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A beaver, a gator — what’s the diff if you gotta go?

May 19, 2018 GMT

A beaver and an alligator walk into a roadside stop …

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The beaver, a behemoth in his field, is instantly recognized. He is, after all, not just a regular; with bagged nuggets of goodness that taste like Cap’n Crunch and chocolate Beaver Dams that taste like smushed cherry cordials — he’s a favorite.

Those who traveled far stop in for a little relief, see him and smile. He’s a high roller, this beaver; he has a reputation for being there when he’s needed and then charming those he draws in with truckloads of good things that are not necessarily needed but that are very cute.

With his easy smile and man-of-the-people red cap, he’s the center of his own circle. Nobody has anything on him — he’s more than earned his seat at the table.

The gator, on the other hand, is somewhat of a newcomer on the scene — except in the eyes of those who love him or, more likely, the ones who see him every day. He, too, is out on the road with comfort and souvenirs, but is forging a path in an industry that keeps South Texans fat and very, very happy. He walks in, finds a good seat at a prominent table and proceeds to do his thing.

He leaves his cowboy hat on.

Soon, he’s got his own circle, and he’s in the center of it. You’re all right, some people say, slapping his back. The beaver notices.

Then, a pair of bleary-eyed travelers, tired and hungry from a long stretch of forced on-the-road conversation, enters the bar.

“I’m looking,” one says, “for that critter in the hat.”

“Yeah,” nods the other. “The one with his own circle.”

The bartender — or maybe it’s the hostess, depending on how fancy the joke-teller wants to get — looks bumfuzzled.

“Do … you … mean … the beaver?” she asks tentatively.

The alpha beaver eyeballs the gator, then looks up at the travelers with an earnest, open smile. The gator glances at the beaver, then lights up in the direction of the tourists and gives them a big smiley thumbs-up, a You-got-it-Boss finger point. Or maybe he’s licking his lips and saying “Yep, I got another one!” Who knows. Nobody can be sure of his intent. One can only speculate one way or another.

“I don’t know,” says one of the travelers, looking nervously at the far walls of the establishment and not at either animal.

“I guess it doesn’t matter,” says the other one as she begins to dance. “As long as I can get a place to sit.”

The beaver, feeling disrespected, stands up. Of course it matters, he argues — and it’s a good argument. He’s got street cred — more important, he’s got highway cred. Nobody gets to ride on his big beaver tail.

The alligator says any animal can appear on the roadside and offer tourists ribs and a place to wash one’s hands. While smiling and wearing a hat inside a yellow circle.

So they’re in a standoff — but here come’s the punchline:

The travelers — wait for it! — don’t care. Everyone gets their day in court, a beaver looks nothing like a gator, but that doesn’t matter because when you gotta go, you gotta go. And the one that wins that contest is the one that’s closest.