Sunday, April 10, 2011

Albuquerque -- The Ambiance

Every year, it seems like the commentators on the TV talk in hushed, reverent tones about how The Pit is "like no other venue." Assuming that this was like all the other overblown commentator-speak that we hear at each event, I couldn't really appreciate that what they were saying for once lived up to the hype... until I was there in person, staring down the seemingly endless stairs heading into the depths of The Pit.

Let's just say that going to bull riding at The Pit is almost like going to an event in a giant funnel, or perhaps being seated in the midst of Dante's Inferno (only way more appealing and with hopefully a few fewer sinners being tortured), with bull riding at the bottom instead of the final circle. (See helpful illustration by Botticelli.) Although at times it did sound as if one were in a funnel (or possibly the Inferno), with crowd noise ricocheting around with nowhere to go to be dampened, this somehow only added to the excitement that pervaded the venue.

The seats are set in a very steep, tiered fashion, which comes decidedly in handy when at least half the audience is likely to be wearing cowboy hats that can impede the view. The actual floor of the arena is relatively small, necessitating the shark cage to be placed on one side of the arena next to the crowd, and for there to be only four chutes on one side, which, combined with the fact that no matter where you are sitting, you feel as if you are on top of the action, lends a strange intimacy to the proceedings.

The unique layout of the venue also apparently limited the usual over-the-top pyro, as the flaming bull heads sadly did not make an appearance here, and the "PBR" flaming letters were a bit odd, with a loop around the front. To balance out the incalculable loss, most of the audience should have been able to see things they can't always at other venues, being basically stacked up above the chutes no matter where they were seated: the bulls milling around in their pens, and a nice view of the bulls and the cowboys in their "natural pre-ride habitat." The one big drawback of the venue became clear when watching the cowboys have to make the long trek up and down the many, many stairs, their only entrance and egress, which the audience only had to attempt a few times.

Incidentally, one side bonus of this venue is that it has great lighting, which is not a given at any bull riding event. Besides making it a generally nicer viewing experience overall, it also ups the chances of getting any decent photographs. Which, as you can probably guess, is an interest of mine.

Ty Murray clearly loves this event with his name on it, and it was nice to see him on the dirt rhapsodizing about it. He may not be a natural commentator, but he can be a charming guy. It was also nice to see the Native American invitees -- while they may not have done very well this year, the crowd definitely made noise for them and they seemed ecstatic and grateful to be there. Another unexpected and somewhat unlikely return was Tony Mendes, a blast from the past who came out with his breast cancer awareness chaps and made a case for returning to the tour once again after his heyday in the early 2000s.

If the crowd went crazy for the Native American riders, it was nothing compared to the arena-shaking roar that went up for the New Mexico natives, Ryan McConnel and L.J. Jenkins. I find Ryan McConnel kind of endearing with his devil-may-care approach and crazy sense of style, and there's something a bit bashful about L.J. Jenkins that is appealing, so seeing them react to the approval of the crowd was a bit touching, even for those of us who found the scoring for this even to be a bit... convenient. (I'm sure Stockyard Queen and/or I will have a whole rant on this in a future post.)

Stockyard Queen has already waxed poetic about the overwhelming bull power of the event, so I won't go over that ground again, but how could I talk about the ambiance of this event without talking about "the moment" of the event -- the moment that Valdiron de Oliveira chose Bushwacker in the draft. This thick, expectant silence fell over the audience once Valdiron spoke; there were almost visible thought bubbles over many a cowboy hat, "Wait, did he just say that?!" Say that he did, when he had a decent selection of much more rideable bulls from which to choose. And as it sank in, suddenly, as one, the crowd let out something that was half gasp, half yell, building up into a huge cry of approval that nearly brought a tear to this cynic's eye.

It was one of those "goosebump moments," and I will try my hardest to hold on to that moment whenever I read some ignoramus going on about how "the Brazilians" (because they apparently operate as a unit) always choose "the easy bulls" (because, apparently, some short go bulls are always easy) and that's why "they" are winning, or whatever nonsense. And of course Valdiron de Oliveira can't win here, because those who scorn "the Brazilians" for choosing "the easy bulls" can now rejoice that he bucked off Bushwacker (even though obviously he is far from the only one to do so) and conveniently ignore the fact that he chose the rankest bull in the pen. But, whatever the ignoramuses may say, he had the confidence to make the pick, he seemed to be doing it strategically to try to make up some points, so I for one salute him for the effort.

There was something about that moment and the reaction of the crowd that was a little unreal, a little magical -- this strange little arena makes it seem like anything can happen. I may have my doubts about the direction the PBR is taking, I may have had my doubts about the scoring at this event, but overall this event made me feel like we were back in the glory days. Let's hope I can recapture that feeling in the face of the increasingly obvious judging shenanigans of the events since.


Jean said...

Wow, well, I'm glad there are bonuses to the venue. After seeing it, and now reading your description, I can't say that my wish to go to the Ty Murray Invitational one day is ever going to come to fruition if they continue using The Pit. After watching this event I decided I needed to quit complaining about the lousy handicapped seating that I paid lower tier prices for in Phoenix because obviously in The Pit, they'd likely just park me inside the doors at the top.

ooooh but BOY even I got goosebumps reading about the crowd reaction to Valderon's choice of Bushwhacker! I really did enjoy watching the bulls in that event. WOWZA. So happy you all had big fun and I'm just loving the stories.

Stockyard Queen said...

First up, Jean, there are enough of us committed to going to this event next year that I think we could throw our weight around and get you in a decent place, but honestly, I don't think there was a bad seat in the house, except possibly the ones that were nearly behind the chutes. I would be happy to sit with you at the top of the stairs--the views are that good.

Pearl de Vere said...

Supposedly they have wheelchair accessible seating, but I am not sure where that might be. Based on the layout, I would say you are right-- likely they would have to be at the very top or maybe there's some elevator I didn't see that goes to the bottom someplace. But, because of the way the place is tiered, the view is pretty great from pretty much anywhere.

I'm hoping to make it again next year and that many can join! It was a great time -- there were newbies to the sport in our party and they had a blast, too.

Next time, though, I want to see Valdiron ride Bushwacker (sorry, SQ).

Stockyard Queen said...

Not likely, Pearl. Ain't nobody going to ride my man Bushwhacker for a long, long time yet.

Pearl de Vere said...

I actually have to agree, as much as it pains me. Valdiron's style isn't really a match to Bushwacker's (not that anyone's really is). It's probably going to take someone who rides a little on the looser side.