Sunday, March 29, 2015

Team Roping in Texas

     In 1982,  country singer George Strait and his brother, Buddy, started a small family-run open roping that is now one of the premiere team roping events in the nation. Until a few years ago, Strait still participated in his George Strait Team Roping Classic, but as he approached 60, he decided the sport was too hard on him physically and bowed out.
     Earlier events were held in Kingsville, TX, but they are now in Boerne (sounds like journey), a suburb of San Antonio, at the San Antonio Rose Palace, which Strait owns. This year saw 675 teams competing for $1 million in cash and prizes. All of them competed the first day, Friday, March 13, then the top 50 came back on Saturday the 14th. The two members of the winning team walked away with more than $275,000 in cash, a Chevy  Silverado dually pick-up and a specially-decorated George Strait bumper-pull trailer -- each!
This steer is roped!
     In team roping, a header ropes the steer's horns, while the heeler lassoes his hind legs. The object is to be the fastest, and many teams finished a round in less than five seconds. Seconds are added to a score if only one leg is roped, and a team receives no score if the steer gets away sans rope. Scores for each team’s three rounds are combined to determine winners.
     The Rose Palace holds 4,500 people, but with half of it partitioned off for vendors and a warm-up round pen for the participants, I’d say about half that number of stadium-type seats were available. Most of them were filled with middle-aged and older females who have followed Strait since his first single, “Unwound,” came out in 1981. They know that Strait has had a phenomenal career, out-selling all other country music entertainers with 60 Number One chart-toppers, and outlasting them with 33 years of CDs and tours.  His last concert tour, The Cowboy Rides Away, was in 2013-2014. He's taking 2015 off, then will pick and choose where he wants to perform. Far from gone from the music scene, however, Strait has signed a contract with MCA Records for five more albums. He turns 63 in May.
Strait makes his way around arena.
     Fan club members packed the seats nearest the glassed press box in the Rose Palace, hoping for a glimpse of the King of Country. They came armed with cameras, seat cushions, blankets, homemade gifts for the Strait family, and the hope that Saturday morning, they'll be at the fence to touch The King’s hand as he circles the arena on horseback and high-fives everyone within reach. Yes, many of them brought husbands and boyfriends, and actually watched the team roping, too.
The top ropers line up for fans.
     Although the gates opened at 8 a.m. and the roping started at 10, cars lined up as early as 6 a.m. because the seats are general admission. My friend Annette and I arrived about 7:30 that Friday morning, and there were at least two dozen cars ahead of us. But we got decent seats. We left about 5 p.m., tired and hungry, but the event didn't end until the wee hours of the morning.
     Saturday, we were in line by 7 a.m., but there were twice as many cars ahead of us. Like I said, it's the day the lucky ones get to touch the hand of the King. As for me, I was just happy to be in the presence of so many cowboys, most wearing starched jeans and shirts, boots and hats, and saying, "M'am" whenever they addressed you. We joked about bringing one or two home with us, but it just didn't work out.
     Oh well, Maybe next year.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Road Trip

     I left town Sunday on a road trip to San Antonio with a high school chum. Annette is a rabid  George Strait fan, and we have tickets to his Team Roping Classic in Bourne, Texas, Friday and Saturday. At least, that's our excuse for the trip. Actually, it's as much about getting there and back as it is seeing the event. 
     Sunday night we stayed at a Motel 6 in Port Allen, LA. I know the desk clerk thought I was crazy when I asked her whether there were lids on the toilets, but I hate staying in a place that doesn't have them. Turns out there were more important questions I should have asked. There were no tissues, no toiletries other than soap, and no hair dryer. Neither of us packed one because we thought all motels furnished hair dryers. When I mentioned this to the desk clerk next morning, she said they had one they loaned to guests, but it was out at the moment. One hair dryer for the entire motel? You've got to be kidding! Tom Bodett won't have to leave the light on for me again, that's for sure. 
      Monday night we stayed in Sealy, TX, because I was too tired to drive any further. We had spent some time at the Texas Welcome Center on I-10, which threw us into the midst of rush-hour traffic in Houston, and it was raining, to boot.  It took us an hour to get through that city, so we headed for the first decent place we could find to stay the night. Yes, there were hair dryers in the rooms, but the soap was so cheap it crumbled each time I tried to swipe it across my body. By the time I got to my toes, it was scattered all over the tub.
      For the past three days, we have been shopping our way through Texas Hill Country. Before checking into our motel in Bourne Tuesday afternoon, we ate and shopped in Gruene. Like several towns in the area, Gruene was settled by a German family, but is now a tourist town of shops and restaurants. Its biggest attraction is Gruene Hall, an old-time dance hall where many entertainers played when they were George Strait, Merle Haggard and Lyle Lovett. We were two tired puppies Tuesday night.
     Wednesday we went to Bandera, which bills itself as the Cowboy Capital of the World, although I have no idea why. We went into The Cowboy Store looking to buy a couple of long, lanky ones, but found only clothing and boots. The proprietor said if we wanted to find a cowboy, we should go to the 11th Street Cowboy Bar that night, because it was steak night and the place would be crawling with them (cowboys, not steaks). However, this entailed buying a steak at the local butcher's and taking it to the bar to grill ourselves, so we declined. 
     From Bandera we continued to Camp Verde, where the U.S. Army once experimented with camels for transportation. After lunch there, we stopped long enough in Fredericksburg to buy Christmas ornaments and wine, vowing to return for another shopping session Sunday. Our final destination before heading back to Bourne was Luckenbach, the town made famous in song by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. There's nothing much there except a general store and outdoor music venue, but everyone loves to have his photo made under the Post Office sign. 
     Today, we went into San Antonio to see the Alamo, and dropped some more money along the River Walk. I just hope we don't run out of money before we run out of Texas.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Escape Artist

J.J., Betsy & Molly
       When I saw the white van pull up to my back gate, I knew what had happened.
“Did J.J. get out again?” I asked the driver, my neighbor, Phillip.
J. J. is the donkey that used to belong to Phillip’s mother-in-law, Cathy, who lived next door to me.When Cathy died in August 2013, I looked after J.J., Betsy the goat and Molly, Cathy’s aged horse, until Phillip and Misty could get a place with a pasture. I took the donkey and the horse home Mother’s Day weekend. Molly died a few weeks ago, and ever since then, the lonesome donkey keeps pulling a Houdini act and disappearing. I like to think he’s looking for some equine company.
“Yes, he’s down the road again. I called you but got no answer, so I came on. You said I could borrow the trailer anytime.”
“Sure, no problem,” I replied, brushing Mallory, my walking horse, as I talked. “Haven’t you fixed that fence yet?”
“All but a couple of places, but there are a bunch of briars in those places. He keeps going through them. I’ve got to cut the briars down so I can run the barbed wire there.”
This was the second time in three days Phillip had to use my trailer to get J.J. home. He had wandered so far down the road that it was easier to trailer him home than to walk him home. Donkeys really can be stubborn.
“Why don’t you just bring him here for a few days, until you can get the fence repaired,” I suggested.
Phillip’s face lit up like a kid with cotton candy. “Really?” he said. “That would be great.”
So that’s what he did Friday. I came back to the house after brushing Mallory, and received a call from Phillip a short while later. He was at the back, having just delivered J.J.
“You should see him,” Phillip saId. “He brayed four or five times, ran up and down the fence, and the other horses ran with him,” he said. “They’re all kicking up and having a great time. By the way, are your mares in heat?”
“Not that I know of,” I replied. “They usually don’t go into heat until warmer weather. Why? Is he trying to mount one of them?”
“Yeah, the little pony,” he said. “She’s about his size, and seems to be backing up to him.”
“Nibbles? Well, that’s okay,” I told him. “We may just have us a little mule baby next year.”
This morning when I went out to feed them, J.J. and Nibbles were lying side by side in the pasture, soaking up the sunshine. I texted Misty and suggested they take Nibbles home when they come for J.J. She has been looking for a companion for the donkey.  If they like having Nibbles, and decide to keep her, we can talk about a price later. It will be reasonable, because I’ll have one less mouth to feed and less horse poop to muck. 
But if she does turn up pregnant, that baby is mine!