Where the Buffalo Seekers Roam

A dream drags RhondaK into a Bay-area wide quest for the elusive symbolic buffalo

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The Plainsmen Gallery on Sunset Point in Clearwater has been open since 1983 catering to that most American of arts —- the Western style. While it might be easy to dismiss as sentimental, the more accurate word would be powerful. Loaded with symbols, half-naked men in poses of ecstatic passion and in all price ranges, the gallery is friendly to the collector, the novice and the merely curious.

The only buffalo on the premises, however, is a painting of a white buffalo. I'm told there has been a strange run on all that is buffalo.

My buffalo dream is hardly my own.

From there I get lost in St. Petersburg which leads to a fortunate find near the Wagon Wheel Flea Market.

In front of the Nickel City Bar & Grille is a large rendering of a magnificent bison.

I step out of the Jeep directly onto someone's false teeth. In the great tradition of hunting, this could mean only two things: this joint is so rough the tooth fairy is a regular — or this place serves some seriously stiff drinks.

Fortunately, it is the latter. With an 8-by-14-inch menu of shots that range from the Leg Spreader to the Sloe Comfortable Screw Against the Wall, the joint promotes tooth loss. Inside against the wall is a white buffalo head. Apparently it wasn't always white. Story goes that a drunk set it on fire with a lighter and its current appearance is cosmetic not prophetic.

Beyond the false teeth, the portents at Nickel City are few, but the pizza is worth a stampede on 19 to get there.

In Kenneth City on 54th Avenue, Armstrong's Western Trend's sign reads, "low carb diet not working? Our jeans go to 60!" It's styled as a sort of Western depot complete with 7-foot cactus and a red stagecoach, and its air of torpor is completed by rocking chairs on the porch. Opening the door floods the senses with high-end suede and leather. Richly embroidered, beaded, fringed clothes drape racks near walls filled with boots and hats.

But buffalo can be found only on bolo ties. The one I buy has a horned skull with feathers dangling from it. BOLO is also the acronym for Be On the Look Out. I take this as a sign that I'm getting closer.

The tie doesn't grease my entry into Buffalo City Bar & Grille, where the only buffalo in evidence is on the neon matchbooks. Buffalo here means Buffalo, New York, as in Tony Marsh on Wednesday nights who swings with Sinatra and the Bossa Nova.

Which is why the men drinking beer for breakfast at Peggy's Corral are such a cheap and funny thrill on the second day of my quest.

"Buffalo," says the man with the antelope in his pants, "They're all over the ceiling."

And so they are. Next to the photographs of breast-flashing women and even one of a woman shooting a beaver from a kiddy pool, are pictures from Sturgis — herds of bikers with herds of buffalo. An ill-advised closeness, as a buffalo has no problem disemboweling a Harley or its rider.

I look for more literal signs.

"I've been beaten, kicked, lied to, taken advantage of and laughed at but the only reason I hang around this crazy place is to see what happens next." I can barely read it around the black bra stapled in front of it. But the sign that means most to me is the one that says $1.00 Bloody Marys on Sunday with free food.

The antelope man says, "Come back on Sunday. There are about 400 bikers here and each of them knows everything."

In two days I've been lost numerous times trying to trace an odyssey through Mapquest.com and the Florida Road Atlas. Maps aren't unlike dreams. They suggest only the roughest outlines of reality. People are kind but unreliable. They'll guide you using common landmarks that disappeared years ago, like the silos, where I'm supposed to turn right.

Backtracking down 41 to the Buffalo Creek Golf Club, I get lost three times looking for silos. Maybe they meant Sisco, a restaurant supplier that also traffics in buffalo meat.

There is no actual Buffalo Creek, but the plush green of the Manatee public golf course is marked at the entrance with a white buffalo on gray granite.

In Native American mythology, the birth of the white buffalo heralded peace on earth and returning prosperity. It has even been likened to the second coming of Christ.

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