Saturday, July 19, 2008

The PBR Comes to Bozeman

This is how you know you’re at a PBR event in Montana: You’re wandering around beneath the bleachers, looking for the beer booth, which turns out to be a folding table and a bunch of coolers, manned by some young strapping sorts who look like they might have wrestled some steers, or maybe bears, recently. Montana Barn Cat steps up and orders two Budweisers, proving yet again his farsightedness and ability to plan, since you well know that once you’re crammed onto the stadium seats with all the other attendees, it will require a block and tackle and an act of God to get you out again.

The young man hands Barn Cat his beers and looks at you for your order, but your eye has settled on a sign that says “mixed drinks.” “Do you really have mixed drinks?” you inquire. The young man gestures toward another table to the left and says, “Chad over there has everything, he can take care of you, ma’am.”

So you waltz over with Montana Barn Cat in tow, because even though you’re a confirmed feminist fully capable of making your own way in the world, you’re determined that he is going to buy you the first drink of the evening. This might have something to do with the fact that you have spent the past two hours ducking out of the rain and into the livestock barns, admiring chickens and lambs and horses, or maybe it’s because you have busted your tail all week with precious little to show for it, and you’re ready to have a good time. At the mixed drink table, Chad snaps to attention and inquires what you’d like. “I’ll have a Jack on the rocks,” you tell him. Barn Cat produces a $10 for the $4 drink and hands it over. Chad looks at you and says, “You want a double, then?”

Well, now that you’d mentioned it, Chad, yes, I did. It had been raining on and off for several hours, just a nice, cold, steady patter, and I knew I wasn’t likely to pry myself off the bleachers to get another drink, so set it up, Chad. It wasn’t till we were walking away that I wondered what he’d have offered me if Barn Cat had given him a $20. Five shots, maybe?

It had started to rain while I was getting dressed. Barn Cat hadn’t gotten home from work yet, so I turned on the television to get some expert advice. Chrome Dome informed me that we would have intermittent showers, a few lightning strikes, and a little wind over the next few hours, but that it wouldn’t be torrential. The radar picture seemed to confirm this, but since the radar unit is behind some hill over by Great Falls and is notoriously inept at picking up storms over Bozeman, that wasn’t necessarily comforting. I debated my planned costume for a few minutes and then gave the full-on cowgirl outfit the deep six, since I figured the parking lot would be ankle-deep in mud that would be, as a friend once described it, “slicker than cat shit.” Barn Cat came in as I was putting on my makeup. He was in a fever to get over to the fairgrounds, because of course, those chickens had been waiting all day to see him and they were getting pretty impatient. At the last second, I threw one of his denim shirts on over my tee-shirt and we were off.

As it worked out, I might as well have gone in overalls, hip boots, and a Hefty Bag poncho, because we got good and wet just walking in from the parking lot. If I had been demented enough to wear my cowboy boots, I’d probably still be out there, or else I’d be in the hospital in traction. Why I bothered to wash my hair, or put on makeup, I’ll never know. Both were pretty much trashed before we reached the ticket booth, except for the waterproof mascara that you can’t take off with a hydrogen bomb. We’d bought our tickets in advance, so we hustled right into the first building, where there were informational booths about the sheriff’s department and John Deere tractors and such, and a huge line of people trying to buy burgers and dogs. We hot-footed it out of there and across a long, wet stretch that borders the carnival, on our way to the Miller Pork booth, where we snagged plates of grilled tenderloin, and then headed to the Haynes Pavillion to find a seat.

Barn Cat finished eating first (he always does), so he went off to inspect the alpacas with the funny haircuts. He was heading to the petting zoo when I tracked him down and dismayed him by announcing that I wanted more food. I was mostly motivated by a note I’d gotten from a friend earlier that day, urging me to have a corndog, because she’d been to the Sheridan rodeo the weekend before and hadn’t had one. So off we went in search of something fried. As we sauntered away from the food trailer, a woman behind me commented, “See, that lady has everything she’s ever wanted, right there on a stick.” Maybe I shouldn’t have ordered the foot-long.

To make matters more interesting, neither of us had a timepiece. Considering that between us we have four watches and two cell phones, that was a miracle on the order of the loaves and fishes. So we got to the stadium a little earlier than we did last year, but since it was raining, everybody else had had the same idea—get there first and get a seat under the roof. Actually, that’s the usual plan regardless of the weather, because if you can sit under the roof, you don’t have the sun in your face till very late in the evening. Of course, there were no seats left under the roof by the time we got there, so Barn Cat took charge and found us space at the very end of the bleachers, where the steel was nice and wet and the standing water immediately soaked into our jeans when we finally sat down.

Now, I know what you’re thinking—that despite our provisions, we were wet and miserable and cold, and the event started late and ran later and it was a school night, and we were jostled by drunken fans and forced to endure them singing along with Flint’s dreadful soundtrack, and all in all we had a wretched time. All of that could be true, but it isn’t. We had a great time.

Even though it was raining when we sat down, and the lady next to me insisted on shaking the water off her umbrella and into my hair, it’s hard to imagine a prettier sight than the Bridger Mountains to the north of the stadium, unless it would be the rainbow that appeared to the east as the rain eventually let up. The guys in the booth finally worked out their problems with the sound system (wet wires, most likely) and the music started and the big screen at our left lit up with footage of the riders out on our local motocross course. There were some shots that my female readers would certainly have appreciated, of the boys getting into their motorcycle riding gear in a trailer, and then the scene cut to Cord McCoy advising us that he was about to attempt a 100-foot jump. He strapped on his helmet and fired up his hosses and off he went, racing down the little hills and jumping over the ditches, till finally he gunned his engine and went sailing off the top of one big pile of dirt, over the huge dip in front of him, landing as lightly as a butterfly on the hill before him. I’d say, 100 feet and then some. Watching him, I wondered if perhaps Cord missed his calling with this bull-riding business. He could have been a serious contender in motocross, I think.

The video then cuts back to Cord, sipping on a Red Bull and expounding on how great it is to ride a bull well and get a nice round from the audience. He roared off for another circuit of the course and my good buddy Reese Cates remarked, “I’ve never seen anything like Cord McCoy on a motorcycle.” Me neither.

Then suddenly we see Cord fly-fishing from a bridge. His cell phone rings and when he answers, a rider informs him that the bucking is about to commence in town. Cord hangs up and calls the limousine company for a ride. The driver asks where he is and Cord says they’re out on the river fishing. The driver says, “I’ll be there in two minutes,” and hangs up. (For the record, that’s about 30 miles outside of town, on a notoriously dangerous stretch of highway between Four Corners and Big Sky.) Cord hollers at his colleagues and they all tear up the hillside to the road, where the limo has miraculously arrived. Maybe it really is a rocket car. If they got one before I did, I’m going to be really pissed. The cowboys park their fishing rods on a holder mounted to the hood and hustle into the back seat.

The next thing we know, the screen goes blank and the music starts up, and Brandon Bates introduces the bull fighters. The gate opens and the cowboys pour out onto the arena floor and line up in an inverted V, and then the stock gate on the west side of the arena flies open and in rolls the limo. The driver and his front-seat accomplice push up their vertical-lift doors, winning ooohs and ahs from the crowd. They stroll back and open the back doors, and riders, resplendent in their chaps, start to pop out: Brian Herman, Cord McCoy, Brian Canter, and J.B. Mauney.

We stand, and pray, and endure an off-key rendition of the national anthem which has me staring fixed at my feet, because I know if I look at Barn Cat I’ll start giggling and I really do want to be respectful. Truly, I do. (Barn Cat’s comment later was, “This is Bozeman. What do you want, Beverly Sills?”) Then the guys all head back through the gates to the chutes, and the limo rolls silently out of the arena, and Brandon Bates asks, “What’s missing?” The crowd roars, “Flint!” Well, he’s Montana’s own, straight from Chouteau, and even if he irritates us sometimes, we’d raise all kinds of hell if he weren’t here.

The next thing we know, a helicopter is approaching from the northwest. It’s a two-seater job with no doors, and it hovers above us long enough that there’s no mistaking that it’s Flint there, in the passenger seat. The pilot eases the chopper down onto the dirt and Flint lurches out. He points out to us that there was no door on the helicopter. “I peed in my pants a little,” he confesses, and goes into his prancin’ and dancin’ routine. I have now seen him live six times, and sometimes I think I know what he’s going to do before he does. As the evening passes, it turns out I’m wrong about that.

The Bozeman Classic is an Enterprise Rent-a-Car competition, which is the second rung on the four-rung ladder topped off by the Built Ford Tough Series, and this is the third year it’s taken place here. Here are two amazing things about the event: a stack of ranked riders were here for it, and the bulls were as good as any I’ve seen on any broadcast this season. It was positively astonishing how rank they were. A bunch of them were Chad Berger bulls, trucked in from North Dakota, so they didn’t have far to travel, but I was still blown away by how hard most of them bucked.

At this event, only 10 cowboys would ride in the short-go, so they were all primed to ride as well as they could in the long round. Here’s how it went: Shane Proctor, whom I was glad to see back after his World’s Toughest Cowboy win back in March (not a PBR event, but too bad), bucked off Gold Bell Wine. Vince Northrup rode Dogtown, one of the few “pussy bulls” in the pen, for 78 points. Curry Fielder, from Cody, Wyoming, couldn’t stick on Husker’s Terror. Gerardo Venegas, all the way from Juarez, Mexico, rode Rockon for 85.5 points and then got slammed twice on the dismount. Johnny Craig from Armach, Northern Ireland (yeah, that is correct) bucked off Hustler. You’d think they could have given him a little easier bull, considering how far he’d come to try it. Hustler is one rank son of a bitch. Ross Lewis was riding well on White Trash but then he jumped off before the buzzer, which suggested to me at the time the cowboys couldn’t hear it. Hell, we could hardly hear it. White Trash then changed things up by charging out into the arena and chasing Flint up the fence. Cole Taylor rode Gray Ghost for 82.5, and then Rob Bell bucked off Out of the Box.

Clayton Williams bucked off Lacey Bulls, but he got a reride because the bull had fouled coming out of the chute. They ran Lacey Bulls back in for the reride, and the bull unloaded Clayton almost as quickly the second time around. Brad Edward from Billings, Montana, got dumped by Lil Coyote. I’m not sure of the bull’s pedigree, but he does resemble Coyote in color at least, so I’ll have to look into that further. Johnny Ringo tossed Ben Jones, an Aussie rider, off into the dirt. Rocky McDonald, who is one of the few riders I generally root for, rode Triple Nickles for 85.5 points, but the bull barely bucked and certainly didn’t kick much. Zack Brown, he of the famous comeback in Billings, didn’t look like the same rider—he flew off Guitar Town almost as soon as the gate opened. Kane Crook couldn’t stick with Little Wicked, and J.B. Mauney, who won this event three years ago when he was only 19, got tossed off Katie Done It. Wiley Petersen got a big cheer, being as he is from Fort Hall, Idaho, but it didn’t help—Spiderman got rid of him right smart. Billy Robinson got a score of 73 on Bond James Bond but opted for a reride on White Shadow. He rode a second time, getting 85 points. Josh Koschel drew Cooter, who didn’t like him one bit and promptly tossed him off. Austin Meier met the same fate, flying off Palace Station Deuces Wild in short order.

Ryan McConnell then rode Montego Bay for 88.5 points. Pistol Robinson topped that with an 89.5 ride on Live Wire. Harve Stewart slid off the side of Texas Jack, got hung up, and finally managed to get loose, though it took him a few minutes to gather his wits and walk out of the arena. He was a very lucky man. Pete Farley stuck on Midnight Special for 85 points. Blaine Lewis had a really bad wreck off Cool Cat. Evan Rasch tried to ride Black Sports Coat, who was having none of it. That bull is, I think, a Little Yellow Jacket son. He looked really good. Aaron Roy rode a bull named Denny Craine for 87.5 points. Justin Howlett went sailing off Chug A Lug, who bucked wonderfully. I predict a big future for that bull. Colby Yates couldn’t stay with Wild Thang.

Cord McCoy, who looks so purty on a motorcycle, didn’t look nearly so nice on Kamo Kat, who unloaded him without ceremony. Ross Burney landed on his head when Bo Alemeda got the better of him. It sent shivers down my spine—it looked just like Paulo Crimber’s wreck that has taken him out for the season and possibly out of the sport. Justin Gentry got bucked off War Wagon. Chase Edward, another Billings, Montana cowboy, rode Rip & Dip to a standstill for 91.5 points. Cory Rasch followed that up with an 87.5 ride on Liquid Kitty.

Then Ned Cross mounted up on a Chad Berger/Roger Ward bull named Why Not Minot, who pitched him off and hooked a bull fighter in the fanny for good measure. He pranced out into the arena while Flint and Bates were commenting on the replay, and the roper, who had been conspicuously bad at his job all evening, started trying to herd him out. “Why not Minot?” Flint asked. “They have a big packing plant over there. Send this guy right over.” The bull kept running around the arena, dodging the roper, and then he spotted Flint. Clearly, the bull was not impressed with Mr. Flint’s crack about his namesake city. And he was mad. He stopped, pawed the dirt up, snorted, put his head down, and charged. Barn Cat yelled, “I’ve never seen anything like that at the PBR!”

Flint flew up the fence and the bull made the circuit, scattering announcers, bull fighters, and gate men, and leading the roper on a merry chase for a couple more rounds. Then they opened the gates and sent two more bulls into the arena, hoping, no doubt, that they would herd up and then the roper could maneuver them all out. The two newcomers trotted up to Why Not Minot, put their heads together, and then all three of them charged Flint. Said Bates to Flint, “Do you speak bovine?” Huffing and puffing, Flint replied, “I’ve talked to some heifers in my time.”

Why Not Minot, by the way, is a big, black bull with a substantial hump, a deep chest, and a long torso that narrows to an improbably slim waist. He is sleek and beautiful and mean as a junk-yard dog, and were I in the bull breeding business, I’d be looking to get a piece of him. Why not the packing plant? Not on your life, Flint. This bull could be a superstar before you cash your next check.

When the roper finally managed to get all three bulls out of the arena, it was clear the delay hadn’t helped the cowboys much. Jared Farley got thrown off Live Wire. Clayton Foltyn rode Ring of Fire for 88.5 points, and then Reese Cates climbed aboard Three Spot and scored 85.5. I’ll bet it was a long stretch of drivin’ and sleepin’ for ol’ Reese to get up here to the north country for this. Then Brian Canter, Nile LeBaron, Jay Foscalina, and Bryan Richardson all bucked off, back to back. Just to keep it lively, Richardson’s bull, Johnny Bravo, took a turn through the arena and a swipe at Flint. “Were you with a heifer before you came in here?” Bates asked. Maybe it was the ’80s music, Bates. I swear it was the exact same stuff we’ve heard here for the past three years and I, for one, am tired of it. If I knew for sure I’d never see Flint dancing to “Summer of ’69 Again,” I’d be the one hitting my knees and thanking my Creator.

Beau Hill finally managed to end the drought with a 76 point ride on Sundance Saloon, but he took a reride on Big Mack that just didn’t work out too good, although I think the bull liked it. Luke Snyder managed to ride Sloppy for 88 points, and then Jay Dunford scored 73 on Rodeo Suntan. Since obviously that’s the kind of score you’d expect win with at a PRCA event, he took a reride on Crown of Thorns, who promptly got rid of him. Justin Graley bucked off Double Shot, and then the old man, Brian Herman, stuck it to White Diamond for 89.5 to end the long round.

So let’s just look at the stats here, for a second. That’s a total of 50 attempts, counting the rerides, and only 16 qualified rides. Of that 16, four were below 80 points. Three of those four cowboys got rerides, of which only one managed to stay aboard and get a score. The raw numbers tell me that the bulls are still winning two thirds of the time, which is the minimum acceptable number of cowboys eating dirt, in my book. I admire (some of) you guys, but my heart belongs to the bulls.

So finally it was intermission, and we could all stand up and stretch and realize just how wet our butts were. The folks in the VIP section probably were miserable—they were closer to the bucking chutes but had no roof at all, and thus were entirely exposed to the weather. On the other hand, they did have their own private toilets, in a little trailer tastefully sided with what looked like brown asphalt roofing tiles, adjacent to their bleachers. There were even little wreaths of dried flowers on the doors. The lines were long, though, and the mud between the stands and the, er, other seats was deep and sticky, and I actually saw several people wading through it in shorts and flipflops. Now, that’s class for you.

Thus we segued into a truly Western custom, mutton busting, which, for those of you who have been spared this spectacle, is an event for kids under about eight. A John Deere tractor totes in a stack of modular fencing, and a little bucking chute is assembled in front of the regular chutes. Then parents dragoon their kids into climbing down into the chute on top of big wooly (and greasy and dirty) sheep. If the kid’s experienced, s/he stretches out on the sheep and grabs hold of its fleece up by the shoulders, and then the gates open and the sheep takes off. Of the 10 participants, only about three got more than six feet out of the gate before losing hold, and a couple never got that far. One of the latter was a little blonde girl who said her hobby was “shooting gophers.” The kid who rides the longest wins, and in this case, received a brand-new, kid’s-sized John Deere ATV so s/he has yet another way to get seriously hurt. One kid hit the ground hard and lay there for quite some time before his daddy could persuade him to get up. I would never encourage a child of mine to do anything like that. Seeing him lying there just about curdled my blood.

But the little boy who won was adorable. He is six and I gather his dad is some kind of local rodeo hero, because Bates and Flint both knew him. Sweetie, I know there’s almost no chance you or your folks will ever see this, but still, I apologize for not catching your name, because it should be up in lights somewhere.

That kid grabbed hold of his sheep and they tore out of the chute, charging a good 50 feet. He might have stayed on longer, except that the sheep ran right over the photographer and all parties went sprawling tail over teacup. Bates is a professional, though—he managed to quit laughing pretty quickly and he hustled over to interview the kid, who got up a lot faster than the photographer did.

“I want to talk to you,” Bates said. “How old are you?”

“Six,” said the little boy.

“How did you learn to ride sheep so good?”

“By riding miniature bulls.”

That caused a ripple in the stands.

“How long have you been doing that?” Bates asked.

“All winter,” replied the winner, sounding like he was plumb worn out. He’d scored 95, beating his closest competitor by 10 points. The interview over, his daddy snatched him, lifted him up to our wild applause, and then settled him in his new ATV, which he wasted no time in driving off. He probably drives better this minute than most of the licensed drivers in the state of Montana.

By now, it was well after 10 o’clock and some folks had given up the good fight. I had, of course, long since swallowed down my Jack rocks, and would have welcomed another, but I suspected that even if I could have fought my way out of the bleachers in less than a century, I’d find that Chad and his buddy had packed up and taken off at the stroke of 10. So I just waited, watching the guys at the end of the row who had had the foresight to buy a CASE of Bud from the beer boys and tote it up into the stands. They were democratically handing cans out to their comrades, but I doubted their largesse would extend to me.

Fortunately, though, the PBR folks had not been sitting idly by while kids got tossed to and fro off live legs ’o’ mutton, so almost as soon as the (regulation-sized) John Deere backed out of the arena with the collapsible gates, the short-go was on. The bulls in the long round had exceeded my expectations, but I was even more impressed by the short-go bulls. My man Reese Cates drew Fully Loaded, who was, because he wasted no time in putting Reese in the mud. Rocky McDonald rode Bad Medicine, and rode him well, for 89.5, which put him at 175 overall. Aaron Roy didn’t last very long on Bad Blood. Cory Rasch had Soulja Boy, the bull that made Zack Brown famous in Billings. That little bull is quick and athletic and he gave Cory a run for his money, but in the end, the cowboy prevailed. He scored 92.5 for a 180 total. Helluva ride!

From there to the end of the round, it was nothing but buck-offs: first up, Luke Snyder off Mean Machine. Please, folks, could we quit talking about the great rookie season Snyder had back in 2001? If I’m tired of hearing about it, I can’t imagine how it makes him feel. Enough is enough. Then it was Clayton Foltyn off Blue Boy, Ryan McConnell off Cooper, Pistol Robinson off Lights Out, and Brian Herman off Scardey Cat, who is getting long in the tooth but hasn’t lost a step. Chase Edward rounded it off by bucking off Bad Action. In the end, only two riders covered two bulls. Cory Rasch won the event and the custom-made-in-Bozeman Gibson guitar that goes along with the check. His brother Evan had co-won the event here last year and I guess he managed to beat his co-winner out of the guitar, because Cory said that he and his brother were thinking about starting a band. I haven’t heard him, but I have to wonder why all these guys think they can sing. I hope to hell they do better than Justin McBride, with whose alleged music I am not at all impressed. Best stick to the bulls, Justin. And best hope you don’t draw Why Not Minot at the finals. He’s a bull with your name on him.

By the time Cory picked up his oversized trophy check, it was 11:30 and the crowd was already headed for the exits. Everyone was pleased with their evening of PBR action and most folks thanked and wished a good night to the security officers who manned the exit gates. We elected to forgo the infamous after-party at Mixers (Bozeman’s nearest imitation of a night-club) despite our desire to observe our heroes in an environment rich in manly camaraderie and buckle-bunnies. It was late, and we’re old, and we had to work in the morning.

Overall, the PBR folks really went out of their way to make the event special for us folks out here in the sticks. We strongly recommend that you take in one of these smaller PBR events when one comes to an arena near your town. We all enjoyed our lovely evening of bovine-backed excitement!


Jean said...

WOW! That sounded like great fun, except for the mud and cold rain part. I'm amazed at the bull talent that was there. I've heard of most of those bulls.

One interesting point about the name "Why Not Minot", it comes from an old military joke regarding the Air Force Base in Minot, North Dakota. They were having trouble getting personnel to volunteer to go there so they made up the slogan "Why Not Minot?" as part of their ad campaign. Underneath those words on one of the ad posters someone scrawled "Freezin's the reason!"

Fun post as usual! I wish I'd been there.

shannon said...

Sounds like a great time! Thank you for writing it up in such detail. You had me laughing through much of it and I really needed that today. I would definitely try out an Enterprise Tour, but none come close enough. The Discovery Tour I went to last year was interesting and fun, but nothing compared to what you described.

I'm glad you had a good time in spite of the rain.

Jay said...

Can't tell you how much I enjoyed this report! It was a JOY to read, and as always, I learned good stuff. (I'm kinda slow, but SOME of it is sinking in.)

Glad Barn Cat finally got to his chickens. I want a corn dog, right now, SO bad.

Stockyard Queen said...

Glad you all have enjoyed the post, and I wish you all could have been here for the event, wet as it was. I neglected to state that those chickens were amazing. The horses, not so much. They were just the horses that the 4-H kids ride--we didn't see a single draft horse or even any saddlehorses or Tennessee walkers. Jean, I really appreciate the note about "Why Not Minot?" You are an endless foundtain of information.

Ronelle said...

Love the post! I agree with Shannon-thanks for all the detail! You two either have frightenly good memories or took notes (in the rain!) And while I've never been to a PBR show, I can say I've worked both indoor and outdoor rodeos, and the outdoor ones are a lot more fun, even if the weather doesn't cooperate. Pity about the horses though! Drafters are definetly fun to see.

Stockyard Queen said...

Thanks! Even with the rain, the temperature was just about perfect, and I'll take wet and cool over hot any day. We made notes on the day sheet and between the two of us, we do pretty well. I was sad about not seeing any draft horses, in particular. I love those guys.