Monday, November 15, 2010

Update: Pics are Here!

Hi, folks--As you can see, we have managed to get S's fine reports illustrated with her equally fine photographs, and through the miracle of professional help, we have even managed to get them where they belong in the posts! Take a gander while you (continue to) wait on the Stockyard Queen to free herself from the ol' salt mine long enough to get up a new post. Soon, I promise.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Divine S Reports from Vegas: Part 2

Folks, the Stockyard Queen is saddened to report that today, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that even though the magic button for uploading pictures has FINALLY reappeared on Blogger, something is still not working, so she STILL cannot post the Divine S's final report of her adventures in Vegas with appropriate illustration. The good news is that the Divine S is sufficiently succinct that you won't have to wade through a multitude of reports about the finals--let's face it, this has been a done deal for two weeks already. For that reason, I am going to go ahead and post this without the pictures, and I'm then going to go nag the folks at Blogger till they get this fixed. So enjoy, please! And stay tuned--we are about to reveal some important news about Turn Him Out!

Part 2

Saturday: Big Green Egg Cookoff

We decided to ditch the draft, which already had gathered a large crowd, and instead stake out some of the bleacher seats for the Big Green Egg Cookoff. Now, I know nothing about the Big Green Egg, and as a vegetarian living in an apartment with a small patio, I don’t have much call to use a giant BBQ contraption. According to the woman sitting next to me, they are amazing and you can even make cakes with them. I had no idea. I guess they must have some amazing convection properties (and at their price, they’d better have amazing properties of all kinds).

Anyway, the set up was that three chefs from local restaurants (Gilley’s, Rare 120 at the Hard Rock, and another one I can’t recall—the Palazzo?) were each paired with a cowboy (Colby Yates, Tater Porter, and Cord McCoy). The event had “Dr. BBQ” and Clint Adkins as MCs, and Adriano Moraes, Ty Murray, Michael Gaffney, and J.W. Hart as judges. It was much like Iron Cowboy Chef, with a basket full of “secret” ingredients and the directive to impress the judges. In this case, the ingredients were meat (steak), more meat (sausage), and Jack Daniels, and there was a “pantry” of additional items the contestants could use to supplement the surprise ingredients. [SQ: Damn. Sounds like my kind of meal.] And the race was on.

Colby Yates and Cord McCoy quickly demonstrated that the best thing they do in the kitchen is stay out of the way (this was confirmed by the wife and fiancee, respectively). Tater Porter, however, seemed to really know his way around a kitchen knife. I won’t go too much in detail as this went on for awhile, but I will say that I did have to wonder exactly how much proficiency J.W. Hart and company have in judging the presentation of a meal. In the end, Yates and his partner’s Asian twist on a cowboy meal won them each a Big Green Egg of their own. (The others took home cookbooks and some publicity.) I honestly hadn’t thought about Tater Porter in years, but seeing him slice and dice like a pro increased my fondness for him quite a bit. But on second thought, a guy named Tater ought to know how to cut veggies.

And by the way, apparently the meals made by all the chefs aren’t really anything they serve at their restaurants, which is unfortunate because the Asian twist meal looked much better than anything I ate or saw at Gilley’s (there was a very pretty salad and a corn dish in addition to the meat, meat, and more meat.) Also, there was apparently a magical sauce that seemed to defy cowboy description other than “It’s good!” (said in a tone of wonder by both Colby Yates and Clint Adkins), and the corn dish was described by Adriano Moraes, who is apparently quite fond of corn, as one of the best corn dishes he ever ate.

It was nice to see the guys getting some ribbing in and being their natural selves (Cord McCoy’s natural self is so goofy, which is of course part of his charm). Ty Murray even got a little potshot in at Adriano, more or less along the lines of, “Based on his shape since retirement, I think Adriano must be an expert in judging food.” The crowd let out an “OoooOoooOOoo,” as Adriano mocked outrage in the background.

So while I can’t say I’ll be running out to purchase a Big Green Egg, it was a nice promotion for the cowboys, the product, and the chefs. Maybe the year if they do a vegetable cook-off, I will buy one. Since this will never happen, I should be safe from ending up spending $900 on a BBQ contraption in which one can bake cakes. The thought of J.W. Hart’s face if he was presented a plate of vegetables warms my heart, however.

Sunday: The Main Event

And at last it was Sunday, and I can’t express how wonderful it was to be away from the dim interior of Gilley’s and instead be in the nosebleed section of the Thomas & Mack. Who thought I’d ever be saying that? On the plus side: our seats were positioned nicely on the corner above one set of bucking chutes, so our view was not obstructed by rigging, and we weren’t too incredibly far away. On the negative side: Ford once again provided those inflatable whapper things to annoy everyone. The only good thing I can think to say about them is that no one directly around me was using them, and that this is apparently the last year they will be giving them out.

Because likely everyone has seen the event on TV except me (thanks, NBC, for airing the show once semi-live and then never again), I won’t go too much into detail, but I can cover some things that I am guessing weren’t shown on the broadcast, or probably felt different for those of us in the arena.

Apparently earlier in the week, there had been some sort of interesting pre-show in which the much-discussed kabuki screens had been made off with by one of the Cirque groups in an artistic way, which would have been very interesting. However, what we got was commercials and various features projected on the hanging screens, the cowboys entering and being silhouetted behind the screens in the four corners, all your usual pyro, a slowly spinning Ford truck, Air Force flag presentation, the anthem and enforced prayer, and the screens being dramatically dropped. Thankfully, I believe that we have lost the video featuring the fighter jets. (And there was great rejoicing!) [SQ: Is this the one that starts with the American flag and segueways into the jets shooting big contrails out into the western sky? Hallelujah!]

Once again, I think it was probably way more exciting to be there than to see the event on television. It was fairly obvious as the day wore on that Renato was going to win resoundingly, but there was no sudden voice-over telling us the precise moment that Renato clinched it, which I’m sure there was on television. I’m also sure we saw a lot of rides (well, likely buck-offs, as there was a pretty high number of those) that had to be cut to fit the event into NBC’s reduced format, and of course, we got more Flint.

Flint has new material, at least, new to me, and a new sponsor, apparently. It was definitely a strange moment—Flint got to his Fan of the Night segment, and started saying something about Enterprise and what a great sponsor they have been. I wasn’t paying the closest attention, but next thing I knew, he was peeling off his clothes to reveal a rather lackluster Cooper Tires ensemble underneath. He then handed the clothes to the Enterprise guy and proclaimed he’d always be their Captain Enterprise. I’m sure the whole thing was meant in the best possible spirit, but it sort of put Enterprise on the spot for pulling out as a sponsor, and was likely incredibly mystifying to those in the crowd who weren’t aware of Enterprise’s general “pull back and fade away” ploy over the past year or two. Nothing was said to really explain it further, and it was on with the show.

One interesting thread through the event was a sort of dancing theme/victory dance theme. Shane Proctor, apparently feeling the lack of his own victory dance, threw in a medley of other riders’ greatest hits after his successful effort aboard 7 of Hearts. There was a little of Ben Jones’ chicken dance, a dash of McKennon Wimberly’s boxing, Ryan McConnel’s surfer dude schtick, and I believe he topped it off with a little Austin Meier strut. I guess he wasn’t feeling up to the Renato back flip (and at that point, Renato hadn’t even been nearly plowed over by the bull after an ill-timed back flip celebration!).

Flint also went on a tear about how he wished that just once, instead of stalking off or throwing things, a cowboy would do a dance. He demonstrated the dance he had in mind, a sort of spinning, pirouette-type move that spanned most of that side of the arena. Indeed, he was so captivated by this idea that he was willing to put up the princely sum of $20 to the first one to do said dance. A few cowboys declined, but Travis Sellers, quite hilariously, obliged with a quite credible twirl across the arena. No word yet on if Travis is indeed $20 richer, but the world is richer for pirouetting cowboys. In another curious moment, Guilherme did a strangely endearing victory dance that culminated in a headstand into his hat. I definitely enjoyed the exuberant, joyous atmosphere that pervaded much of the event and was outwardly shown through amusing dances.

From these highlights we go to a low-light, the giveaway from one of our new sponsors, Stanley tools. We had the, er, joy of seeing the “Stanley Stud Finder of the Night,” as the in-arena screen scanned over three men in the audience, beeping repeatedly when it found a “stud.” Because that’s totally tasteful, and of course women don’t use power tools. (I guess I’m glad my power drill is Black & Decker.) [SQ: This reminds me of one summer when I was remodelling a house with the help of my BBF Elisabeth. She was putting up towel racks in the bathroom and managed to find what we dubbed “The Only Stud in the House, nearly breaking her hand in the process. I still have the pictures.]

Outside of these moments, there was, of course, the bull riding. Silvano Alves continues to impress with his slow and steady way of racking up the great rides. Watch out next year when this guy has a full year with which to play. It was definitely nice to see guys like Guilherme Marchi and Skeeter Kingsolver getting back into the groove, and of course there were revelations like the newcomer Wesley Lourenco. Seeing Robson Palermo come back from what could have been a catastrophic accident and score a 91.25 to win the championship round was another one of those great PBR moments. It was a bit depressing to see Austin Meier lose his trajectory, but he seemed to handle the situation with grace. Seeing him pull Renato’s rope for his last ride revealed that he’s a classy guy, showing the very best of the “cowboy way.”

Of course, the story of the night was Renato Nunes, who gathered up all the mojo he’d lost after the button-pushing fiasco and simply out-rode them all in his particular crazy style to win the event and the title for the year. Although I would have been happy with pretty much anyone in the top few slots ending up the winner, it’s obvious that Nunes really wanted it, and it would have been a shame if he had lost due to head games caused by an action that was entirely justified and lead to direct results and hopefully improved judging.

I only wish Renato would have been able to stick it out on Major Payne [SQ: Bite your tongue, woman!], because seeing those two unorthodox athletes battle for the full eight seconds would have been electrifying, but seeing his giant, infectious grin as he stood behind two giant fake checks and held the trophy high was completely perfect.

Well, if Bones wasn’t rewarded for one good out by being made bull of the year, then things would have been perfect, but we can’t have everything. For now, I will savor the hilarious interviews with Renato, and look forward to another year of talented guys battling it out to the last, just as it should be. As much as there are things about the PBR that make me crazy, and as much as I feel they have added all sorts of useless frippery of late (how useless was the Final Five Chase?), as long as at the heart this sport is full of moments like Austin Meier hanging with grim determination on the side of his bull for an astoundingly long time, Major Payne befuddling nearly every cowboy who gets on his back, and Renato Nunes overcoming his demons to pull off a triumph, I’ll be watching.

If anyone wants to know more about anything, or there’s something I didn’t cover that you wanted to know more about, fire away!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Divine S Reports from Vegas: Part 1

Breaking news: For some unexplained reason, Blogger won't let me post pictures, so I am posting S's report without her lovely images for the moment. Working to fix this, because her pics tell at least 10,000 additional stories.

My dear friends, please join me in pondering the adventures of the Divine S, who attended the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas and who has submitted this immortal report. I must confess that I pretty much laughed my, er, fanny off, reading this. Hope you enjoy it, too!

Part 1

It’s always more fun when your team wins. Well, of course, as everyone probably knows, my favorite “team” going into the finals was Team Valdiron, but unlike last year, this year I knew that whatever the result, I would probably be quite satisfied. And it turns out that my expectations were exceeded.

Hotel Adventures

My Las Vegas experience started with Treasure Island, one of the three host hotels this year. One does have some questions about the how or why of there now being three host hotels, but they remained unanswered. I also found myself wondering how they figure out which cowboys stay at which hotel (and if they all pay the same for their rooms, even though I imagine the hotels must have different rates) as I was riding in an elevator with Skeeter Kingsolver and his giant arm brace. And unless Austin Meier favors walking around random places while covered in Saran Wrap and ice packs, I highly suspect he was staying at the hotel as well. Most of the hotel-related cowboy-sightings were on Friday, the evening the -after-party was at Treasure Island’s Gilley’s, so I have no idea if the cowboys were staying at the hotel or just avoiding the after-party (which I was also avoiding). I tried, because I understand that after-parties are going to be a thing of the past after this year, but it was loud and crowded long before any cowboys could realistically appear, and I just couldn’t do it.

Speaking of Gilley’s, what a weird place it is. TI is known for its silly Sirens show. Having seen this strange spectacle once, complete with pyro and click track of dialogue and music, my friends and I have decided that the show actually tells the epic gay love story of a ship’s captain who can’t bear being separated from his cabin boy and must pretend to love the head siren to get him back—this makes the ridiculous thing much more entertaining. Anyway, smack in the middle of the piratical theme of the hotel is this incongruous cowboy bar with a bucking bull machine and waitresses in various stages of undress, depending on the hour. Really. In the morning, they wear jeans and tank tops, in the afternoon, micro-shorts and tank tops, and by the evening, we have descended to bikinis and chaps. Yes, that’s what I said, bikinis and chaps. I hope the evening shift gets paid more, and while I don’t really want to see anyone dressed in bikinis and chaps, I found it rather unfair that the waitresses had to wear this get-up while the waiters and the male bucking machine operator were not dressed in similar style. [SQ: I would bet the evening shift might get paid more, but I also bet those girls get nagged constantly about their weight, just to make their jobs even more wonderful.]

As you can probably guess, I would become all too familiar with Gilley’s. Because of the expense factor, I only had tickets to the last day of the finals, and as the rooms did not get Versus and Gilley’s was showing the PBR on 3/4ths of their televisions as well as on a big screen, they reeled me in. How clever of them. Sadly, I was never able to watch the event on the big screen because three hours per night at Gilley’s was already pushing it, and showing up even earlier for a good seat might have been the end of me. Multiple meals of starchy sides (I am the token PBR vegetarian) and too many rum and Cokes, punctuated by occasional drunken mechanical bull riding (by others, I hasten to add) had a certain charm, but I was certainly more than ready to watch the final day live when we finally got there.

Gilley’s did provide one exciting moment when a man was nearly flung onto our table as he bucked off the machine, but sadly, he was too young and not what we were looking for, so we threw him back. The staff was appalled and perhaps afraid we were going to sue them, as we had not signed any sort of liability as those getting on the bucking machine had, but no harm, no foul. In addition to all its other charms, this fine establishment also apparently has “World Famous Bikini Bull Riding.” I did not stay on Sunday to observe this phenomenon, although the folks at the front desk, who called me every day to tell me about the viewing parties at Gilley’s, also helpfully told me about the bikini bull riding so I could easily avoid it.

Friday: Production 101 Fan Club Tour

At the unfortunate hour of nine in the morning (or more accurately, at least 8:45 to sign the liability release in case someone fell down the stairs or something), it was time for the behind-thescenes tour for fan club members. From some chatter I overheard outside the Thomas and Mack, it sounded like the PBR crew was a bit surprised and overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up for the production tour and the stock contractor tour the day before (and apparently there were some people who were not respectful of the stock contractors’ requests regarding their bulls, which is obnoxious, dangerous and, on a more personal level, really irritates me because it would suck if they stopped doing the stock contractor tours in the future because of one or two people).

After the check-in process, the “handlers” trickled us into the T&M, down to the lower section nearest the production area. Unlike the nosebleed section, these seats are padded and have cup-holders, and since the lower seats are almost always reserved for packages and promotions, that may be the only time I ever sit there. There we were greeted by Clayton Cullen, the production lead who comes from a rock tour background, and his production assistant, Jim. Along with tidbits such as where the replay judge sits, where the sound mixer sits, where the announcers sit, and the many, many sound and video feeds that Cullen has at his disposal, we also were treated to the view of the backstage team trying to velcro a bunch of kabuki screens without getting them in the dirt. (How many men does it take to velcro a sheet? At least 10!).

We also learned that the COO loves pyrotechnics and so was shown the buttons to press to unleash them, and earlier in the week in his excitement he accidentally hit one button over and nearly melted one of the screens. Oooops! We also learned that one of the feeds that Cullen has is to Dr. Tandy Freeman’s mic, but it is never piped live in the arena because sometimes things come out of befuddled cowboys that shouldn’t go live, whereas the TV crew can edit such things before they air. Of course, the potential problems with this “the TV crew will catch it” method were displayed when for some reason they decided it would be awesome to go direct to an infuriated Ben Jones, who was at the time banging his helmeted head repeatedly on the chute. Gosh, I wonder what he’s saying? Probably something wholesome and kind.

The floor was opened up for questions, and I was disappointed to see that some people took this as a forum to vent their displeasure about the sound being too loud, or too soft, or the lighting being too little or too much, or whatever their complaint might have been. I felt it was inconsiderate to take up the time of this very busy man who had volunteered to give us all a glimpse at the man behind the curtain with complaints of this kind, not to mention taking up the time of all the other fans on the tour. But, we did get some interesting information about Cody Lambert “yelling” at them to just jump the Ford truck off the center stand when he thought it was taking too long to get it out of there, and some insight into the number of people it takes and the general panic and triumph of running a show of this magnitude.

Following this, we were shepherded around the arena to the one staircase that goes from the upper arena to the dirt, and were able to pass right by the surprisingly small and narrow chutes, the infamous red replay button, and back down the hallway of champions (as seen on TV, amusingly traveling through time from the incredibly youthful Adriano through the less youthful Adriano to the older Adriano), through the back chute area, and back to where the satellite and TV trailers live. Along the way we found Super Duty, who was there by himself for some reason. I understand that he isn’t the most friendly of bulls, but he seemed to handle the flood of humanity fairly well. I was excited to see a bull up close, since the stock contractor tour had popped up on the schedule two hours before my plane was to land on Thursday.

After learning a bit about the editing trailers and the satellite uplink, one woman in my group unfortunately seized the opportunity to ask for a locker room cam, but thankfully other people kicked in with ideas that were more tasteful, so we finished on a better note. Well, better until we got outside again and realized it was pouring rain. Although I appreciate Ford as a sponsor, I will say that a Ford F-150 is not a terribly effective umbrella, as we learned as we huddled under the truck that was above the red carpet entrance as we waited in the miserable line of people wanting cabs.

Friday: Gilley’s Again, This Time with Cowboys

Upon returning to Treasure Island, we headed back into the depths of Gilley’s, as Jack Daniel’s cowboys Aaron Roy and Rocky McDonald were making an appearance. “There are cowboys here, they are very cute,” said one of the JD girls. I had no idea. The real shocker of the afternoon was that the Jack Daniels girls would seem tastefully dressed after the Gilley’s girls experience. It was also heartening to see Rocky McDonald offer one of them half of his plate of friend chicken, which she dug right into. Rocky McDonald is very approachable and very funny—at one point, I said that I would love to do a drawing of him, but I’d never been able to find any good reference photos, to which he replied, “You’d have to be quick, because I’m usually under the bull in two seconds!” Aaron Roy seems very . . . Canadian. Very quiet, very polite. There was some delay in setting up the table with balloons and JD’s promotional materials, so we actually ended up chatting with the guys before that happened, and it was pleasant to be in a more informal setting without strange balloons and JD girls and their creepy male hangers-on hovering around.

Saturday: Meet-and-Greet

Saturday morning was, of course, the meet-and-greet, which unfortunately had been relocated from the slightly inconvenient parking lot of Mandalay Bay to the near-impossible to find and totally inconvenient parking lot of the out-of-the-way Hard Rock. The issue was compounded by the fact that the event started at 8 am, but at 8 am, there were no signs anywhere indicating where one should go. Thankfully, the bright yellow shirt and box of Starbucks belonging to a nice lady from the Stanley booth were able to help us, because walking all the way through the hotel and going up an escalator, out a door and through the pool area wasn’t exactly intuitive. As we made our way through the maze, more and more confused people joined us in following the lady in the yellow shirt; she was the pied piper of the PBR meet-and-greet.

Upon getting in line, we were confronted with video cameras borne by people with crazy hair, and realized when the people in front of us were asked to sign a release indicating that they were from MTV’s Real World. I didn’t even realize that was still on the air. Anyway, they are apparently doing some sort of episode centered on the PBR. I can’t wait to see how classy that production will no doubt be.

Some of the cowboys were running late (and I’m pretty sure a few of them never showed up; some, like Austin Meier and J.B. Mauney, doctored out, I believe, but who knows about the others), but eventually the hordes were let in. We of course had Renato and Valdiron as priorities so that I could give them their drawings. Guessing correctly that Renato’s line would quickly get out of control, we made a dash for him first. And I have to say, as much as I enjoy indulging myself by spending time drawing (and as a human being, I definitely don’t mind compliments on my work), the giant, delighted grin that broke out on Renato’s face was about the hugest reward I could ever ask for, as an artist and just as a person who admires his grit and talent and wanted to give a little back. He picked the drawing up, asked, “You did this?” and yelled in Portuguese to Robson Palermo, who was at the other end of the table, to look at it.

After getting a picture (where we were both grinning like fools), I told Renato he did the right thing by pressing the button. He mumbled, “I don’t know,” but gave a thumbs-up. I was about to step aside so as to not monopolize him when the Cooper Tires photographer asked if I would like a photo. When I said I already had one, Renato got a big smile on his face and said, “Yes, another hug!” So now I have two dorky pictures with Renato, he has one drawing, and I have a great memory. As an aside, his adorable daughter was “helping” by signing a stack of papers for him.

We moved on to Robson, who was quite curious about the drawing. I told him I’d try to get to him soon, which, well, I’m trying to get to everyone, but we’ll see how that goes. (By the time I get good reference photos of everyone and crank through the drawings, some of these guys are bound to have retired!) I am not going to go through each interaction as that would take forever, but I did want to mention Robson because while I know and have always known that this is a dangerous sport, it really drives it home when someone you were talking with in the morning is violently thrown on his head and taken out of the arena on a backboard in the evening. I am so happy and amazed that he came back the next day with a huge ride, and I only wish he would wear a helmet.

After Renato and Robson, we were on a mission to find Valdiron. We discovered him in the far, far corner of the lot. They had placed Valdiron, Robson Aragao, and Wesley Lourenco off the parking pavement and in a mud pit, which I found quite bizarre. It didn’t much bother me or them, as we were all in cowboy boots, but for those in slighter footwear ,it was a problem. Wesley Lourenco, by the way, reminds me of a baby Valdiron—very cute young guy with braces and a lot of talent. Robson Aragao, we discovered, actually signs things as “Spiderman.” I wish his English was better (or that I knew any Portuguese) because I really want to know what the Spiderman thing is all about. He is also taller than I thought, which is funny because most of the cowboys startle me by being shorter than I thought. Anyway, I gave Valdiron the drawing and was rewarded by one of his thousand-watt smiles, and even got a little joking in, as he said, “It looks like me!” and I replied, “A little bit!” He seemed quite tickled and I didn’t have the heart to ask him at that moment why he no longer wears the helmet. I really wish he would go back to it, though.

I did find it very odd this year the way they grouped people. Obviously some were by sponsor, but they had the two Australians together sort of floating in the middle of nowhere, and not very many people seemed to be talking to them, and then the four Brazilians were in the mud. I felt that last year they distributed it a bit more evenly, so that no one ended up sitting around and twiddling his thumbs. It was sort of awkward this year.

A few colorful scenes for you: I had the pleasure of watching Cody Nance set a gaggle of tweens completely aflutter just by existing. I also was quite pleased to see and chat with Chad Berger in his bright pink shirt, complemented by a bright pink autographed guitar he was going to auction for the Rider Relief Fund and Breast Cancer Awareness. I really respect Chad for going out there and taking a stand on an issue that isn’t a natural cowboy tie-in, and seemingly not caring if anybody thinks it isn’t manly.

After running around to various tables, we decided to go for broke and get in the Stanley line. Unfortunately, we were four people away from Guilherme and Silvano when they got called away, but we did get to see them huddled together under a quilt, for all the world like little cold-nosed puppies under a blanket. Too cute. We also had the dubious pleasure of seeing the guys make all sorts of ridiculous gun poses with Stanley power drills for some promotional shots. I also have to add that Stanley was responsible for one of the tackiest new giveaways at the event, but more on that later.

I did have many lovely fan encounters as well throughout the morning, somehow kept getting corralled by PBR camera people wanting happy crowd shots, and finished off the meet-and-greet portion of the afternoon by happening to be by the bucking bull machine when little Renata got on in her pink zebra cowboy boots. She’s pretty darn good—watch out in a few years, boys. Overall, I’m almost always impressed by the graciousness of the cowboys when confronted with the teeming masses, and while I’m sure some of them dread the finals meet-and-greet, most of them have the grace not to show it. A nice experience again this year.