UGA’s College of Agriculture, did a stint with the Braves (as a groundskeeper), been a successful door-to-door salesman, as well as written and starred in a bunch of music videos. Oh, and he’s also had six open heart surgeries.

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Charles de Gaulle, then the President of France, once said of Lyndon Johnson, “If he didn’t exist we’d have to invent him.” De Gaulle could have just as easily been talking about Andrew Sawyer, better known as ‘Cowboy Dan’ to his friends on the Braves grounds crew and others. If we actually had to cook him up, the recipe would perhaps call for three parts musician, two parts medical miracle, one part economic theoretician.  Add almost two full stints in the Turf Management School at UGA. Voila!, you’d have ‘an Andrew Sawyer’… er, ‘Cowboy Dan’.

The thing, as they say, is that Andres Sawyer is greater than the sum of his parts.

I first ran into him a few months ago just after he’d come to Atlanta from Douglas, somewhere near the Heart of Georgia.  I bumped into him (literally) at my local Booksellers while trying to decide between a Roy Orbison CD and the Greatest Hits of Hank Williams.

“I’d try Hank Williams, if I were you. He’s real country and western…three chords and a truth,” Dan says.”That’s what C&W is all about. Did you know that Ray Charles started out singing country and western? I Can’t Stop Loving You, I think it was.”

We chatted for a while and despite our disparate backgrounds, learned that we had a number of common interests…storytelling (in his case ‘songwriting’), baseball, and airplanes.  Before the conversation is over, he shows me this raft of songs that he has written. They’re stuffed in the near numerous pockets of his jeans and jacket.

One topic leads to another and another. Then the kid almost forgets and then remembers to bring up the little matter of having just excited the hospital after a sixth open heart surgery. Andrew…er, “Cowboy Dan,” was born with something called pulmonary atresia. When you strip away all of the technical lingo, his condition means that he’s had to have valves replaced in his heart three times. The first three operations occurred on the day of his birth. The doctors over at Emory University have held his heart —and his life—-in their hands three times since.

If you think that all of this atresia stuff is complicated, expensive and serious stuff, you’re right.  (See his medical  story at Emory Healthcare.) In some way’s Dan’s lucky to be here. Ol’ Cowboy acts like he knows it too. Seems as if he’s never met a stranger and even a brief conversation with him reveals the most optimistic person you’ve ever met…or perhaps never met.

Watching his YouTube videos of “A”> Man Named Red” or “Four”> Letter Word (That Starts With Love)” or “>“South Georgia Pine” one sees that Cowboy Dan has a way with words and lyrics (maybe he’s a latter day Tom T. Hall?) and he can more than carry a tune. The kid can sing too. You figure that  Atlanta would just be a way station on the journey to Nashville. You’d be wrong… for now at least. Dan says that there’s plenty of time for Nashville. “The responsible thing for me to do is to go to work and start giving back to my family. They’ve given me so much. I am going to be selling insurance services for a major insurance company pretty soon now”.

I gotta believe that Dan will end up on the radio or in Nashville someday. He’s just got to. In the meantime, I figure that he’ll sell a lot of insurance or do anything else he chooses to do….even learn to use a lariat and rope a few steers if he wants.

The kid’s got heart.  Even Charles de Gaulle would agree.

And with all of the bad news stories lurking around and sucking up all of the oxygen, who says that there’s not some good news ‘out there’?

© Copyright 2010 Will Cantrell

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Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell (a pseudonym) is a writer, storyteller, and explorer of the milieu of everyday life. An aging Baby Boomer, a Georgia Tech grad, and a retired banker, Cantrell regularly chronicles what he swears are 'mostly true'  'everyman' adventures. Of late, he's written about haircuts, computer viruses, Polar Vortexes, identity theft, ketchup, doppelgangers, bifocals, ‘Streetification’, cursive handwriting, planning his own funeral and other gnarly things that caused him to scratch his head in an increasingly more and more crazy-ass world.   As for Will himself, the legend is at an early age he wandered South, got lost, and like most other self-respecting males, was loathe to ask for directions. The best solution, young Will mused, “was just to stay put”. All these years later, he still hasn't found his way but remains  a son of the New South. He was recently sighted somewhere close to I-285, lost, bumfuzzled and mumbling something about “...writing' his way home.” Of course, there are a lot of folks who think that “Cantrell ain't wrapped too tight” but hope that he keeps writing about his adventures as he finds his way back to the main highway.