Wranglers, cowboys and romance in Stonyford
How was I supposed to know buying Budweiser was a major faux paus? I was at a rodeo in the middle of nowhere, for crissakes. If you don’t drink microbrews, you drink Bud, or so I thought.
But it was Coors Light for the cowgirls, Coors for the cowboys and I couldn’t shake the embarrassment of ordering Coors Lights for my friend Becky and me at the bar that night.
Becky had been waiting for the May 3-4 Stonyford Rodeo ever since it came through last year. This was the 54th year for a rodeo that cowboys and cowgirls plan vacation time around, coming to a patch of open country where the closest big town is a small town. Take away the once-a-year crowd, and Stonyford is little more than a bar, a store, a firehouse and a rodeo arena.
That the Stonyford Rodeo is one of the last strongholds of the Old West wasn’t the primary draw for Becky, a ranch hand and an office manager at my last newspaper job. That a certain champion saddle bronc rider would be there was. I went because it sounded like culture shock at a price I could afford.
I stopped at the Wal-Mart in Marysville to buy a pair of Wrangler jeans, required dress of all cowgirls and cowboys. Becky said she’s disgusted by men who wear Levi’s. But a new pair of Rodeo Wranglers is as comfortable as being rubbed with steel wool. I decided to play the part of the freak and wear my Gap jeans.
The sensory overload of driving into Stonyford on rodeo weekend is not unlike that of driving into the parking lot of a Grateful Dead show for the first time. But instead of driving VW buses, cowboys drive big-tire pickups. Tailgate vendors sell mean slabs of beef instead of kind veggie burritos. Mosquito bites adorn more arms and legs than tattoos. A cowgirl wouldn’t be caught dead spinning in a circle, and Wranglers are worn too tight to sit cross-legged and beat on a drum.
But like many Deadheads, cowboys and cowgirls are serious about health, fitness and a balanced lifestyle-that of their horses.
The announcer regularly called the rodeo stock “animal athletes,” but I had to admire the men’s and women’s guts, nurtured by corn dogs and Coors, that squeezed out the tops of their Wranglers.
Becky was all dreamy when I arrived Saturday. She had hung out with her saddle-bronc rider and was anticipating meeting him at the saloon that night. At the rodeo that day, we watched him team rope and later take first place in the saddle bronc competition with smooth, fearless form. Becky admired him for more than one reason-she’s going to saddle bronc school this summer.
After the rodeo, we kicked back at camp on broken lawn chairs, inhaled the pungent odor of horse manure and sipped our beers.
“Gawd, it’s so nice to just sit here and drink beer and not do nuthin’ else,” Becky sighed.
When the sky went black, cowboys and cowgirls strolled out in droves toward the bar. The Saturday dance at a rodeo is the nexus of cow-culture. With Becky, who won second place in a best-looking-girl-in-Wranglers contest last year, we soon attracted a circle of rodeo regulars and steady offers to dance.
A pile driver from outside of Stockton taught me how to two-step and didn’t complain once as I stomped the tops of his feet.
Cowboys and cowgirls like to whoop and holler when they’re having fun. After the bar closed, everyone moved back to the campground where numerous fist fights broke out, and the yelping died down around 4 a.m. Three hours later, the older folks opened the doors to their trucks and cranked the country music full blast. This is an unfortunate campground ritual I’ve experienced several times, even as far away as Norway.
Groggy and sun-baked at Sunday’s rodeo, we watched a steer pull Becky’s cowboy, his heels dug deep into the dirt, like a water skier across the arena in the steer wrestling competition. He took the steer down finally, but not until a crowd full of people had a bit of a laugh.
Even though they were an item the past two days, he never came to say goodbye, and Becky never looked his way when his truck drove past our campsite and out of town. They’ve been playing this game for a year now at local rodeos-he’s shy and she’s hard to get, in what I figure must be some type of cowboy and cowgirl courting ritual.
Not to worry, the Truckee rodeo is just around the corner. Becky may land her man, and I may have time to break in a new pair of Wranglers.
Elaine Marshall is a reporter for the Sierra Sun.
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