Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Our Woman in Winston-Salem

My dear friends, I am proud and grateful to present Shelia's report of her weekend at the PBR event in Winston-Salem. I have to warn you--this is a bittersweet report and it's possible that the Stockyard Queen herself shed a tear or two when she read it. And the pictures are amazing! I truly appreciate Shelia taking the time to write this up, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

The PBR in Winston-Salem

The anticipation of the Winston-Salem event began to wane in the negative weeks that preceded it. The judging scandal left most PBR fans with the assumption that the accused judge had cheated on behalf of J.B. or J.B.’s family, Guilherme and Renato were out with a mangled wrists, Brian Canter had suffered a third concussion in less than eight days, and J.B. had gone 0 for 3 in Anaheim while his fiercest rival, at least in my opinion, had gone 4 for 4. J.B. resurrected his violent/immature behavior which was played and replayed ad nauseam into the Tampa event. Then, Kasey, Brendon, and Cord got the hatchet.

Luckily, the event in Tampa brought rays of hope: Jody Newberry was back, Wiley won an event, and J.B. did a decent job with a ninth place finish. Oh, and Kody failed to make eight seconds on both of his bulls, but I feel bad about that if it’s his injured elbow trying to deter him rather than Guilherme or J.B.

Then came the weather forecast: SNOW. NO. For those who’ve never spent a winter in NC, I have to tell you that EVERYTHING shuts down! We don’t have proper snow removal and we generally have more ice than snow, which means roads become a combination of ice skating rinks and bumper cars. There was no way we were going to drive the 85 miles to Winston-Salem on ice. So, we packed the car and took off a day early.

The first PBR “celebrity” we ran into was Flint. We were at the bar on Thursday night drinking Irish Coffee to warm us up when who should walk in and sit two stools down—The famous Flint Rasmussen in a PBR jacket and a Carolina Blue baseball cap. We talked about the weather (Frank was stuck in Atlanta), the vastly uninformed and inconsiderate folks who post on PBR articles—it seems that some of those posts become the topics of discussion and provide great moments of hilarity to the staff), Randy’s departure, Kody’s elbow (Flint didn’t know about the latest fracture or the Velcro idea—which led to a shaking of his head and a swig of beer, and finally a totally blank expression when I mentioned both Guilherme and J.B. Flint’s obviously not a fan of either….

It snowed all night and the streets turned to just a little bit of slush in the morning as the snow turned into freezing rain. The town was virtually empty!

At breakfast on Friday, we sat in a booth that backed into one occupied by, yes, Flint. He wasn’t alone. Shorty was with him. Flint informed us that Frank had rented a car in Atlanta and was on his way. After breakfast, I took my seat in the lobby to wait. Mike Lee sauntered in and headed for the restaurant. I smiled at Bud. I was waiting for some other bodies! Heehee!

The mini-parade began: Tandy, L.J., Skeeter, Caleb Sanderson, Rocky McDonald—I reminded him that he’d won here before (!), and a volunteer for Resistol who talked our ears off for over an hour, but then didn’t remember us later at the Resistol booth in the arena. Mike Lee appeared again, this time in gray gym shorts, tee shirt, and socks. I asked where his shoes were and he said, “I just brought boots,” and Shannon’s vision of cowboys on treadmills in shorts and cowboy hats came to mind.

Our friend, Carolyn, arrived in time for dinner at the hotel. There was a serious lack of characters around us. Crazy-girl wasn’t even there—she’s a fan who believes she’s Adriano’s love child. We’d met her at the first NC event and every one since. She even showed up in Vegas in 2008. She liked to hang with us, probably because we were Adriano fans, too, or more likely that we tolerated her and didn’t call her “stupid.” We headed to the arena early to attend the PBR pre-event get-together, but never found it, so did the regular stuff like sign up to win Ariat Boots, a Jeffery Scott buckle, an autographed cowboy hat, and get a Lowe’s discount card.

I’ve probably said this before, but I’ll say it again: the PBR opening video is absolutely horrid! I remember most of those wrecks and the suffering of the riders involved. I really don’t like sensationalizing the agony of the sport. The music part and the rides are great. There’s just too much negativity—sixteen horrible wrecks. Yes, I counted them. This set the tone of the weekend. Bud and I got into this sport when it was a bunch of struggling cowboys and bull riders and watched it peak and succeed and become all it is today. The heart is difficult to find amidst this thrill-seeking advertisement.

First rider out was Mike Lee on White Trash. Both looked fantastic, but the judges must have blinked too many times. The average score on that bull is 86-87 and an 81.5 seemed an insult to both rider and bull! Maybe we just thought it was better than it was since we hadn’t seen a live bull ride in over a year. The best of Flight 1 was one of my favorites and gets my vote for the most delicious cowboy ever—Billy Robinson! Gorgeous man. Beautiful ride. Poetry in motion. Ahhhhhhhh….

The highlights of Flight 2: Jody Newberry, Renato and his back-flip, and Pistol Robinson! Better luck in round 2 Jody and Pistol—I really, really want to see more of you! Flight 3: ho-hum. Ben Jones didn’t get to dance, but WWA-122 with Reese Cates on his back actually pranced in time with the music. Awesome! In Flight 4, Ryan McConnell looked way better in person! I got a few great pictures of him. His mannerisms both behind the shoots and after his rides are all gentlemanly greatness and humility. I hadn’t seen that on TV. Dustin Elliot’s wreck was scary. From my angle, it looked as if his head had broken off his body and rolled under his chest. Sports Medicine was at his side immediately and Flint looked scared and speechless. Then, Dustin looked up, smiled, and walked away. Halfway back to the gate he pulled on the back of his pants like he was trying to remove his underwear from between his, ah, er, crack. I think it was a set up. On the break between flight 3 and 4 Flint had done a monologue of his daughter’s gymnastics performances and how perfect they are until they’re off the stage and “adjust” their leotards to cover their “cheeks.” It was funny and GREAT to hear some new material. Well, while Dustin was still on the ground, one of the questions Tandy asked him was, “Do you remember that Flint said he would pay you $20 to pull at the back of your pants on your way out of the arena?” That brought a laugh, but when Dustin actually did it, it brought the house down!

The rest of flight 4 and all of flight 5 was good, but nothing to comment on. Then came Flight 6—what? Shane, Valdiron, and Travis bucked off? The highlight of the whole evening was my little hometown boy, J.B. I must have taken 100 pictures of him, 99% blurry. He got the bull RODE and I waved my “J.B.!” red and black sign. All of a sudden I was back. The PBR was wonderful and Carolyn, Bud, and I were walking on air!

The feeling didn’t last long. The next morning on our way to breakfast, the elevator doors opened to another empty chamber. NEVER have I been to a host hotel that I wasn’t surprised almost every single time an elevator door opened and revealed a cowboy. This was our third day and the only PBR person we’d seen in an elevator was the arrogant Dr. Freeman. I won’t even get into that.

When Bud and I slid into the booth, I couldn’t control my emotions. I missed Adriano. Adriano had brought me here and lit up the PBR like no other—and he wasn’t here. Neither was Guilherme. The PBR had changed and I was starting to believe that I had, too, and maybe the glory of it all was about to end. It was a sad meal.

My day brightened as the snow flurries gave way to sunshine and Bud and I headed to the Meet & Greet. We’ve all been to these events and I doubt that this one was different from any you’ve attended. The one exception was that a professional photographer at the far end busy photographing the riders one-by-one and sometimes two-by-two. J.B. and Brian showed up in identical navy blue and white striped shirts, which seemed funny until I saw that they were being photographed together. I felt a bit sad for Shane, who sat at a table by himself without much attention from the fans—but then he’s not really a NC cowboy. I did speak to him early on, but in hindsigh,t I wish I’d gone back to tell him that I was sitting in the same row as Jessi and surrounded by the Mauney clan, but at the time I just felt bad for him. The only no-show was Ross. Later when the riders began to wander about I asked Wiley if he’d write Ross’ name on one of the untouched pictures stacked next to Ross’ name card. He picked one up and scribbled on it the way you’d expect Wiley to do.

I didn’t blubber once and carried on actual conversations of several sentences with about ten of the riders, including Stormy Wing—a sweet young thing with rosy cheeks who looked too young to be riding in the PBR. The BEST conversations were with J.B., Jody, and Sean.

It wasn’t difficult to notice two teenage girls getting homemade tees autographed and having their pictures taken with all the riders. They were cute and giggly and I said something to them about how much fun they seemed to be having. They showed me their shirts and giggled. One of them said, “This is my sixteenth birthday celebration,” then rolled her eyes and looked at the riders. “But, I told them I was eighteen!” Uh oh, Buckle Bunny in the making!

After the M&G, we ran into a couple we’d met in Vegas and again at Jerome Davis Ranch. Sweet, gentle people, the kind I wished lived next door.

Carolyn met us for dinner at the hotel again and we headed to the arena determined to find the PBR Fan Club arena event. Honestly, we went where our Vegas friends told us to go and were sent on a scavenger hunt again! But, we finally found it and I got to show off my bucking Santa to a bunch of kids, but couldn’t find any real PBR PEOPLE. I think this item would be great if, instead of Santa, a cowboy was on the bulls back.

We stood around for 30 minutes until finally five riders came out—Beau, Aaron, Cody Nance (who wore a fabulous leather jacket), and two others whom I have no idea who they were!

Round two was just like on TV. Flint was back to his old material. Leah didn’t make it so Bud couldn’t give her the painting he’d done for her, which was kind of anti-climatic for him. The one highlight was the debut of Brian Canter’s little bull, Superfreak. I saw that bull at Jerome Davis’ and was greatly impressed both times.

I was so PROUD of J.B. for drafting (or is it drawing?) Code Blue. I don’t think he picked him to win the event—there were other bulls he could have scored 90+ on. I think he wanted another go at him. J.B. almost has the bull figured out, but as history is written an eight second ride wasn’t to be. Mark my words, J.B. will ride Code Blue for eight seconds next time around and he won’t hang off one side!

And then, my worst fear realized: The lovely Stormy Wing was on the ground. You could hear a pin drop in the arena and they worked on him for what seemed an eternity. The bull fighters, Flint, and so many others stood with hats over their hearts. The whole stadium was in a shocked silence and I was in tears.

From that moment on it, really didn’t matter who won or lost. Stormy’s life hung in limbo and I remembered what Michelle Kwan said to her crying fans when she didn’t win the Olympic Gold medal for the second time, “This is about skating—it’s not about life and death.” I learned a lesson today. The PBR is a sport. J.B. didn’t win tonight like I’d hoped, but he’s alive. And I hope Stormy is, too.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shannon Goes to Anaheim, Part 4

Sadly, folks, all good things must end, so herewith I present Shannon's report of the last two days of the Anaheim event. I, for one, have my hat pressed over my heart as a sign of mourning at its passing. Here we go.

The final two days:

Well, my friends, as I sit here, over a week later, trying to remember enough to write another decent report, I’m finding that the words aren’t coming to me as they did in my first three installments. In the past week, I’ve had two wisdom teeth out, have been refereeing the ongoing sibling rivalry in the house, and have been shepherding a preteen who hates to read and write through a black history month project. So, needless to say, these haven’t been the best circumstances to write a lucid paper.

However, I do have a few things I’d like to pass on about the final two days of the event, so, if you don’t mind, I’m going to put the memories in bullet points:

• At the event, Sonja and I decided to skip the mixer and just look around at the different booths. She was particularly interested in the Ariat booth because she used to sell them and swears that they are the best. She was trying to talk me into buying a pair when Adriano walked up and sat down for autograph signing. What luck! I was admiring some boots near him and he asked if I was going to buy something. I said that I couldn’t right then because of my budget, but I was definitely going to write down a style number of one pair to look at later in the year. He asked which ones and when I pointed them out, he said I had great taste because his wife had the same pair. Funny how it can be the smallest, most insignificant things that make you happy. Anyway, I introduced him to Sonja and gave her a rundown of his accomplishments and she was duly impressed. He was very nice and humble and definitely a good representative of the PBR. I’m so glad that he’s still a strong presence there. [Ariat's are the best. If you run across an 8 1/2s, just remember that they were made for me!--SQ]

• After meeting Adriano, buying some food, and waiting for Justin McBride to stop talking to an older couple so I could say something to him (I was on a roll! Too bad the conversation went on so long that we began to feel awkward after a few minutes and ended up leaving), we went to our seats to watch the show.

• Right after Brian got stomped by Pick a Spot, the man behind me said, “That’s why we wear helmets, %$#@.” In spite of my oddly protectively attitude toward with Brian, I had to say a silent “amen” to that.

• When I went out to grab a drink, I saw Justin McBride, Beau, Ross, and Brandon standing around talking. I may have been on a roll, but there was no way I was going to walk up to that crowd. Putting aside what I may feel about each of the rider’s attitudes, I must say that on a purely physical (and yes, shallow) level, that was one good-looking group of guys.

• After the event was over, we went down for autographs, where we met a woman who admitted to having had too much to drink. It was her first-ever experience with bull riding. She loved it! She also loved the riders and proved it by calling each of them “cutie” and then telling them how cute they were in case they missed that fact when she said the word “cutie.” At one point, she even asked Brian Herman to turn around so she could check out . . . well, you know. We didn’t do a great job of avoiding her and since there were only a few guys I was waiting for anyway, I didn’t see a real need to—until Kody Lostroh came out. I chatted with him for a minute and was left feeling concerned about whether or not I’d offended him somehow. Sonja gave me many reasons why he might have been stand-offish and that helped me with my angst. It wasn’t until a few days ago that it occurred to me that if he thought I was with the rather . . . outgoing . . . woman, so perhaps that’s why he was not very comfortable with the situation. Oh well, live and learn. I did, however, exchange some nice words with Shane Proctor, who I really started watching and pulling for last season.

Kody was the last rider of the night and our day came to an end with Sonja emphatically saying that she’s in for next year. I’m already looking forward to it.

The final day of the event came and I was back in parental mode. There was no leaving early that day or hanging out somewhere to meet riders. We had a leisurely morning at the house, then headed out to Anaheim, where we ate at Denny’s so as to avoid the high cost of the stadium food. The highlights of our event there were:

• Noticing the plastic bull money bank at the PBR credit card booth. I had to have one. They were too cute to pass up. So, I may have another credit card sitting in my wallet soon.

• Chad Berger signing the kids’ items, then answering one of Amelia’s questions. Apparently, he has 175 bulls. This came as such a shock to Amelia, it rendered her so speechless that she never did get to her next question. Now, if you knew my daughter, you’d know that there is very little that makes this kid speechless! Her eyes bugged, her jaw dropped, and all I could do was grin and guide her out of there. Chad is certainly getting better with the fan adoration.

• Running into Robson’s lovely wife and beautiful little girl. I’d seen them around the hotel on Friday, but it didn’t feel like the time or place to say anything. This time, I figured I’d say something. She was very sweet and all smiles as we admired the little one.

• During the event, my kids were thrilled that Julio not only stood his horse right in front of them, but allowed them to pet it as well. I’ve always admired the beauty of that horse and now I admire Julio for giving the kids a little extra something special.

• Finally, it was down to the floor for more autographs. This time, there were fewer riders, but that made it seem a bit more intimate. Amelia, who apparently doesn’t fall far from the tree, had to be told every time to look at the camera and not the rider when Rick was trying to get their pictures. Later, as we were walking to the car, we noticed a small crowd around one of the cars. Travis Briscoe. Rick and the kids headed over for an autograph and picture and he was accommodating to everyone.

Thus ends the story of my weekend. In the end, there was a small inkling of disappointment knowing that Guilherme got hurt, JB didn’t ride, and Kasey got cut. Also, while I don’t begrudge Kody a win, he’s won the last three times I was at a live event—I’m ready to see a new person up there on my weekends, just to change it up a little.

Thank you, SQ, for once again letting me go on and on (and on-—I get wordy) about my experiences, and thank you all for taking the time to read it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Things I Have No Patience With: Caution, Rant Ahead

This isn't all of the top 10, but here goes:

1) People (some of them friends of mine) who stoically suffer for weeks on end with sinus or urinary tract infections because they think taking an antibiotic once every five years for 10 days makes them pawns of the drug companies or contributes to the development of a super-bacteria that’s going to rise up and devour us all as we sleep.

2) People who depend on herd immunity to protect their kids rather than having them vaccinated to prevent childhood diseases.

3) People who believe that they are obliged under all circumstances to preach the gospel of whatever crackpot theory they’ve embraced, including, but not limited to, #1 and #2, above.

4) People who insist that those who run sports organizations must have competed in the sport to be qualified to do their jobs.

I am not going to elaborate on items 1 through 3, nor will I discuss them here, so don’t even bother bringing them up. Instead, I am use the occasion of Randy Bernard’s resignation from the PBR as an opportunity to talk about item #4.

This is a subject I happen to know all about, because I am an editor. I have two degrees, one in English (minors in French, education, and Bible) and the second in rhetoric and writing. I have been working in this field for more than 30 years (I was only five when I started). Still, you might be surprised how many times my education and experience have carried no weight at all. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen ads for editors that say, “Must have a degree in pharmacology, preferably M.D./Ph.D. with post-doctoral studies at a major university research center.” I also cannot tell you how many times I’ve had people insist that I could not possibly edit their work because I’m not an engineer, a microbiologist, or a rocket scientist.

To which I say, Bullshit.

I have edited, among others, works on the performing and visual arts, history (particularly the history of the American West), Native American studies, feminist studies, literary criticism, engineering, microbiology, and rocket science. Every one of those documents was better for my having worked on it. Editing is about perfecting the language through which the subject is expressed. It’s about making sure the sentences work and that the ideas are communicated clearly. If I, with two degrees and 30 years as an editor and a better than fair cache of knowledge of all the fields I’ve worked in, can’t understand what you’re trying to say, there’s a very good chance nobody can. It won’t matter if you have 99 diplomas in oceanography stuffed into your closet somewhere. When you’re writing, you’re in my arena, not yours, and the advice I give you will improve your work dramatically if you have the good sense and humility to take it.

Running a sports organization is about bringing the sport to the public and improving the public’s experience of that sport. That’s it. (That's not to say that it's easy, just that it's relatively easy to define.) Anybody who ever objected to Randy Bernard’s being CEO of the PBR because he wasn’t a cowboy is a fool. Randy Bernard doesn’t have to say a word in his own defense—his track record speaks for itself. What’s more telling, though, is that the “cowboys” who hired him and worked with him over the past 15 years have done nothing but testify to his effectiveness.

But I am curious, I have to admit, about what exactly the people who always want a “cowboy” to run the PBR think a “cowboy” could possibly do for the organization. Teach us how to muck out a stall? Show us how to string some barbed wire or dig a new hole for the outhouse? Show us how to fill out a form for a government subsidy for not sowing the back 40 in alfalfa this spring? None of that would have furthered the agenda of the PBR the length of the instep of one of my cowboy boots.

And don’t give me any of that crap about how much more neighborly people were way back then, or about the “code of the West,” either. I have read enough Western history to know that people back in the day were just as apt to be ornery and dishonest and conniving as they are now. They stole each other blind and shot each other in the back and burned one another’s houses and then lit out for the territory.

On the other hand, thousands of good, decent, well-meaning people came out west looking for their fortunes, only to die of accidents and disease, to lose their livestock and their land and their children and their spouses and their minds. Some, the inherently good and bad alike, abandoned their families for a wild dream of quick riches or just because they felt like it, every damned day.

Guess what? They were doing all that back east, too, and in Europe and Australia and Asia. Where they were made absolutely no difference to their fundamental human nature, nor to the likelihood that they would fail or succeed.

I have absolutely no patience with nostalgia. I do not believe everything was better everywhere 50 or 100 or 200 years ago, and nothing you can say will ever convince me otherwise. For sure, we now have too much plenty in some places and little to none in others, global warming and pollution on a life-threatening scale, human trafficking and misery spawned by the bad behavior of individuals and corporations for their own profit, disease and war and famine, but as awful as all that is, the fact that we’ve got big issues is not news, historically speaking. What is news is that we have a greater likelihood now than ever before of hearing about those problems and a better chance as individuals and nations of finding ways to fix them.

This world does not need more people who sit around and carp about long-lost “family values” and moan about the loss of the good old days, who refuse to deal with the pressing issues of their own time, who say, in effect, to hell with everything and everybody but me and mine. For damned sure, the world does not need more well-meaning amateurs, who almost without exception cause more problems than they solve, to say nothing of being more trouble than they can possibly be worth.

What this world needs is more caring professionals, by which I mean people who have the education and the experience and the passion to take on big challenges and not flinch. Randy Bernard is one of those guys. From what I can tell, the IRL has its share of problems, so I admire him even more for taking a job that will not be a cakewalk, that carries with it no guarantee of success or promise of a big payoff. But then, I’d expect that of the man. He’s already shown he can take a marginal, shoestring operation that was really nothing more than a bunch of guys with an idea and a modest strongbox and some events under their belts, and help them turn it into a world-class sport. I wish him all good fortune and I will watch with interest his progress in Indianapolis. I can only hope the PBR can find someone who will fill Randy Bernard’s boots one tenth as well as he did.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Shannon Goes to Anaheim, Part 3

Today the divine Shannon continues her report on the Anaheim event. Here comes part 3, folks!--SQ

Introducing a New Fan to a Full Day of PBR Activities: Day II

So, my alarm was set for 7 a.m., but the adrenaline was rushing through my body at such a rapid pace that I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I simply got up, ambled around the house with a cup of coffee, amd then got ready to leave.

This time was different, though. This time, I was bringing a good friend who grew up around horses and was well versed in everything equestrian and fairly knowledgeable about bull riding itself. She loves each and every bit of it and she’s a real kick to boot, so I was sure it was going to be a fun day. I picked Sonja up at 8:30 a.m., took her to Starbucks, and then headed out to the bull draft. We’d discussed going to the meet and greet, but it was early, she’s not really an autograph seeker, and I knew there was a big chance that I’d already met and/or gotten autographs from all the guys involved, so we passed on that.

Instead, we headed out to J.J. Schmidt’s and got there in such good time that we ended up talking in the car for almost an hour while they were still setting up. It was ok with us, though, because we’d get good seats! Well . . . they should have been the best seats in the house, except that Chad Berger, his wife, Skeeter, and a few others were standing directly in front of us. When the draft started, they stayed where they were, furthering my frustration—not only did *I* want to see and hear everything (the acoustics were bad, so we weren’t just having a hard time seeing, we were having a hard time hearing), but I wanted Sonja, whom I had dragged out for the entire day, to experience everything, too. At one point, I started to whisper to Skeeter, only to have Sonja say that she was fine—the view was good for her. It was when I followed her gaze that I knew we were definitely going to have a good day.

In spite of the bad view and acoustics, our seats did allow for some extra entertainment that not everyone was privy to. When it was almost time for McKennon to make his choice, I noticed Chad’s wife pacing, looking around, and frantically punching buttons on her phone. McKennon, who is good friends with the Bergers, was not there yet. Her angst got worse when his name was called. “He’s only a block away,” she muttered. The guys were half mocking, half serious when they encouraged Brandon to move on. A few on McKennon’s side tried to help with statements like “You started early!” Brandon disagreed (although by my watch, they did indeed start 5 minutes early). “He got caught up at the meet and greet!” someone called, which brought responses of, “We were at the meet and greet, too, but we’re here!”

Just as they were about to move on, McKennon trotted in, pushed through the crowd, and said “Hank” into the mic, causing groans from all of the other riders. Then he came back to where the Bergers were standing (which was so close to us that we could have reached out and touched him, thus furthering the obstruction of our view and adding to it at the same time) and said something that made us bite our tongues from laughing: “Damn cab driver wouldn’t run a red light,” he said with half amusement, half frustration, “and we hit every one of them! I offered to pay for any tickets he got, but he wasn’t going for it!”

Later, we had the pleasure of speaking to him during which time we discussed dogs—apparently, his Australian Heeler can be so vicious that most of his friends won’t set foot onto the property without the dog being put away first—and the floor at Madison Square Garden—Sonja said that her friends who do equestrian competitions and shows hate MSG because the floor is so slippery in spots that the horses have a hard time finding their footing. She watched Sunday night in NY very intently after the incident with Ross’ bull not performing and was convinced that was what was happening. McKennon confirmed it and then admitted that many riders were hoping to get the chutes on that side.

We also found out that the young Mr. Wimberly is indeed engaged and my 50th birthday acquaintance had told me the day before that she’s a real sweetheart. I hope so, because from my few brief encounters with him, he deserves a really sweet young woman. I have yet to be less than impressed with him.

After that, I had to stop Austin Meier to tell him how I’d met a young man in Iowa a couple of years ago and how that youngster regaled me with the story of meeting Austin, Austin buying him lunch and letting Dakota join him, and then giving Dakota tips on bull riding. I thought he should know just how much that gesture meant to his young fan. He was pleased to hear it and thanked me for saying so.

What a difference a day makes! I was talking to riders without turning into a bumbling idiot. I was on a roll and I knew there had to be at least a couple more good encounters in me.

After the draft, we decided to take what turned out to be an almost 40-minute ride to a little one horse town called Norco. Here was to be the fan zone event at the local Boot Barn. My friends, I have never seen a town like this anywhere—let alone in the middle of an area with so many big cities looming nearby. Tack and saddle shops were everywhere. A couple of small strip mall areas, a non-chain fast food place that had excellent food—you know the kind of food that appears to be homemade and fresh? Thick slabs of ham on homemade bread—that sort of thing. But, my favorite thing about Norco is that every store parking lot had horse corrals for those who rode their horses to do their shopping. That was really neat.

Anyway, the Boot Barn had the local country radio station outside doing give-aways and right inside was a table behind which sat a rather bored-looking Reese, Cody Campbell, McKennon, Guilherme and Valdiron. With the few people that were there all outside with the DJ, there was nothing really for them to do. We said hello, and I got my autograph from Reese, telling the rest of them that I’d already gotten theirs . We looked around a bit and as I was trying on some boots, Guilherme walked around the corner. We said hello and happy New Year. He said the same back and when we asked how his holidays had been, we learned that his family is doing well and that they spent the time in Brazil eating too much. After he left, I turned to Sonja, who used to be a flight attendant, and remarked at how good looking the Brazilian contingent was (I’d already pointed out all of them during the morning’s activities), prompting her to not only agree, but to state that all Brazilians are beautiful. “Even the homeless there,” she remarked, “are gorgeous.” I don’t doubt that for a minute.

As we wandered up front, I’d begun wishing that I’d worn my more comfortable bra. Completely forgetting that I was in public and going solely on the habit of “if something’s uncomfortable, fix it,” I reached up and adjusted it—only to turn and see Valdiron sitting there with a clear view of me. *sigh* I shook off the slight embarrassment and hoped that if he did see me, he wasn’t too shocked or embarrassed by my action.

Thus ended our trip to The Boot Barn—one autograph, a conversation with Guilherme, and accidentally getting too comfortable in front of Valdiron. Since we had a another hour or so before we had to get back to the event, we decided to go shopping in some of the small shops along the main road instead of going back to the hotel. We figured that if the same group of guys—especially McKennon—were to run into us in the hotel, that would look too suspicious, and given the fact that we were already seen more than once, we didn’t want to appear to be somewhat stalker-ish. Besides, upon walking into a few stores, we found prices on items better than what you’d get at Target, for much less than Target prices, so we knew it was worth looking around. So, in spite of the fact that we had to drive so far for something that wasn’t much fun in and of itself, we ended up seeing some great scenery and an interesting little town the likes of which I’d never seen before, having a great lunch and getting in some decent shopping. And I had my third comfortable conversation with a rider! All in all, I’d give the morning and afternoon a solid A.
Next, it was off to the event. . . .