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Rodeo Drive

July 29, 2011

For the Hamster and I, a big focus of our trip is to see things we’ve never seen and do things we’ve never done. We also wanted to do as many particularly American things as possible: skyscrapers … baseball … cowboys … driving. Tonight we checked off one of the big ones on both lists: the rodeo.

Forget attending a rodeo–we had never even seen one on TV before. When I left home 2+ weeks ago the extent of my rodeo knowledge was that Luke Perry was in that rodeo movie, “8 seconds,” a few years back, and I didn’t see the movie. And Sam knew even less than I: he couldn’t even tell you who Luke Perry is.

So we had both been looking forward to tonight’s rodeo since I bought the tickets a few weeks back. And this was not just any rodeo, no sir. This was a PRCA event, the major leagues of rodeo. This one only comes to Helena once a year. Which worked out perfectly because Sam and I only come to Helena once … ever.

It was also pretty fortunate because there’s really not much else to do in Helena. That’s not just the New Yorker in me talking, either. I went looking for things to do on the official Helena tourism website, and under “Family Fun” there are only five things listed, including a carousel. Not an amusement park WITH a carousel–just a carousel, sitting all by itself in a small public park. Most other attractions here revolve around fishing, hunting, or camping. Did I mention this is the state capitol?

There was actually a nice boat ride I was planning to take, but the fear of boats that Sam suddenly developed in Niagara Falls and forgot about for our water taxi ride in Chicago surfaced again and he nixed the plan. We ended up spending a couple of hours at Last Chance Splash, a nice public pool that was surprisingly inexpensive ($4 for each of us) and had two cool waterslides. We still had a couple of hours to kill and wound up running a couple of little errands, stopping by the capitol building, and watching “Rocky” in our motel room before finally heading out to the Last Chance Stampede and Fair for the rodeo.

Lucky for us, Montana Lindsey came up big again, e-mailing me a thorough primer on rodeo events and scoring. Armed with just enough knowledge to vaguely understand the proceedings, we found some well-located butt space on one of the grandstand benches and curiously watched it all unfold.

Tonight was the first night of a three-night rodeo. The theme for tonight was Military Appreciation Night, which mostly meant that there were American flags everywhere, uniformed service members unfurling the flag for the Anthem, and a whole lot of pandering nonsense being spouted by the announcer/host/ringmaster. One prime example:

“Freedoms we take for granted every day are the freedom to worship in the church of your choice, the freedom to own a gun, and the freedom to go to a rodeo on a Thursday night.”

Once the actual competition got going, though, we couldn’t have had a better time. Well, maybe if our seats had backs and/or cushions. But I digress.

We had a great time cheering on all the local boys (i.e., anyone from Montana, and there were several) in bareback riding …

… steer wrestling …

… team roping …

… saddle bronc …

… calf roping …

… barrel racing (the one event performed by women) …

… and the grand finale, bull riding (sorry, all my bull riding pictures came out extremely blurry).

The Hamster and I both had some concern for the well being of the animals but we were assured that they are all well treated and walk off healthy and happy as soon as it’s over. Just like shopping at Wal-mart, I’m not 100% convinced that it’s really OK but I enjoyed it anyway.

Meanwhile, impressing Sam even more than the rodeo was what I guess is roughly equivalent to a halftime show: between events two FMX (freestyle motocross) riders set up two huge ramps and did crazy tricks and flips while flying between them.

Despite the primer I got beforehand, three things really surprised me about the rodeo:

1) How heartily the people around me laughed at the extraordinarily trite fat jokes the rodeo clown kept telling about himself

2) How few competitors in each event actually performed the event successfully, let alone well

3) How the announcer guy, the clown, and the music over the PA system all continued doing their thing even while cowboys were performing

I wonder if #2 and #3 are related in any way, but I think a more realistic explanation for #2 is that the sport of rodeo is extremely difficult and these guys only get one chance at it per night. Either way it was a great night that Hamster and I both thoroughly enjoyed.

Friday morning (and afternoon) we’ll drive eight hours or so to Seattle. As excited as I am to be spending the upcoming weekend in a major city bursting with exciting things to do and see, I’m definitely going to miss Montana’s wildlife, its endless views of the Rockies, its 75-mph speed limits, its lack of significant traffic and crowds, and its excellent tour guide.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 29, 2011 7:27 am

    You reference all the exciting things there are to see in Seattle – might that actually include YOUR WIFE?

  2. Michaelle Gorman permalink
    July 29, 2011 12:50 pm

    I’d like a blog from the Hamster – I think you guys have been on the road long enough for him to give his opinions

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