“Dew’s got the cutest ass in this bar,” said Pam. “Show her!”
The Gilley’s reunion in July had brought out a few regulars from the legendary Pasadena honky-tonk that closed in 1989. Dew stayed firmly planted in his chair across the table from me and let out a belly laugh. “I’ve made it to every one of the reunions, but this guy only made it to two!” Pam went on. “I looked for this guy every year, and when he finally showed up, I didn’t recognize him. I said, ‘Who’re you?’ and he said, ‘I’m Dew,’ and I said, ‘Oh, shit.’ And the movie was made about him.”
The movie was Urban Cowboy, based on the life
and loves of Pasadena’s own Dew Westbrook, whose fortunes have come full circle since Aaron Latham wrote the “Urban Cowboy” story for Esquire magazine in 1978 as well as the screenplay for the 1980 movie that featured the world’s most famous mechanical bull. The night before the reunion, Dew had been leaving his regular Pasadena hangout, the Texas Saloon, when the band started playing the theme song from Urban Cowboy, “Lookin’ for Love.” Nobody had requested it; it’s a standard country ballad around here. And like a scene from the film, Dew had stopped by the bar to share a moment with a beautiful blonde before stepping out into the truck-filled parking lot, where the song echoed in the sticky, oil-scented air.
“Lookin’ for Love” could be the real-life theme song of the original Urban Cowboy. Dew (for “Donald Edwin Westbrook”) doesn’t feel any nostalgia for the Hollywood version of his life. He’s never even watched the movie. “Who’s got time?” he said. “I’ve seen bits and pieces of it. Travolta did good. I think he did a good job from what I’ve seen.” He squinted his blue eyes mischievously as he smiled, then he laughed from the gut. “I’ve been survivin’—doin’ life, you know? Traveled around the U.S. building nuclear powerhouses, doing a lot of construction.” After he left Pasadena in 1980, he worked in 32 states, roaming around the country with his third wife, Kelly, and their two girls, who are now twelve and fourteen. But two years ago, when he and Kelly separated, Dew moved his daughters to Pasadena.
The night of the reunion, Dew drove his truck around the bend in the highway where Deer Park’s refineries were lit up like a miniature city skyline. He passed the sign “Pay Checks Cashed” as he pulled into the parking lot of G’s Ice House, the new joint run by Gilley’s owner, Sherwood Cryer.
A man wearing the exact same attire as Dew, a blue Wrangler shirt and dark blue Wrangler jeans, told the original Urban Cowboy to park out back. “Out back?” Dew said. “I’m the guy who started all this shit.”
“Well, then park way out back,” the doppelgänger replied with a smile that said “I’m kidding” and dead-serious eyes that said “I’m not.”
Dew parked beside the dumpster next to the Ice House and walked past five mechanical bulls to the entrance, where he was immediately spotted by Debbie. Debbie is one of the Gilley’s gals who hasn’t changed much since the seventies—she still wears her long, straight brown hair parted down the middle. (She also wears her jeans so tight, Pam discovered, that slapping her rear makes your hand sting.)
Debbie grabbed Dew’s arm and shouted, “Hey, baby!” above the din of the band as she hugged him. “You know, three years ago this place was packed. This year nobody’s showed up. Half of ‘em are dead; the other half don’t care.” She threw her head back and laughed. It’s true: Many of the old Gilley’s regulars still see each other three times a week,