Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Texas is crazy. And Austin is part of Texas. Granted, a liberal part overflowing with hippies and hipsters, but in many ways, still very Texas.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago I attended my first rodeo. I’m not entirely sure what I expected from it, but it was not exactly what I had envisioned. At least not entirely. It was in Austin, so I figured it would be similar to the rest of Austin. Nope. It’s a rodeo, so I figured it was outdoors (that’s how they show them in the movies, right?). Nope. Rodeos are on CMT sometimes, so it’s going to be pretty country, right? Well, OK, that one’s true.

First, there was the carnival. The fairgrounds of the Travis County Expo Center were covered in typical carnie greatness. Games that were obviously fixed. Rides that did not inspire confidence in carnie engineering. Every type of food imaginable, including turkey legs, deep-fried pickles, and even pizza on a stick.

Now, there was nothing really noteworthy about the carnival, besides its size (it was pretty fucking big, but once again, this is Texas). It had a cell phone accessories booth, which seemed a little out of place, but not all that exciting. What it did have, though, that I have never seen in real life, was a sideshow. Even though I wasn’t expecting to be amazed, I still felt that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to actually go inside. So I spent my $2 on admission (well, actually, I spent my $2 on two tickets, and then spent my two tickets on admission), and ventured into that tent of wonder.

The sideshow consisted of three animals: a cow with six legs (he had a couple of extra legs dangling off his back), a cow with two noses (odd as it may sound, he looked exactly how you would expect him to look – like a cow with two noses), and the world’s smallest horse (really just a pony). The animals weren’t all that impressive, a little depressing actually, but the rest of the sideshow was pretty cool. Lots of weird fetuses of all kinds in yellowy glass jars, and some amazing feats of taxidermy. There was the ram’s head with four horns (totally looked like something off some ‘70s metal album), the unicorn lamb, but the real attraction was the Cyclops lamb. Now, this wasn’t just a stuffed lamb with one eye. No, no, no. This was a lamb with, ready for this?, ok: 1 eye, 3 ears, 2 bodies, 6 legs, 2 tails, and I can’t even remember what else! It just blew my mind that at some point, in the recent history of mankind, someone sat down at a table with at least two separate lamb bodies, and thought to himself, “Let’s do this…” Proceeding to create the white-trash fantasy piece before me. Truly inspiring.

But that’s enough about carnies and sideshows, time for the main event, the mother-fucking rodeo!

As I said earlier, this is not what I was expecting. Inside the arena, we were greeted with a spectacle falling somewhere between an NBA game and a pro-wrestling event. It started with a laser light show featuring alt-rock accompaniment, followed by some fireworks and a ridiculous monster-truck style announcement that the rodeo had begun. Abruptly the mood changed as the lights came on and an old man in a cowboy hat appeared on the big screen, talking endlessly in that old man way about how great the rodeo is and how great America is. At some point there was also an extended commercial for some new Toyota truck (the new Tundra, I think), that involved a monkey in a cowboy costume doing cowboy stuff (e.g. wranglin’ and lassoin’).

Finally we get to the actual rodeo. This part is more or less what I was expecting. There was the typical events, falling into one of two categories. Either some kind of riding event or some kind of wrangling event. There was the bareback bronco riding, which was admittedly really really awesome. Cowboys truly are real fucking men. They sit on top of a horse, with no saddle, get the horse all riled up, and then see how long they can stay on. There was also the saddle-back riding, which is essentially the same thing as bareback but with a saddle.

Now, I want you to take a moment to really let the balls-out absurdity of this sink in. For no real reason, a man is willing to sit on the back of a giant animal. Go out of his way to piss that animal off. And then for the hell of it, see how long he can hold onto this giant angry beast. Pretty amazing.

There was also the wrangling events. These I wasn’t as in to as the riding events. They all consisted of a man (or men) on horseback and a steer. The steer and the cowboys were released from their side-by-side gates, and the cowboys had to catch the steer according to the rules of that specific event. There was the one with two cowboys with lassos, one of whom lassoed the horns and the other lassoed the back legs. This was impressive from a skill sense, but not really what got me going in terms of excitement. There was the event in which a single cowboy would lasso the steer, jump down from his horse, and then wrestle the steer down to hog-tie it. Once again, impressive from a skill standpoint, but wreaked a little too much of animal cruelty for my taste. By far the best wrangling event, though, was the one in which the steer was released with a single cowboy. The cowboy almost immediately leapt off his horse onto the steer and wrestled it down by hand. Now this event was pretty awesome for much of the same reason the bareback riding was awesome. There was a certain brazen stupidity in it that really appealed to me. Somehow these men were earning my respect by putting themselves needlessly in harms way to mess with a potentially dangerous animal. God bless America.

Before moving on to the greatest event of the night, a quick word about some inter-events. While the crew was setting up for the next round of real cowboy action, they had some fun little things to keep the audience’s interest and get the kids involved. The first of which was called “Mutton Bustin”. The consisted of children, ranging in age from 5 to 7 years old, laying the child face down on the back of a sheep, and then releasing the sheep and seeing how long the child can stay on. Kind of a fun, safe version of the adult riding events. It was actually a fun little time. We all cheered on the children. We all laughed when they did something cute or when a sheep appeared to run over a child. Good clean fun. By far, though, the craziest of these little non-events was something called the “Calf Scramble”. This was for a slightly older crowd, the participants looked to be in their teens, 14 to 16 –ish, maybe. They also might have been all girls, I don’t really remember. This is crazy enough it warrants its own paragraph. The thoughts running through my head and out my mouth are provided in real time in parentheses.

The teens all line up in the middle of the arena watching a man in a hat. A gate opens and out come a large crowd of calves. (huh, that’s weird, I wonder what they’re going to–) Hat drops! Kids rush off the line. (wait! What are they doing?! They can’t honestly be…) Mad rush of teenagers meets with scattering herd of calves. (OH MY GOD. They are. No. That can’t be right. Can it?) The teenagers begin to corner the calves individually, wrestling them to the ground by hand, and then hitch them up so they can drag them off the arena floor, presumably for some kind of prize. (oh my god. They are. That’s really how this works. How fucking weird…) As the calves dwindle in numbers, some of the slower and smaller teens continue to struggle. (Conor: Hey Scott, look at that.) Small teen girl has a calf by the tail and is being dragged on her stomach across the length of the arena. (Scott: HAHAHAHA!!! Oh, that poor calf. heehee, stupid little girl.) Eventually the slow and the small team up to corner the last calf and over power it with sheer numbers. And so ends the fast and exciting ride that is “Calf Scramble”.

After some events that I’ve probably forgotten about (I didn’t forget about barrel racing, I just chose not to watch it in favor of peeing out a couple of $6 beers), so I’ll jump ahead the main event – BULL RIDING!!!

In terms of rules, there really isn’t much more to bull riding than to bareback or saddle riding. Except, instead of riding a big angry horse, these guys ride huge fucking pissed off BULLS. Just to give you an idea of how big a bull is, they generally weigh just under 2000 lbs. That’s one ton. One ton of pissed off animal. I noticed at this point, that the cowboys, while waiting for their gate to open, will give the bull a healthy smack now and again. The bulls are pissed off already, you stupid son-of-a-bitch! You don’t need to hit it more! The gate would open, the cowboy would try his damnedest to stay on for longer than 8 seconds, and then would be graded on form. (How weird is that? They get graded on their form while riding a wild and angry one-ton animal. Once again, please take a moment to appreciate the absurdity of this.) I thought bulls were scary before, but after having seen this event, by far my favorite of the night, I know now that bulls are FUCKING TERRIFYING. These things are big and mean. And unlike the horses from the riding events, who would just run around in a big circle until a rider could catch up and bring him in, the bulls would stand in the middle of the arena looking to fuck someone up. Staring down anything, and charging everything.

Which brings me to the clowns. Now, I mentioned before that these cowboys were “real men”, but rodeo clowns are real men with real big balls. While the rider runs off to safety, the clowns run around, distracting the bull, getting it to chase and charge at them. How big do your balls have to be to take a job that basically comes down to getting a bull to charge at you? Pretty fucking big. I’d imagine, I mean, I didn’t see any clown balls that night. Though, they do wear those baggy low-crotched pants. After the last bull rider, the clowns put on a fun show, where a bull chased them around, trying to hurt them. At one point the bull did the bull-preparing-to-charge move, with the lowered head, staring out the tops of its eyes, as it flung dirt back with strokes of its front hooves. Then it would make its mad dash to mess up some clowns. It was good fun.

Unfortunately after the clowns they brought out some crappy soft-rock country band named Lonestar. Really bad. That’s all I’ll say about them.

All in all, though, my first rodeo experience was a good one. I’d be willing to make another go of it next year. Personally, I think that there needs to be more sports that center on the concept of man v. animal. Maybe when I visit Laura this summer I can talk her into taking me out to an alligator wrestling farm or something.

I’ll leave you with a recent example of what I mean when I say “Texas is crazy” or that something is “very Texas”.

All week last week I was getting weird questions from my students and strange emails from the President of UT. The President sent out an email early on in the week explaining that classes would not be cancelled on Friday. That the governor would not be closing government offices, and thus class was still on. “Huh, that’s weird,” I thought, “Why would the President need to specifically say that class is not cancelled?” Well, starting Wednesday, I started getting emails from my students asking if there was still lecture on Friday. Once again, I thought, “Why wouldn’t there be class on Friday? What the hell is going on?” Then Thursday some students drop by my office hours asking if class will be in session on Friday. I finally had to breakdown and ask, “Uh, yeah. Why wouldn’t there be class? I mean, is something going on that I don’t know about?” “Oh, no, not really. It’s just that tomorrow is Good Friday.” As some of you may or may not know, this past Friday was Good Friday (that is, the Friday before Easter Sunday for you heathens). Well, apparently, Texas’ governor has cancelled public school classes and all government offices on Good Friday in the past. Does this strike anyone else as strange? That all the government offices and all public schools in the state would close for Good Friday? While discussing this bizarre phenomenon with a recent acquaintance, he explained, “Yeah, he usually does it, but it’s not an election year this year.” WHAT?! That makes even less sense! Why would the governor go out of his way to combine church and state by closing everything for Good Friday, especially during an election year? Why would he want to draw attention to this sort of controversial behavior and want it impacting his election? Well, because this is Texas. And Texas is crazy.


b-real said...

But...but I *love* Lonestar!

Scott said...

Apparently they're famous or something. I think I recognized a couple of their songs from Middle-School dances. Plus they scored the sweet Friday night slot, while Kenny Rogers got bumped back to Thurday. So someone loves these guys.