TRAVEL THERE: COW TOWN CULTURE SHOCK
For a little change of pace, Bill and I drove over to Ft. Worth yesterday. We’re no strangers to the other half of the Metroplex. We make regular pilgrimages to Joe T. Garcia’s and the museums. Ft. Worth is no slouch when it comes to culture. However, yesterday was not about museums or Mexican food. We were on our way to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
My Western Heritage
Fresh out of high school, I went down to Stephen F. Austin State University. Before long, I was scooting my own pair of Tony Lamas across the dance hall floor to the sounds of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jerry Jeff Walker. I dated a bull rider and lost his heart to a barrel racer. I hung up the tooled leather belt with my name on the back a long time ago, but after that taste of rodeos and round ups, I thought I knew country.
So, was I ever in for a surprise!
Rodeo Seats Sold Out
My first surprise was a sold-out rodeo. It’s not like I showed up on opening day and expected a ring side seat. This thing had been going on for weeks. I assumed most everyone would have already been there. Whether the cowpunchers were just getting around to it or were coming again, they were there in force. Bill and I settled for general admission tickets to the stock show grounds.
When I visit The Great State Fair of Texas over here in Dallas, my many years of Fletcher’s Corny Dogs have etched a map of Fair Park into my brain. I know exactly where to park and short cuts to all my favorite attractions. That wasn’t the case yesterday. We took the shuttle from Billy Bob’s, faced disappointment in the rodeo ticket line and then wandered around lost. We ended up in the exhibits halls, but before I get to that let me tell you about the animals.
Shock at the Sheep Barn
By serendipity we stumbled out of the exhibits into the sheep barn. There Bill got his first up-close-and- personal look at a shorn ewe. He was a little thunderstruck. “Do you know what that looks like,” he asked. Let’s just say he finally understood the joke he’d heard about men who are men and scared sheep.
Feeling slightly uncomfortable and somewhat embarrassed, he herded me on to the rabbit barn. The cute little bunnies offered some education of their own. Many cages sported signs saying, “I bite.” Not what we expected from Peter Rabbit and Thumper. Then someone took one of their rabbits out of the cage and the animal had more fight in it than some of the bulls I’ve seen in rodeos.
Moving on, we discovered the cow barns and some more cow barns and then even more cow barns. We’d obviously wandered into the mother lode. Practical iron railings in concrete set the scene for cattle lolling in stacks of hay, but in spite of the utilitarianism of the surroundings, it was almost as if you could smell the money. This was serious business. Each heifer and bull was immaculately clean and recently blown dry. I saw one cow crook her neck to lick some spot of discomfort and the owner flew to the cow’s side to scratch away the cow’s concern in order to avoid saliva besmirching the perfect coiffure.
I don’t know all that much about raising cattle, but I know expensive equipment when I see it, even if I don’t know what it’s for. There were all manner of things I didn’t recognize in the stalls with the cattle and the faces of the cattle folk were stern. Squinted eyes pored over the well-groomed livestock for flaws. They were all getting ready for either the auction area or a panel of judges – and both demanded perfection. These cows and bulls weren’t pets or hobbies, they were livelihood. If we’d doubted that, we were corrected when we happened upon an auction where bulls were going for the price of luxury cars.
Still, we were aliens in a strange land. In stalls, next to the cows, were sleeping bags and coolers for the human cattle. Mom and Dad might be running the ranch, but in the ring, teens were showing the huge products of their pastures. City slicker sanitary concerns were thrown out the window as kids ate funnel cake sitting atop the family cow and a cowgirl drank her beer while blow-drying her heifer.
We were eventually all cowed out and welcomed the sounds of horses hooves, but these weren’t just any horses. We’d found the Gypsy Horses. These beautiful, muscular mounts sported long manes, luxurious tails and furry fetlocks. In the bovine arenas we’d been satisfied to stand at the top, watch the activity for a few minutes and then move on. These lovely animals demanded that we find a seat and pay homage to them.
We learned from the announcer that Gypsy Horses were the newest recognized breed in America. We also found out that they used to be solid colored, until the English were conscripting horses in World War I (think Spielberg’s Warhorse) and the wily gypsies found out that the military only wanted solid colored horses. So, they started breeding the horses for painted coats. The result is stunning.
Now, back to those exhibits. Like our familiar State Fair in Dallas, there were salad slicers, fudge flavors, massagers and glasses cleaners. Unlike the sports cars we salivate over in Dallas, the Ft. Worth Stock Show vehicles are real muscle machines. The tires were as tall as my six foot husband and the tread’s fist deep. Though we have no use for or understanding of the multiple kinds of equipment we saw, we wandered among them as if they were masterpieces carved out by Michelangelo.
But what really amazed me was the bah-da-bing-bah-dah-BLING. Thirty years ago, western wear was plaid shirts and Wranglers. Let me tell you that those days are over. Heavily embroidered jewel-encrusted jeans filled the clothing emporiums. Forget hand-tooled leather with flowing floral patterns framing your name. These belts had enough bling to make Rhinestone Cowboy Glen Campbell seem understated.
I remember when boots were all about the pointed lizard-skin wing-tip toe, but in a croc-meets-cowboy kind of amalgamation. Now its wide-toed boots, under-girded all the way to the heel with double stitched soles. What’s more, instead of colors like peanut brittle, black and brown in smooth stitched leather, the ladies were trying on suede boots in taupe and pink.
And those mother-of-pearl topped snaps that used to adorn western shirts? Fuhgeddaboutit! It was all embellished t-shirts with patterns borrowed from the tattoo parlor.
Well, I’m more informed about my country cousins now and if you hurry over to Ft. Worth, the Stock Show goes through Saturday, you can be, too. One things for sure, if I go next year, I’m wearing rhinestones.