This evening we loaded up the rockin’ Town & Country, picked up my mother-in-law, Wilma, and headed out to Fort Worth. It turns out they have a rodeo there at the Cowtown Coliseum. Who knew? Actually my wife and Wilma knew. More to the point, why had they never shared this gem with me? Prompting us to visit Cowtown was a Groupon my wife had come across recently.
Before heading out we got all “western-fied”. The kids have what essentially amounts to last year’s Halloween costumes. Oh I’ve written about this before. A few years ago when we lived in Virginia, Granny and Pa from Texas sent my then-three-year-old son an authentic Western shirt, real leather boots, and a belt with enormous buckle and his name stitched on the back of it. They also sent a cowboy play set that included a fake gun, sheriff’s badge, and a cowboy hat straight from Woody the Cowboy’s wardrobe. Well, he loved it and wore it everywhere he could. When we moved to Texas and my daughter got old enough to voice her own fashion sense she told us that she, too, wanted to look like a cowboy. Don’t worry, we straightened her out with the cowboy/cowgirl thing. As for my part I threw on my only fitting pair of blue jeans. I remarked to my wife that at this point they looked like the male equivalent of mom jeans. Thanks, slowing metabolism. Alas, I could not find a belt that fit. That’s where my late father-in-law’s closet was able to help. Turns out old Marigold had just the thing — a giant belt with an even giant-er buckle. It was heavy, bronze, and had a longhorn on it. Perfect. Top the whole thing off with button down shirt with the likeness of the Gadsden flag on the back (Don’t Tread on Me) and I was set.
We arrived at Cowtown in time to take some fun pictures out front. Then we moseyed inside. Yes, I did say “mosey”. When in Fort Worth… The lights were low, as they are in the Prudential Center before a Devils game. The lights only come up when the game is underway. The arena floor was dirt. The stands were antique. It reminded me of a very large but quaint grandstand, probably just as it looked a hundred years ago when this, the world’s oldest indoor rodeo, first opened. For some reason I had in mind that a rodeo consisted of a bunch of fools trying to hold on to a bucking bull. The winner, it would seem, is the one who holds on the longest. In just a few minutes I would come to see that this is only part of the deal. But first there was the matter of the disgusting vermin crawling around the hall — the clowns. I HATE clowns. My son knows this fact and seems to delight in summoning them in my general direction. Before I could do anything about it there was a painted freak-whore standing in the aisle, five seats down from me blowing up balloons for my kids. I looked away. I was hoping that he accidentally inhale and suck the rubber into his throat and die. All the while, my little boy was squealing with delight. I think this was more at how uncomfortable he had made me.
And at precisely 8:00 it was showtime! Two searchlights started panning the crowds as the loud strains of a familiar tune started playing. It was a symphonic recording of Deep in the Heart of Texas. I started singing along in my mind… “The stars at night are big and bright…” Do you know what happened right then? Come on, you know… CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP!!! Yep, every damn Texan in the building clapped their hands and stomped their feet right at the appropriate pause in the song. OK, this was starting to scare me. However, by the third go-round the beer in my hand must have started to hit me because I joined in. It was sort of fun. When that was over an authoritative voice came over the PA. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise as we begin like we do all things.” I was expecting the national anthem. What I got was a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader reject parading around the arena floor in giant circles, carrying an American flag while Lee Greenwood’s Proud to be an American played. As the song came to its climactic finale, Shontelle down on the floor started looping around faster and faster! Giddyup, horsey! I was convinced she would reach a point in the middle of the arena where the horse would implode and we’d see bits and pieces of mylar and silicone floating through the air. Oh, and then we were asked to remain standing for the anthem. This opening act finished with, of all things and quite refreshingly, a prayer to God our Father for the safety of our troops which was prayed in Jesus’ name. Wow. Good for you, Cowtown.
The announcer had a keen sense of humor. He explained the rules. It had something to do with the riders holding on for at least 8 seconds in order to qualify. Of the twelve or so riders we saw in the first thirty minutes only one actually held on. Said the announcer: “That’s the quickest I’ve ever seen anyone lose a two hundred dollar entrance fee.” But to my surprise I discovered that the rodeo has many different events. Take for instance the next competition wherein a man on a horse twirling a lariat would race out of a gate in hot pursuit of a calf. “Moo!” “Neigh!” Indeed. The horseman chased the calf at breakneck speed until he was within reach and then roped him in. The calf, about the size of a large house cat was quickly felled. The cowboy leaped from his horse, ran across the dirt in his boots, and tied the heck out of that calf’s legs. In a few instances the calf was roped but still standing. Here, the cowboy simply picked the baby cow up by gathering all four legs together and tipped her over onto her side. Apparently you get zero points if you don’t actually rope the calf first and she runs straight through the gates at the other end of the arena.
But the best part of the night came when they took an intermission. The announcer called our attention to the gates on the side of the arena floor. They opened and a flood of little children poured onto the dirt floor. “It’s time for the mutton scramble!” The what now? “That’s right! If you’re a young’un under the age of 10 and you want to chase down a sheep then get yer’self down here before the gates close!” My wife looked at me then at our son. I nodded as if to say “whatever” and he nodded as if to say “Hell yeah!” Moments later my little cowboy was on the floor with a hundred other kids — some younger, some older — and when the clowns gave the signal he did me proud, chasing a woolly beast for a chance to grab a tag off the thing’s tail and claim five bucks. He didn’t win. No, his boots prevented him from running faster then the tart beside him at the starting position. She came prepared with her Air Jordans. I’m glad he resisted the urge to grab the big cowboy’s lasso and take her down. Of course, she was only six.
We stayed a bit longer — just long enough to see the ladies roping competition. I was disappointed that the women didn’t have to tie the calf, just to rope it. Even there, the didn’t have to hold the calf in, just rope it and let the thing ride on with a rope around its neck. That’s humane. But the kids were tired so we packed them up and headed home. All in all I think they enjoyed themselves almost as much as I did and I have my lovely wife and Groupon to thank!