Bull riders come to town

United States 2005

Last night Brian and I were at a rodeo, probably the closest I’ll ever get to a Republican Party convention. All the great Southern stereotypes were gathered, filling the arena with Stetsons, shirt–jeans–boots combos, and families with far more children than parents. The only person more out of place than me were the couple wearing ‘Rainbow Nation’ t-shirts looking for a priest to perform a gay marriage. As we took our seats we were subjected to a pro-war propaganda video (which received big applause) complete with soft-focus scenes of soldiers helping small children walk to a newly-built school (should I even suggest why the children’s parents weren’t there?) and all the usual pish. After that I had trouble hearing the announcer so I found myself standing for Christian prayer. Then we had four mounted army soldiers trot into the arena for loud applause and cheers, followed by an all-rise, hats-off rendition of the national anthem.

‘Wait, wait, wait’, I was thinking, ‘what’s just happened here?’ I’d bought a ticket for a rodeo, and I’d ended up in my worst nightmare! The America I’d managed to avoid thus far has suddenly come tumbling into my lap, and it was a huge culture shock. I felt distinctly uncomfortable, and I was wondering what I’d got myself in to. Fortunately everybody seemed to have it out of their system after twenty minutes or so, and we readied for some bull riding.

The riders were introduced one-by-one to cheers, fireworks, and flames — about forty-five in all. The announcer brought the crowd to fever-pitch, instilling that pointless importance in us all that only sport can bring, and then the first rider was off.

Bull riding works like this: the bull gets put into a pen on the edge of the arena that’s just big enough to hold it; it can’t turn in any direction, and it can only move forwards or backwards half a metre or so. This restriction allows the bull rider to climb over the pen fence and onto the bull’s back. He settles himself and tightens the rope that’s wrapped around the bull’s belly: the rider can only hold on with one hand, so he basically ties that to the bull’s back with the rope. When he’s happy the gate to the arena opens and the bull tries to get the rider off his back. The aim of the game is for the rider to stay on the bull’s back for a mere eight seconds. Just eight seconds. That should tell you how hard it is. The bull is not at all happy that the rider’s on his back; having watched three hours of bull riding I think the bull’s thoughts go something like this:

‘What the hell are you doing on my back? Get off. I said get off! Right then, if you’re not going to get off, I’m going to make you. You are going to pay, sonny. I’m going to hurt you, your family, their friends, people you’ve passed in the street, their friends, and then their dogs. You will feel pain!’

[Rider falls off]

‘Ah ha ha ha ha! Now you’re going to get it. Prepare to feel the pain of me sticking a horn in your head. Oh wait, who’s this? Alright, I’ll gore you first, then the rider, and then anyone else in the vicinity. Actually, I don’t feel that angry anymore, maybe I’ll just go off on a wander. Hello, what’s this? Oh it’s just dirt. What a nice day it is, I wonder what’s over here? Tum-ti-tum-tum.’

The bull is so annoyed while the rider’s on his back, but a few seconds after the rider falls off the bull seems to calm down and be exceptionally happy just standing and staring at stuff. The few seconds after the rider falls off are the most worrying though. While the rider’s on the ground the bull seems intent on goring him. This is obviously very dangerous, and so to make it safer the arena had four bull fighters that stand around inconspicuously while the rider is on the bull, and then jump in to action once he falls. These people are mental: it’s their job to get in between the bull and the rider and get the bull to want to kill them more than their rider. Essentially they go eyeball to eyeball with 700 kilograms of muscle and say things like ‘Yeah, I slept with your mother. Boy, is she ugly! And terrible in bed too. Still, better than your sister.’

Bull riders think bull fighters are mental; they seem to get worse injuries than the riders too: one bull fighter had received a broken neck twice from unhappy bulls. Fortunately for the bull riders and fighters, the bulls don’t stay angry for long. I think they must be very lazy creatures, and so once a rider falls they’re happy, and it’s too much effort to wreak vengeance.

At the end someone had won something, but I don’t know who or what. Only one rider was injured (when a bull stamped on one of his legs), and the fighters were still in one piece — one got close to being gored in the arse though. Although three hours was probably a little too long for my liking, it was great fun.

Road trip

Yesterday evening Paula, Brian, and I spent a wee while planning our road trip. Paula starts a job up in New Hampshire in a few weeks, so we thought we’d have some fun on her journey up. The plan sees us visiting Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston in twelve fun-packed days. To celebrate our brilliant planning techniques we went to Ted Drewes frozen custard parlour on Chippewa. This stuff is gorgeous, but like most American treats, made me feel ill. Brian ate a massive tub and then polished off what I’d left over. Frozen custard is no match for the man who polished off a 2.2 kilogram burger the other day.