We were up in Calgary this July for the 100th anniversary of the Stampede. The Calgary Stampede is a ten-day rodeo on a huge complex with amusement rides, casino and enormous rodeo grounds. It’s ten days where everyone is a cowboy; they come out of the woodwork; everybody is wearing some form of cowboy hat: traditional, Stetson, straw, foam.
We went to the rodeo one night. I’ve been to some small town rodeos before, but this was big time, with large stadium seating for thousands. They had all the classic rodeo events: bucking bronco, calf roping, and one of my favorites, bull riding. Bull riders who lash themselves to a half ton bovine lay in that dangerous dimension between badass and crazy. There were also some events I had not seen before including chuckwagon races, where a team of four horses race, pulling a replica chuckwagon.
Our favorite event was ‘ride the pony’, where they get a team of three boys under the age of ten with oversized helmets, and a miniature pony with a ten foot rope around his neck. The object is for the kids to get the pony under control enough for one of them to jump on his back and ride him for ten seconds. Only one of these teams pulled it off; all the others ended up on their bellies being dragged by the pony, with their oversized helmets filling with dirt.
During Stampede, temporary tent bars spring up all over town. One night we went to the Wild Horse Saloon tent with Helen’s coworkers, Christina and Anne. It was the size of a football field with a BBQ in the back, a large stage and dance floor bordered by hay bales and multiple bars and Tub Tarts. Tub Tarts are women dressed in tight cut-off jeans and bikini tops that serve beer out of a huge metal trough full of beer bottles. The rumor was, the drunker you were, the more they charge you.
There were also waitresses in similar garb, but with large holsters with bottles of booze instead of guns. For the right price, they would hop up onto a hay bale, grab under your chin, pull your head back and pour liquor down your gizzard, after which, she would shake her cleavage in your face.. Yeee Haaa!
The band started and the cowboys began to dance, prancing about, taking their hats off and twirling their partners. The huge dance floor was instantly full; it was a good friendly vibe and everyone having fun. I looked over to see Helen, Christina and Anne gawking at the rough and rugged ‘cowboys’ dancing about the floor. Wide-eyed, they were straight up staring at the sea of tight wrangler jeans gyrating in front of them. Helen turned and spoke to me, the words blasted out of her mouth like birdshot from the barrel of a 12 gauge, words so disturbing they haunt men’s dreams in the dark of night: “When we get back home I want us to take dance lessons so you can dance like them”, pointing towards the boot-scooting cowboys. Light-headed I staggered backwards thinking “Hell no! I’m going to get one of these good ol’ boys to take me to pasture and shoot me.”
We took the long way home from Calgary to Seattle. Through Banff, through the Canadian Rockies, over three mountain passes, South through the Okanogan wine valley. So of course there were a few quick visits at the wineries to taste the local vintages. Needless to say, we pulled into our driveway at 11:45 pm on Sunday, so as usual, we milked every last minute out of our vacation time.