Thursday, August 04, 2005

Cowboys are cool...

I've got thing for cowboys. I covered rodeos for several years, I can't help it.

It all started with a freelance job. I had done a couple of magazine pieces and was trying to do more. I found a publication called ProRodeo Sports News and called them up. I told them I could cover a rodeo just up the road for them. They asked if I knew anything about rodeo and I lied. I got the job.

The Sisters Rodeo (The Biggest Little Show in the West) was my first rodeo and I was going to write about it for what turned out to be the Sports Illustrated of the Rodeo World. Thankfully, I didn't know that it was a big stink publication in the rodeo world at the time.

Basically, my knowledge of rodeo was that if it was trying to buck you off, you were supposed to stay on and if it was running away from you, you were supposed to catch it... humble beginnings indeed.

I met a lady in the contestant's area and we started talking. She explained some things to me and then said I should talk to her nephews...apparently they knew a bit about the sport. I grudgingly accepted her invitation thinking it would only take a couple of minutes and then I could get back to the real job of covering this event. Well, She introduced me to her nephews. One was a multi-time world champion bronc rider and his younger brother was on his way to winning his own world championship gold buckle that very year. These cowboys, Marvin and Mark Garrett, were a couple of the nicest, down-to-earth guys I've met. They took the time to explain the sport and gave me some pretty durn good quotes too.

A week or so later, I was supposed to cover a Hunter/Jumper horse event for a national equestrian magazine. The event started on Tuesday or Wednesday and ran through the weekend. I went out to the event grounds and stopped at the office to get my credentials. The woman there was a bitch and more than a bit snotty. I put up with her giving me the run around about getting copies of results during the week for awhile and then finally decided it wasn't worth it.

"If coverage in ***insert national horse magazine here*** isn't worth a couple minutes of your time, then fuck you and your shitty event," I said. "I'm sure your sponsors and the event director will be pleased."

They weren't, but I didn't care. I called ProRodeo Sports News and asked if I could cover anything for them. They asked if I could go that weekend. I never looked back.

Along the way, I learned a lot and met some pretty cool people. One thing I learned is that these guys lead a tough life, but they wouldn't trade it in for the world. I also learned that cowboys really can be like comic book heros.

Here's a couple of examples:

*** I drove a beat-up Chevy pickup to the grounds. It was - to put it kindly - distinctive. It was also prone to having starter problems. At one rodeo, I had to replace the starter in the dirt at the grounds. A cowboy came over and gave me a hand without even knowing me. I saw him a few weeks later and he asked if the truck was okay. I bought him a beer and it was never mentioned again.

*** One year at Sisters, someone on the rodeo commitee (which I had joined by then) asked me to pick up a contestant at the little airport outside of town. That wasn't uncommon since most of the top cowboys tried to charter small planes if they could since they often had to travel pretty great distances between rodeos. I picked up the reigning world champion saddle bronc rider, Dan Mortensen, in my crapped-out Chevy. He grinned and hopped right in. Instead of bitching about the dirty ride, he pointed to some flies I had stuck to my dash.

"You fish?" he asked.

"A bit," I said. "I'm not very good."

He laughed and said, "Me either, but it sure is fun. I wish I had some time here. I hear there's good fishing around here."

He always gave me a nod when I saw him after that. Even at the National Finals Rodeo in Vegas.

*** Most rodeo grounds are split into two areas - the contestants' area and the rest of the grounds. I used to leave my camera bag sitting on the ground in the contestants' area all time. I never had any problems despite the fact that there were alway several lenses and bodies in there.

At one event, I came back to find -- well, nothing. My bag was gone. The rodeo was over and it was just some people milling around afterward. I felt sick. It was unbelievable that someone would just take it...that kind of thing never happened.

Just as I was about to lose it, a guy walks up and asks if I'm the camera guy. He then proceeds to tell me he moved my stuff into the announcer's booth so it wouldn't get hurt because he thought it might be expensive. I nearly kissed the guy...I stopped short of that and just thanked him.

*** In Bremerton, Washington, I had the great joy of having dinner with the then Miss Rodeo America. MiQuel Holyoak was one of the most beautiful girls around and she was spending some time between performances with me. I was in heaven.

Well, wouldn't you know...of course the starter on my truck went bad right after dinner. MiQuel sat up in the cab, peaceful as could be, reading a magazine and turning the ignition when I would yell up to her. Finally, it got going and I took her back to her motel to get changed for the evening show.

'Sorry about that," I said. "I hope this doesn't make you late."

Most girls wouldn't have been very impressed with the showing, but she just hopped out and grinned.

"I wasn't too worried. I knew you could get it started," she said laughing. "You know I love your truck, but next time...maybe I should drive."

Next time, she did drive...

Anyway, that's just a couple of reasons I have a thing for cowboys and - even more so - for cowgirls. I still miss that culture and wish the rest of the world was a bit more like it. Ah well...maybe someday.

Till then, Happy Trails...


Notta Wallflower said...

I have secretly loved cowboys for most of my life. It started when I was young because my grandpa (who I lived with at the time) was a cowboy and a damn good one too. He was not a rodeo type cowboy, but just a down-to-earth type cowboy. He owned a ranch with cattle and horses and took my brother and me to rodeos around Canada, Washington, and Oregon. I still have my grandpa's cowboy boots sitting in my room - they are the only things of his I wanted when he passed away.

Miranda said...

Thanks, Shawn :) A pleasure to read, as always.

Sadie Lou said...

I'm doing my son's room in a cowboy theme. The new baby will be here soon & the two boys will share. My inspiration came from all the Mexican cowboys we have had in our family's history. There is just something so cool about the classic, rugged man in the cowboy hat sitting on some horse and smoking a cigarette.
Cool post.

The Zombieslayer said...

Shawn - Ever since that amazing post on my blog a few days back, I've seen you in an entirely new light. You seem to be opening up a lot more recently. A big change in your life? If so, it was definitely for the better.

I love cowgirls and have found cowboys to be so much, much different from the jerks they are on TV. I don't even like country music, but I know I could always have a good time in a cowboy bar. And yes, rodeos are actually quite fun.

Shawn said...

Jen -- I'll bet your Grandpa was a good man. That's the kind of people I met and admired when I lived out West. It's a small world too...I bet we've been to a few of the same rodeos even if not at the same time.

Hey ZS -- Thanks for the nice thought. I wish I could say I've been riding an updraft lately, but that's not so much the case. I think it's just some of the regular ups and downs that are my life that you've noticed. I do have to say that your post about real men got me thinking, and kept me thinking... and that's always a good thing.

Jason said...

Wow, you should have proposed to her right then!

Josh said...

Your cowboy stories are excellent, dude. It's good to read your writing again, even if you did refer to me today as "having a bi edge." I just don't think most people make the leap from there to "bicoastal." Is it the picture? It's the picture, isn't it?

Shawn said...

Josh - If you like the cowboy stories, you should hear some of my newspaper stories... Oh wait, you were there. Come to think of it, I'm drunk in most of them... nevermind.

I want to see your writing dude. I know you have some hidden up there at the cabin.

Jason - No kidding... She's beautiful, smart, rides a mean horse and she likes to fish too. Somebody is going to be a lucky man...