Calling All Cowboys
I'm off to the Calgary Stampede. This is the centennial year for "the greatest outdoor show on earth", so it's sure to be a barn burner. I've been attending Stampede, off and on, for about 15 years. It has traditionally been my annual sister's weekend with my Cowtown-dwelling older sibling Amy.
Oh the fun we have had. I’ve been giggling to myself as I look through old photos and dust off my Wranglers. We could bury each other many times over with the stories locked away in The Vault.
Most famous of all, perhaps, is the year I broke my foot while competing in an amateur rodeo. The Cowtown – and then later, Doggydoo – “rodeos” are for people who are prepared to sign a lengthy waiver, are fearless about riding bareback and roping steer, and who can hold their liquor. This crowd isn’t afraid of a little red meat and will 2-step until dawn. It may be an amateur rodeo but it’s exclusively for professional partyers.
The day begins with party-goers, I mean, participants, picked up in school buses and transported to a dusty location somewhere about an hour outside of the city. Everyone is divided into teams of 4 – the year in question I think my team was called Anna’s Bananas. Groan.
Then teams take part in various rodeo events like bareback racing and steer roping. Did I mention it’s an open bar? Winners of each final heat receive a coveted buckle, just like at the rodeo for real cowboys.
Year after year I would take part in said rodeo but the elusive buckle remained out of my reach. I jumped in front of so many 500-pound steer – given I had no clue what I was doing it really is amazing I’m here to tell the story.
Having a teensy bit of a competitive edge, I would not give up until I had something to be proud of to help hold up my denim blues.
Finally, in 2005, it was my year. Bareback riding was my best chance and as my horse cleared the finish line barely a hoof ahead of the next guy, he reminded me who’s boss and bucked me to the ground. I fell face down and looked up to see dozens more hooves jumping around me, barely
inches away, as all the others finished the race. I covered my head with one arm and squirmed out of there as fast as I could.
I was almost in the clear when “SMACK”. One of those horses stepped square on my left Lucchese. It was a clean break, which meant I narrowly escaped surgery.
Then I spent the next ten weeks on crutches. Of course my apartment in those days was at the top of 12 steps and I lived alone. Not fun. For almost half a season of The Shopping Bags I had to be filmed from the waist up, to hide the cast and crutches. But hey, at least I’ve got the buckle to show for it.
Then there was the year I diffused an episode of road rage by mooning the car next to us. My sister says that remains the best laugh of her life. (For the record, I highly advise this tactic if you happen to piss off another driver. It really works. But it requires you to always travel with another passenger as I do not recommend this tactic while operating a motor vehicle.)
Kristina and I shot an episode of The Shopping Bags at Stampede. We were even in the big parade, testing cowboy boots naturally. But that’s another story.
My friends and I used to spend a great deal of time and energy working out strategies for getting into whatever bar or party was going to be in the eye of the storm and I have spent my fair share of time waiting in line. Ranchman’s, Ranahans, Nashville North, Desperado’s. Been there done that.
Cowboys was always a big attraction, where you’ll drink cheap beer, line up for a port-a-potty and if you’re lucky you’ll only spend an hour trying to find the exit. Welcome to Hotel California folks; You can check out, but you can never leave. Cowboys bar is the reason I have a fear of public bathrooms to this day.
I remember the excitement I felt boarding my flight to Calgary every year. Excitement for the adventure and inevitable laughter to come over the next several days. Traditionally I would arrive on parade day and make my way to my sister’s office where they had an annual roof top party to kick-off of the 9-day party.
But nothing ever stays the same, right? My sister got married, left the job with the pancake breakfast on the roof, had kids, and I too got busy with other things. For us Stampede seemed to go away for awhile. This coincided with 2008 when apparently it went away for a few others as well. Life took over and our interest in the annual debauchery waned.
So when the stars aligned for me to once again make my pilgrimage, I hesitated only for a second. Our line up sure has changed; Now there are dinner reservations, concert tickets, corporate boxes, and some serious play time with my nieces. I can’t wait to see Blue Rodeo, my favourite Canadian band. You won’t see me roping any animals, thank God. I will not be standing in any lineups. Said nieces are still too young to care about going to the midway. Thank God.
Yes, for all that you hear about this annual piss up, it can indeed be done in a civilized manner. I think. That’s my strategy anyway. I figure I’ve been around the block a few times and whereas I once thought I knew what a good time was, now I actually do. This really isn’t my first rodeo.
Anyone want to buy a buckle? Real cheap.