When you live in the Southwest, in a place where rodeos actually “come to town,” and said event blasts in with horses, bulls, sheep and cattle in tow — by all means, you two-step your way straight to the show.
Held at the official rodeo grounds (because, yes, Santa Fe has official rodeo grounds), the annual event brought with it classic events like bronco riding, bull riding, barrel races and roping, as well as vendors hawking rodeo must-haves, like cowboy hats, monstrous hand-tooled, silver belt buckles and the requisite foot-long hot dogs and funnel cakes.
There was even a table filled with “Cowboy Gospel” CDs. The woman watching over the goods caught my eye and asked if I enjoyed gospel music. “Of course!” I replied heartily, not wanting to insult. “Well, God bless you!” she murmured repeatedly, smiling widely and handing me a free CD.
Now, if you’ve never listened to a self-recorded cowboy gospel CD, well, I’d just say don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. I mean, who can resist classics like “Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son,” and “Keep on the Sunny Side” pouring out of the car stereo? Ok, me. But I’m sure someone, somewhere is having a
helluva heckuva road trip right now.
The rodeo itself was pure Americana. White hat-wearing Marlboro Man lookalikes standing ’round every corner, Wrangler jeans worn high and tight, spit-shined cowboy boots, floppy hair and dimples: these cowboys were ranch-a-rific. They had names straight off the pages of a Harlequin romance novel: Beau Lamb, Chase Wiley, Twister Smith. Women swooned. Cowboys grinned.
Nope, I didn’t make any of that up. I swear, you CANNOT make this sort of thing up.
Then there were the Cheyenne Dandies, an adorable group of high school girls with swinging ponytails and lots of lip gloss, who could all ride a horse damn well, and lightning fast. The darling Dandies, we learned, would be spending the summer traveling with the older, buff and tough rodeo cowboys. And this seemed like a good idea to … whom, exactly?
The evening wore on and eventually the blazing sun dipped low in the sky, illuminating riders in silhouette. Floodlights flashed on, casting clouds of dust in a fluorescent glow.
Crowds sat at the edge of their seats as bucking broncos thrashed wildly, tossing riders like rag dolls while the hardest working man at the show — the rodeo clown, of course — ducked in and out of his barrel like a human whack-a-mole.
I brushed the funnel cake’s powdered sugar from my dress, and breathed in the scene. If I had a hat of my own I would’ve tipped it. This was the West. And the Southwest. And the Midwest. And on and on. This was America.