March 5, 2013. I’m attending the School of Energy conference, learning about drill-bit hydrocarbons and the shale revolution here in Houston, the energy capital of America. A conference perk last night was Rodeo Houston. Around a hundred and fifty of us attendees piled into two big buses and went to Reliant Stadium, where we had our own box replete with food and drink. The view of the rodeo arena was awesome (see photo to the left), and the place is as huge as you’d expect of Texas. Above the arena was a display device with half a dozen high-def screens pointing every direction for closeup views of the action: saddleback bronc-riding, calf-roping, barrel racing in four-horse wagons…and death-defying bull-riding.
A bull rider grips a a bull rope with one hand and has to stay astride the bucking beast for eight seconds. The riders are real cowboys who take some real dangerous chances riding a real 2,000-pound bull – some of which are meaner than hell and attack the rider after dislodging him from his precarious grip on their backs. Last night, a cowboy [from my home state of South Dakota] was thrown almost at once, but his hand got trapped in the bull rope and he couldn’t let go. Rodeo clowns – totally not circus clowns – jumped in to distract the bull and extricate the cowboy. One grabbed the bull’s tail, which was not only effective but fun to watch! Bull riding, Rodeo Houston
Another fun event was the calf scramble, where a bunch of teens and pre-teens gather in the middle of the arena and try to
catch a calf, put a halter on one and walk ’em off. Talk about funny! Those little calves evaded the kids easily, even once the boy or girl had a rope on them they still got away. The winner was a girl who looked to be about 12! Equally fun was the sheep-riding competition, referred to as “mutton-busting,” where five-year-olds grip the lamb’s thick wool coat, clamp their knees to its sides, and just hold on for dear life for five seconds. The winner was a little guy who was awarded a cowboy-style, Texas-sized belt buckle.
All the while I was sitting in my choice box seat, my classmates from the energy conference came, sat down and talked rodeo, got up and went back for more food and drink, as did I. The buffet was Tex-Mex and it was great grub. As the rodeo moved toward a close and people settled into their seats, three tall, beautiful blond cowgirls climbed into the seats next to me. The young lady sitting beside me wore a black Western hat and smelled absolutely delicious. She whipped out her iPhone, as did the other two, and they proceeded to text for the remainder of the evening.
Soon enough it was time for the concert. An enormous mobile bandstand literally drove onto the field and before long a big black SUV rolled out to it, depositing our musical star, Brad Paisley, and his bandmates. The blonde cowgirl in the black hat seated next to me turned and looked me in the face. Her large blue eyes sparkled; her bright red lips smiled at me and her perfume filled my nostrils. “Ah, uh, you like Braid Peasley?” I stammered. “Never heard him before,” she replied, and turned back to the watch him play, all the while thumbing her text messages..
Now, I grew up in South Dakota and Wyoming, and am no stranger to C&W, but at a certain point in high school, having discovered Miles Davis, I turned my back on it. And not a moment too soon, I thought. But last night,
Brad Paisley made me come alive to how much C&W music has changed and evolved. Brad was by turns earnest, funny, romantic and satirical. He performed; gosh, the guy jumped around, ran across the stage, took his wireless guitar and mike right out to the grandstands and played up close and personal. At one point a small person wearing an enormous Brad Paisley foam-head caricature walked the grounds, demonstrating that Brad can laugh at himself. On his second sojourn out to the audience, a young filly jumped the fence and headed for him, only to be intercepted by the security staff. Brad stepped up, dispatched them, and gave her a hug before sending her back to her seat. What a guy.
I had a great time. I loved the rodeo, I loved seeing all the people wearing their finest Western wear, and I loved the feeling of being with like-minded people all having a very civilized good time [except, maybe, for having to endure the analyst from Calgary sitting behind me woo-hoo-whooping every time a cowboy came out of the chutes]. I love these Texans. They’re good people, and they make me feel I’m back home with my Western family again.
But all too soon it was time to set my reveries aside and head out to the buses with the rest of the gang. Except there were no buses. Everybody started freaking out; how were we to get back to the hotel? And besides, it was 30 degrees outside, much colder than anybody, Texans or visitors, had expected. Our Fearless Leaders, upon concluding we were not going to see the buses, began searching for alternate transportation. We stopped at limo after limo, but all were taken. Then one hawk-eyed attendee stopped, pointed, cried, “Look! Out there in the parking lot! Isn’t that our bus?” And sure enough it was: while traffic was swarming out of the lots, our poor bus had become stranded trying to go against the flow. It was stuck about a city block and a half away.
Our group headed for it, grateful for its warmth, but we had to get back to where it was supposed to pick up the others. The oncoming cars were just not going to let us move. We inched forward, but were blocked several times. Paige, one of our Fearless Leaders, jumped off the bus and stepped in front of a big black SUV to clear the way. It backed up politely, and we all waved our thanks out the windows. The SUV blinked red and blue lights back at us. It was an unmarked police vehicle! Then, to our great surprise, it turned on all its police lights and swung in front of us again, this time going our direction, and blazed a trail for us through the oncoming traffic back to our parking area. We stopped several times until we’d gotten everyone aboard and exited out another direction, pretty much avoiding the heavy traffic we’d been bucking.
What an adventure! I shudder to reflect on what would have happened if Paige hadn’t decided to play traffic cop to the cops, or if they had decided not to look kindly upon our plight. I’m certain we would have been there for hours. Ah, these Texans, with hearts as big as the whole danged Lone Star State. I just love ’em.