Longtime pal Bonnie Dirks saddled up in the west Valley and stopped by our place a few days ago and we did some reminiscing of time spent at the irrepressible Cowboy Palace Saloon in Chatsworth. That’s where I learned to do the two-step and the ways of urban cowboys. And as I’ve noted, it also led to associations elsewhere. The Palace was a bit of a home-away-from-home over the best part of ten years. You know the story: I was lured there by a manicurist and subsequently fell in with a gang of people who included Bonnie.

For me, all of that is gone now, especially since the 15-minute drive from my former home in Woodland Hills to the Palace was replaced by a 90-minute drive from Orange County. Kris and I make the tour on more like a bi-monthly basis, but there’s less and less appeal as time goes on. What’s left is the retention of a few old friends who we get to see on occasion.

What we talked about on that late Sunday afternoon were the changes: the things we missed, along with the things we did not. I’m not aware that we concurred on the “did nots,” but I, for one, certainly do not miss the noise. You know the line: If it’s too loud, you’re too old. Maybe. But every Saturday night the gang would launch the evening with serious boozing at a Mexican bar a couple of doors down from the Palace where the volume inside was a shrieking affair. Conversation was a matter of shouting in the ear of the person next to you. Outside — when we finally escaped into the night — the silence was deafening.

Nor do I miss the couple of “personality conflicts” that sprang up over the years. Without providing particulars, I will just say that it happens if you frequent “family bars” long enough. Somebody doesn’t like your looks or politics or is convinced that you’re after “his” girl. Sustained aversion of eye contact always helps and eventually eliminates the issue.

But what both of us did miss was the gang itself, which has eroded for one reason or another. The “glue” that held us together, of course, was the common cause, and for the dozen or more of us it was the dance floor and the camaraderie that came with it. The Palace supplied house bands that played the songs we knew and called the dances we knew. Dramatic change was not encouraged. We even had our own corner that provided a small space for all of us; first one there nailed it down.

Tradition is wonderful, but eventually the allure fades and that nasty business of boredom intrudes, along with the face in the mirror. Country music keeps fans forever, but you do begin to look for some freshness and even minor change. And in time the new blood will inevitably start to encroach on “your corner.”

Time, however slowly, to go.

And yet, the stories never go away. Like or don’t like — thumbs up or thumbs down — what you come back to are the stories — oh alright, the gossip. Who broke up with whom, what guy is back living with his parents, the DUI lists, who was seen doing something outrageous in her car in the parking lot, and who took one on the chin right on the dance floor. What you really showed up on Saturday night for.

The salad days are gone perhaps, but never, ever forgotten, and you’ve gotta love that. Which is why we keep talking about it.