Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Our First Rodeo

Together, that is. In Colorado’s San Luis Valley....

My wife didn’t think she had seen a rodeo before, but her mother told her during their weekly phone conversation that she had, but was apparently too little to remember.

I recalled seeing one at the Carolina Coliseum in Columbia, South Carolina, as a boy in the early to mid-1970s. I was impressed by the rough-and-tough filth of it all, all that powdered dung kicked up in the air and no one caring, along with the mad courage of the rodeo clowns. I remember one diving into a barrel with no time to spare, the audience laughing as he narrowly escaped getting gored by an angry bull, so the rider and the crew could get away. 
Painting on the wall outside of Ski-Hi Arena. A multi-purpose building, we ran across some people playing pickle ball in a small gymnasium room.

Decades later, in 2010, I made the mistake of volunteering to work security for the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo in Colorado Springs. To be fair, I might have enjoyed it more had I paid and watched it. Instead I suffered for the paranoia of a very disorganized bunch who were convinced PETA was sending in brigades of activists to throw “liquid substances” on the animals. Therefore, I had to check the incoming drink cups of everyone—everyone—who walked through my entrance of the stadium.

This went about as well as one might expect with all the regular folk, and they were all regular folk, not one weasel-eyed hippie among them. Compounding the misery was one particularly yappy, meddlesome old man going around reassigning people throughout the event to different entrances, based on his view on which ones were the most vulnerable. This view changed constantly, in as much time as it took him to walk from group to group, sending people different places, because they were volunteers, he worked for the rodeo, and they had to listen to him.

One of the other people in charge had the temerity to raise his voice at me in the course of asking me what I was doing at another location other than the one he’d assigned me. As I explained he made a face that told me he knew just what had happened, and I told him maybe he ought to raise his voice at the old man. He did what I now wished I had done the moment that fool opened his mouth: walked away without a word. 

Oh, yeah, and at the end of the day, for all the ill-will we endured making people open the tops of their Big Gulps and whatnot, nothing. No PETA pranking. Not so much as a thank you, either. I’d have been happy with a bottle of water; it was hot that day, even in the shade of the apron about the arena, but with all those people pushing in.

Bottom line, never again on Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Days. With respect to the cowboys, cowgirls, cowhands, etc. who work hard, and pay out the nose in registration fees to make the actual show happen, I would not support such an obtuse mess of an organization again. 
It’s always sunnier on the other side of the arena.

I follow various local Facebook pages offering news on events in Monte Vista and the San Luis Valley, and learned there was a four-Sunday series of rodeos a little over a mile from my house at the Ski-Hi Arena (pronounced sky-high; yes, I know) where the bigger San Luis Valley Stampede rodeo series convenes the last weekend of every July. Admission was only five dollars each, and if the weather was fine, we could walk there. Which it was, and we did, to the final show of the “Spring in the Valley” rodeo series on 21 May.

The walk went well, but once at the arena (it’s not large enough to be called a stadium), we had to ask where we went to pay our admittance. We walked up the south side of the stands where a young woman sat on one of the long aluminium bench seats. It turns out she was taking the money for tickets. And they only took cash. I had just enough change in my pockets to get us in. 
This rodeo didn’t have made up clowns, but these men  along the fence would serve the same function during the bull riding. Among them was a burly 12-year-old doing the equivalent of his internship.

Ironic, eh? I’m an old guy, and I expect everyone to have a smartphone with a square to take my plastic. And I don’t even own a smartphone, because what on earth would this old guy who lives in front of a 26-inch desktop monitor, who only leaves the house to go to the grocery store, the liquor store, or his favorite restaurant, do with one?
I moved the camera a little to the left to catch a view of the omnipresent Sange de Cristo Mountains in the background.

We took our places in the empty stands. At once we wished we’d gone over to the south-facing stands across the arena, but it looked to be well-shaded, too. Which is as it should be, given that the biggest rodeo is in July. This was May, and even as far as the weekend before Memorial Day Weekend, it pays to bring a jacket with you in this part of Colorado. What we hadn’t noticed on our mile-long walk up became most apparent while we were trying to sit still.

People trickled into the stands, although not as many as I’d have expected/liked to have seen for a show that cost all of $5 USD to enter. I suppose this rodeo organization makes its money from participant registration fees, along with the sponsorships. We watched as a man driving a red tractor groomed the fields as we waited for the show to begin.

In a dramatic flourish, the emcee raced out to the middle of the field and skidded to a halt on his horse. Through the magic of wireless technology he announced the lineup while riding around the ring. 

Something I’d forgotten that I might see: a young, fresh-faced Sweetheart of the Rodeo showing the flag before the National Anthem. Given the near-unbelievable coarseness of our culture today, watching this smartly dressed cowgirl ride around the arena with the flag was like watching a re-enactment of a more wholesome age. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what it was. A beautiful anachronism I was proud to stand and remove my hat for.

The opening contest was bull-riding. A local favorite from Monte Vista was one of two who managed to stay on board for the requisite eight seconds.

They had breaks in which children from the stands were invited to come down and remove the ribbon attached to the tail of a running calf or sheep.

The next major event involved two cowpunchers—often a man and a woman, but not always—riding in tandem to lasso a calf running across the length of the arena. It held our interest well enough, but as you can see in the above photo, the sky had clouded. Absent sunlight, the temperature drops rapidly at 7,600 feet. The freshening winds drove us out of our seats, and we began our walk home.

Still, this was a positive experience I wish more people attended. Of course, we have the San Luis Valley (SLV) Ski-Hi Stampede to look forward on the last weekend in July. Billed as the oldest rodeo in Colorado, I can testify from my inaugural experience last year that it’s the biggest party of the year in Monte Vista, with parades on Friday and Saturday, fireworks, and all kinds of events, fundraising dinners, etc., piggybacking on the appeal of the rodeo itself. I hope I can take in some actual bull-riding this year.