Wednesday, June 1, 2011

All the Bull from Duluth, Georgia

Ladies and gentlemen, I am greatly indebted to the divine Black Boots, who attended the PBR event in Duluth and sent me this stellar report and pictures. Enjoy!

It’s always nice to have the bulls in for a visit. And yes, there was this football player who thought he might take Deja Blu out for a lil’ test drive, but more about that later.

On the second night of the event, E and M (my bull-riding buddies) and I took the Behind-the-Scenes Tour. I was surprised at the carte blanche we were given to clamber around on the equipment, as LONG AS WE DIDN’T TAKE ANY PICTURES IN THE DRESSING ROOM. Which was actually kind of funny, because as soon as our group showed up at the dressing room door, all the riders scattered like rabbits through the other exits—and we were left with the fencing, ropes ,and gear bags you’re all familiar with from the broadcasts. But we got to go up and down stairs and walk out onto the arena dirt (good old red Georgia clay and sand, thank you very much.)

The first piece of equipment I chose to clamber around in was the infamous Truth Booth. It’s not a booth—it’s a backdrop. As you can see in the picture, it’s pretty stark. The monitor where they watch the ride is at a weird downward angle, so I guess that’s why all we see are the tops of the cowboy hats of so many Truth Booth occupants. It’s also entirely voluntary, which made me wonder why a rider who has just been unceremoniously dumped chooses to further expose his pain in the Truth Booth. I know some of the segments are pretty painful to me.

This is the monitor for the boom camera. The top screen is live (yes, that’s Craig Hummer in the broadcast booth), and the bottom screen is the upcoming segment (this one was Ochocinco’s crash course from the morning). I wish the boom camera operator had been around, because I’d love to find out how they choose shots-and how that thing works.

And this shot of the dormant silver Flaming Bull Heads O’ Death convinced me that someday, somehow, I must save my pennies and see this show from the chute seats.

But the highlight of the tour was the moment we got to stand behind the chutes, where the riders wait for their moment of glory (or, you know, NOT) and turn and see the ocean of bull-dom directly behind us. This is the closest I’ve ever been to PBR BFTS-caliber bulls, and all I could do was grin like a kid and marvel at their size, the way their muscles moved across their shoulders, and how they huddled together in seemingly choreographed movements. I got close enough to Perfect Poison to call out to him and he listened, ears a’swiveling. He stepped close enough for me to reach out and touch him. I had to jam my hands in my pockets to resist the impulse. That was, without a doubt, one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever had as a PBR fan.

After the final portion of the tour (“Here’s some fencing! Here’s some boxes!”) we got to the meet and greet part:

Guilherme is always so nice.

My *squee* moment: Robson Palermo has the best skin of any human being I’ve ever seen.

Dusty Ephrom just got a new fan.

Mike Lee never spoke. He signed his name and added the words “Follow Jesus.” I wanted to ask him, “Where’d He go?”

We always get tons of rank bulls. I make notes on the day sheets, and the bulls that got stars were a clone named I’m Back, Muddy Chicken, Range War, Houchie (love the Houdini bull names!), Black Cuervo, Immigrant, and the ever-handsome King Lopez. In the broadcast, they didn’t show rookie rider Matt Triplett do a backflip off the top rail à la Renato after riding his first PBR bull.

During the first 40 rides on Saturday, Mr. Ochocinco was perched in the chute seats with a posse, and Ty Murray was in his ear the entire time. Even from our seats, we could tell he was ashen, trying to concentrate in that way athletes do before they perform but unable to get the fear that gripped him completely off his game face. I’d seen him the night before, when he huddled with Ty in front of us to watch Deja Blu buck off Josh Faircloth. At intermission, the mob of media swarmed after him, then back into the arena, where we waited--and waited--for the network feed. The cowboys gathered en masse behind the chutes with their cameras and cellphones, and that was a lot of fun to see--kind of a family portrait of the PBR. The music got loud, Cody Lambert pulled rope, and none of the judges dared squeak a word of discouragement.

And in 1.5 seconds, it was over. And he didn’t get bucked off so much as just dumped off. I was impressed with how swiftly he ran once he got to his feet, but wondered why he went to the arena gate instead of the chute gate (did Ty not tell him the bull would be headed that way, too?) Sadly, the best picture I got of Mr. Ochocinco was on the beeg screen (my little point and shoot wasn’t fast enough to catch the buck-off action), and he was nothing but gracious in his praise for the riders and the bullfighters.

It was a good weekend, and the memories should hold me until the series cranks back up again.