Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Whoopee Tie Yie Yo

I have no problem with rodeos.

Watching the partnership between a horse and rider can be a beautiful thing. On the whole the cattle at rodeos are treated a damn sight better than those at feed lots. My preference in the events are the working activities like roping and bulldogging. I'm not so much a fan of the bucking and bull-riding competitions.

So ... I was at the rodeo in Ellensburg, WA recently, at the invitation of my son-in-law's family. I haven't been to a rodeo in years, and I was bemused by the experience.

Oddly enough the first rodeo I went to was near Montreal. About all that I remember of it is that the parade was led by a fancily dressed cowboy who rode a palomino while brandishing two shiny six-shooters. I was told at the time that he was a Canadian cowboy star named (I swear to God) Bang Bang Bertram. I have conducted a desultory search for this person and can find no proof of his existence, and it would be entirely in my father's character to have made up the most ridiculous name he could think of as a kind of joke.

Here are some impressions of the Ellensburg do:

I knew there would be some culture shock involved when the announcer made a big deal about one of the contestants being from New Jersey, and I turned to the person next to me and said, "Roy Rogers was from New Jersey," and she said, "Who?"

It was odd to see how many bright, new, straw cowboy hats were being worn. The biggest booths were for these hats and it seemed like everyone was buying them. I finally realized that some were being bought as souvenirs, but others were the once-a-year replacements for the old and battered working hats. I was tempted to buy one myself since my old straw fedora has become sanctified (too holy to be worn), but my style is more fedora than ten-gallon and I was mindful of the old adage that God created cowboys to establish a style that would make Jewish men look ridiculous (Kinky Friedman is the only one I know who can carry it off).

All the Misses Rodeo of various types ride their horses at full gallop as they lean forward, right arm extended (the one closest to the audience for their counter-clockwise dash around the ring) with a kind of metronomic back and forth handwave.

No matter how drunk they get, the ladies in back of you have an expert opinion on the cowboy's capabilities (and not just in the ring).

The outlying riders get little credit and do most of the work.

The clown and announcer banter isn't that funny, which is why a good portion of it seems to be directed toward the section where drinking is allowed.

The recitation about Native Americans was embarrassingly paternalistic and demeaning. It's probably a good thing that they weren't armed for their jaunt across the ring.

I never knew that Spandex was the traditional buffalo hunting costume of the Northwest tribes. (Nor did I know that they hunted buffalo.)

The parade of riders carrying the flags of advertisers and sponsors of the rodeo made me snort. I mean ... good for them but still.

Just like in Pro-Wrestling, rodeo now comes with a soundtrack. It's disconcerting to see a rider catapulted off a bronc to the dulcet strains of ZZ Top's 'Sharp-Dressed Man'.

All-in-all I had a good time, so don't take this as a list of complaints ... they are just bemused contemplations.

A New View

I am sitting in a room that overlooks the short steep driveway in front of my oldest son's house in Kirkland, WA. I am house-sitting while he and his family spend a year in Austin, TX.

Kirkland is still booming with the overflow population and technology companies from Redmond and houses are being crammed in like sardines in a can (a comparison made more appropriate by the fact that across the tiny side street from where I sit is a gray three story building that was originally a salmon cannery.

The contractor whose crew is digging out our foundations to waterproof the lower floors of the house told me that, and said that his grandmother had worked in the plant.

So, as I said, the buildings here are being crammed in tightly. Any house with a substantial yard seems to be in the process of being transformed into two houses with postage stamp lawns. The house to the left of the salmon cannery, for example, had a wonderful yard. The house was set back from the street about 40 feet. Now, however, only a tiny corner of the building is visible beyond the half-finished third of three houses that occupy the erstwhile expanse of trees and grass.

These mansionettes with their tiny yards are going to sell for at least 800K USD and probably much more. It is a boom time in this small town across Lake Washington from Seattle.

So for a small town ... this is a damn noisy place. In addition to the contractor digging around this house, there is the construction crew at the house across the street, another at the salmon factory refurbishing it into an apartment house (or so I surmise), the house directly to the east of where I sit is being refurbished too. Last but not least, directly behind us is what used to be a parking lot and storage building. For the last week or two an extremely squeaky and ancient backhoe has been in nearly constant use as the foundations are laid for yet another new home.

I've noticed something odd here. All the houses in the area have decks. Most have more than one. This house is built on the side of a hill and comprises three floors, The two bottom floors have decks, the upper forming a kind of roof for the lower.

I spend a lot of time on the upper deck. It's near the kitchen (and therefore the French press) and doesn't require me to channel Sir Edmund Hillary when I realize that I left my reading glasses in my bedroom.

The odd thing is that, with all the time I've spent out there, I have yet to see anyone on the deck of any of the houses in sight ... never ... no barbecuing, no drinking a beer, no smoking ... it's as if the deck is a decorative addition like the superfluous shutters that bracket the windows of newly constructed houses uselessly. Front porches are likewise deserted.

I can't blame the noise. Late in the afternoon when the crews go home, the decks stay vacant. You'd think that with the ubiquitous WiFi networking out here, that there would be at least one or two other people out on the deck with their laptops like the old goofy ads for Grant's Scotch. You know, with the man sitting in a chair on the patio with a portable typewriter in his lap, a single sheet of paper rolled into the platen, saying to some one outside the frame, "While you're up, get me a Grant's."

But everybody seems to wander down to the coffee shops in the downtown area. It is an odd kind of socializing where folks are packed in at little cafe tables talking on their cell phones or tapping at their keyboards, and ignoring those around them while, I imagine, taking some comfort in the fact that everyone else is ignoring them.

If I weren't such a misanthropic SOB I'd pretend to be confused by all this.