July 18, 2008


Hatched by Dafydd

If you're wondering why the posting schedule has been so flakey (as opposed to the posting subject matter, which is just naturally flakey, nutty, fruity, and in general, like a box of libertarian-conservative granola), it's that we're currently on holiday in the Great White North.

(We once went on holiday in the great white whale, but it was too damp.)

At the moment, we're in Calgary, just back from the last two days of the Calgary Stampede. The Stampede calls itself in the "greatest outdoor show on earth," hoping this will be sufficiently different from another slogan that Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey won't sue. Unquestionably, however, it's the largest and most famous rodeo in the world; and I've wanted to see it for decades.

We finally seized the lariat this year, and a stint for the final week-end occupies the first part of our holiday. The second part, which takes place at the very moment you're reading this (unless you're a very slow reader), comprises a six-day horsepack trip through the Canadian Rockies, of which the kindest thing to say is that they look remarkably like the Colorado Rockies, except whiter and somewhat more socialist.

Last night, we watched the finals of the chuckwagon races, which were followed by a massive show that was a bizarre interbreeding between a rowdy nightclub act, a show at Disneyland, a 4th of July fireworks display in a smallish town in Ohio, the Circue du Soleil, a junior-high glee club, and a 1970s performance by Up With People.

(Today we saw the finals of the rodeo competitions: the rope and tie, bareback bucking bronco riding, steer wrestling, saddled bucking bronco riding, and "bucking" Brahma bull riding -- how come nobody ever says bucking anent bulls? -- but I'll talk about that in a day or two.)

The chuckwagon races were a new experience to me; I've watched rodeos on TV and even a couple of small ones around where we live; but I've never seen hot-rod chuckwagons before.

For those of you who have never watched Wagontrain or Bonanza or Gunsmoke, or indeed any Hollywood western made between the 1960s and the days of Tom Mix and Cheyenne Harry, a "chuckwagon" is the transport vehicle that followed along behind the drovers and the cattle on cattle drives, carrying the food, the cookpots and implements, and the cooks. Linguists believe this gave rise to a common expression for something that typically happened after the chuckwagons did their magic; but what do linguists know? They also claim, the cads, that the line "out, damned Spot" from the Scottish play refers to Lady MacBeth's pet leopard.

I suppose in days of yore, chuckwagon races used real chuckwagons; but nowadays they race specially designed wagons with little mini canvas coverings, all painted and bedecked in the logos of the traditional corporate sponsors of the wild west era -- Tellus Long-Distance Phone Service, the First National Bank of Canada, Canada Dry, and the Liberal Party.

In a very Canadian touch, the wagons all begin facing the opposite direction from where they're headed; at the sound of the horn, the first thing they do is turn around, attempting to smush various barrels dotted strategically around the start-finish area. They're usually unsuccessful, leaving many of them standing.

The wagons tear off down the course, each trailed by three hysterical cowpokes on laconic cowburros whose job, apparently, is to race after their wagonmaster with items and stuff he forgot; the sight of the red-faced, whip-wielding pokes spewing violent profanity as they try to move their lazy asses brought tears of joy to the audience's eyes.

There appears to be some rule that the pursuers of the winning wagon must stay within 150 feet of the chuckwagon itself -- that is, close enough that with a titanic heave, they can hurl the forgotten goods ("Those Left Behind") onto the chuckwagon's tailgate. Judging from the triumphal parade after each race, these goods include each wagon's "backup driver," or else the driver's wife (who would be the backseat driver)... or so I surmise, since the wagons only have one driver during the race; but when they come round again, he has a somewhat flustered and rumpled wife or perplexed partner seated next to him.

I forget who won. I doesn't make any difference anyway, because the chuckwagons don't have any food in them.

Speaking of food, we did remarkably well at the Stampede: We only ate a single bison rib each, and then we split a barbecued beefwich... spending a mere $70 Canadian. Oh, I forgot to mention: Sachi had a lemonade, whilst I drank a cup of peach juice; this accounts nicely for the money spent.

The chuckwagon races began at 8:00 pm sharp and finished at 10:30 dull; how many times can you watch little horsedrawn wagons fling themselves around a track at breakleg speed, with cookery and crockery strewing out behind like Toyota engine parts after you go over a speedbump, before your mind begins to wander?

So we were rather pleased when the rilly big shoe started about 11:00; it ran until midnight; then some more until about 1:00; then they decided they had a few more acts that hadn't had their chance yet -- did I mention the motorcycle stunt jumping on stage? -- so they continued on till about 2:00. By 3:00 am, we decided we had had enough, even if they hadn't... so we firmly turned our backs on the Bavarian yodeling society, the Chinese acrobats, the full-scale reenactment of Noah and his ark (the unicorns didn't make it aboard; so now we know), three guys named Pete who were having a beer-drinking and rump-kicking contest, a piper named Johnny Bagpipe who played Van Halen on the pipes, and an international chess championship -- all performing simultaneously with the Greek chrous, to general befuddlement -- and we wended our way to bed.

One of those is a real act from the show. I won't tell you which, but it turns out I actually knew him from 27 years ago, when I marched behind him in greatkilt and pike while he played a medley of "Scotland the Brave," "the One-Shoed Policeman's Jig," "the Flagellating Lepers' Reel," and "Star Wars."

This being Calgary in the summer, the sun was just setting as we staggered out the gates and into the waiting arms of a "courtesy bus" to downtown; due to traffic, we arrived only a little later than if we had walked. But all in all, a wonderful time was had by all, especially the Bavarian yodelers, who got the Chinese acrobats to bounce over the heads of the guys named Pete and beernap their kegs.

In the distant future of Sunday or Monday, I'll tell you about the strange scoring system of Canadian rodeos, in which everyone gets the same number of points, no matter what. I hope this little chat has been informative, and that you don't ever do it again or you'll be grounded, young man.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, July 18, 2008, at the time of 11:30 AM

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The following hissed in response by: k2aggie07

Today we saw the finals of the rodeo competitions: the rope and tie, bareback bucking bronco riding, steer wrestling, saddled bucking bronco riding, and "bucking" Brahma bull riding -- how come nobody ever says bucking anent bulls? -- but I'll talk about that in a day or two.

Is that actually how they announced the events? Here in Texas (and when I pushed cattle in Montana) we call it calf roping, bareback, and saddle bronc. Did they not have team roping?

I do want to make it up there though -- everyone I've ever heard that's been has a story similar to yours...although perhaps not quite as colorful.

The above hissed in response by: k2aggie07 [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 18, 2008 1:28 PM

The following hissed in response by: Roy Lofquist

Dear Dafydd,

Try cruising outback Arizona, up around the Mogollon Rim, on a Saturday. Real rodeo. Youth events. Greased pigs. Close enough to get corral slop in your face. See the less adroit clowns getting first aid. Everybody smiling. A tattered ribbon for first prize. Biggest smile ever.


The above hissed in response by: Roy Lofquist [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 18, 2008 8:06 PM

The following hissed in response by: Captain Ned

I see you believe in the mythology of MacBeth.

The above hissed in response by: Captain Ned [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 19, 2008 8:52 AM

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