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" … us Townies will never understand."

I grew up in a town with a RoeDayOh, but I'd never attended one until last night because I was a 'townie.' Townies live in the small city adjacent to ranches, but live utterly separate lives from those lived by cowboys and ranch hands. Townies do not wear Wranglers, but Levi's, and eschew almost everything to do with the covertly effeminate cowboy boots, snap-front shirts, and mangled broad-brimmed cardboard cowboy hats. Townies name their offspring Bill, Bob, or Joe, not Yancy or Wade, and not one of us ever even think of wearing fancy belt buckles or getting any closer to a live bull than a very rare steak, let alone attempting to ride on one's bucking back. Townies pray that they do not win the door prize of a $75,000 diesel Dodge Ram pick-up. We think of cowboys as overly-committed throwback cosplay characters, mimicking a history that never was. Townies maintain their own delusions every bit as alienating as any cowboy's or cowgirl's, my point being that we're cut from different cloth, fabric with little middle ground upon which to meet.

Back in the 1930s, when Hollywood discovered The West, the standard plot line would feature city slickers visiting a dude ranch where they'd be introduced to authentic Americana replete with ballet-dancing cowboys and small symphony orchestras performing impromptu Gershwin productions.
They'd find an iron triangle hung just outside the cook room door which a character invariably called Cookie would pound on to signal that supper was ready, supper always including beans, cornbread, steak, and coffee brewed over an open fire in a tin percolator with a little glass knob on top. There'd be horses and cacti, herds of 'beef', and a charismatic cowboy or cowgirl (ranch hands apparently never maturing beyond the boy or girl designation), along with a villain with a black hat and a smarmy mustache. We've all seen the script. Oh, and the slicker always mispronounced 'rodeo' as RoeDayOh, in a haughty Middle Atlantic dialect.

These days, the metaphors have metastasized to wrap the whole subculture in glow-in-the-dark American flags. To be a RoeDayOh performer, one must exhibit pride in the flag and, as a momentarily hatless young cowpoke did on the arena's Jumbotron®, pray to Jesus. Flag, country, and pride were the real stars of the show. And what a show! It was overall a frightening and cringe-worthy experience. I arrived as unprepared as an anthropologist visiting Mars, The Muse and The Otter along with me. I was uncertain what I would see. Oh, I'd understood the overall memes: ride the horse, buck with the bull, rope the calf, run the barrels, but I'd never before seen a staged production of the play. The choreography seemed stunning, with chutes and exits managed with admirable efficiency. Each eight- or nine-second performance introduced then judged with little fanfare, an announcer exhorting the crowd to make more noise. About what, I never caught on.

Few cowboys were thrown, the 'sport' apparently having grown to the point where most contestants know the trick to staying on for their requisite eight seconds. The bull riders, at least, now wear helmets. Most of the contenders could not rope their calf for anything, a streak of missed ropings everyone found embarrassing. People in the crowd cheered, but I couldn't figure what they were cheering about. I kept my voice to myself, averting my eyes about as much as I observed. I felt pleased that I wasn't employed as the calf pusher, a hatless cowpoke whose responsibility seemed to be to stand just behind the calf in the chute and shove the critter out into the arena to start the next gladiatorial round. The calves seemed understandably reticent.

I watched my watch, wondering just when the performances might end. One contestant managed to get himself stomped by a Brahma bull, though nobody else seemed as wounded as I felt watching the spectacle. Townies don't understand the underlying game. I left feeling a little embarrassed at my presence there, the exiting crowd a sea of Stetsons and recently dusted off straw hats, as unnecessary on a frigid January evening as as a pork chop on a stick. The whole affair carried the musty barnyard odor of a Trump rally, a self-congratulatory celebration of a world that never was. A SmallThing, perhaps, which us Townies will never understand.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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