Saturday, July 21, 2012

Patriot Night at the Stampede 2012

Their faces are taut, concentrated, and often a little pale.

No, not the little old ladies on the pew at church, clutching their purses for dear life. I’m talking about the bronc and bull riders at the Snake River Stampede.

Our announcer-on-horseback, Boyd Polhamus, occasionally interviews the riders right after their eight seconds or less. The great part about that is that although breathless, you can hear the adrenaline rush in the cowboys’ voices.

Watch a bronc jump straight up in the air like Tigger the Tiger-but with a lot more attitude-and you’ll think breathless. On patriot night clear from the other side of the arena we could see the gates rattling with an antsy, agitated bronc that was just busting to be set loose. Steven Dent was declared at one point as ‘the new sherrif in town’, with a ride scoring an 82. From the stands, the ride looked unbelievably intense, with the cowboy’s legs looking like wet noodles flopping around.

As bullfighting clown Justin Rumford did a run past the seats by the dirt, he high-fived everyone. A grandfather picks up his young grandson, holding him just high enough over the fence to get a high-five, too, putting his little one before himself, as grandparents are prone to do.

Looking around at the audience that evening, I kept hearing the phrase, “I see tough people,” in my head. It was military night, and tough doesn’t even begin to cover what they or their families do. Like the cowboy mentality, our military gets the job done, no matter what, and they don’t let anybody or anything stand in their way. They’re our human barrier and buffers, maintaining our freedoms, and we’d do well to never forget that. The writer in me knew that I was sitting amongst a sea of heroic stories of how individuals and families ‘cowboy up’, for our benefit. I wished I known them all. Our announcer reminded us at the beginning of the program (which always includes the presentation of the flag, and the singing of the National Anthem, and a prayer) that our freedom to pray openly and wherever we choose is initiated by the Constitution, and preserved by our military.

Because of the kind of country we lived in, we got to enjoy a rodeo where the only harm we were worried about at the present was what might come to a cowboy or cowgirl during an event. With bull’s names like Insaniac, Dirty Deeds, Pure Poison, Squeeze Play and Forensic Files, we had reason for concern. When one cowboy limped off after a bull ride, it was pretty clear that a limb or two was going to need some ice.

How can you give a kid a name like ‘Rusty’ and not expect him to rodeo? I got a kick out of going down the program each night, searching out great cowboy names. I found D.J., Guy, J.W., Sunshine, Guytin, Dalton, Wace, Mac, Chase, Cody, R.C., Zack, Cooper, Gabe, Kollin, Jhett, Tate, K.C., Jacobs, Cade, Tyrel, Cort, Merritt, Sterling, Tyrell, Spud, Clayton, Riley, Dallee, and one of my all-time favorite cowboy names, ‘Buster Barton’.

We continued to get mini-bios on the riders, whenever there was a second or two to squeeze it in.

‘Heath Ford writes gospel music songs,’ we were told.

A clever steer went running out of the chute and stopped short, letting the steer wrestler on his horse run right on past. Tricky little devil.

Justin Rumford was and Boyd Polhamus were at it again.

“How many people here are teenagers?” Justin called out cheerfully. A big cheer came from the stands.

“Pull yer pants up, for Heaven’s sake!” said Boyd Polhamus, as the older set laughed in agreement.

Polhamus’ chaps were a sight to behold. I remembered last year I’d blurted out, “Those are colorful pants,” to past rodeo queen Courtney Crowe, who laughed, “Those are chaps.” I’m learning. This year, the announcers ‘chaps’ were fringed with shimmering silver. Fancy Chaps…vs. Fancy Pants.

When a saddle bronc dropped to the ground in an effort to throw its rider, even though a very intentional, calculated movement on the bronc’s part, it still meant a re-ride opportunity for the cowboy. This was reminiscent of a two year old taking issue with something.

“He threw a fit!” Polhamus said, summing it up perfectly.

Halfway through the rodeo, I left my seat near the front and joined a friend and her family that were seated in the upper level.

“Where are you?” I texted to her on my phone, “At the Boise Office Equipment sign, under the horse’s backside,” she answered. Where else but at a rodeo might we be able to have such an exchange?

Since my friend was originally from out of the country, she had a few questions about the rodeo. Flashback to 2010, when I knew next to nothing. Back then, I was doing all of the asking, and my new-found rodeo friends were doing a lot of the educating. (Luckily they were patient with me). There I sat, explaining that to be born a rodeo animal was a good deal, they only really ‘worked’ for minutes per week, and were very well-treated. I told her about how it’s their nature to buck and kick, what they liked to do, and related that to any free-spirited child. (We all know one… and I am one!)

I hadn’t realized just how much I’d learned over the past couple of years from others, a bit of reading, and from a lot of observation. What an opportunity for a mind-opening experience, and I’m so glad I took the Stampede up on the blogging position they offered in the Press Tribune once upon a time. I have a lot of rodeo heroes, a favorite bucking horse (Bottle Rocket, because he’s simply an incredible animal), an event I love to watch the most (steer wrestling), and event that makes my heart stop and turns me into my worrisome German mother (bull riding), and good rodeo friends to continue to glean information from. The rodeo friends were the link between my city world and their country world, being willing to stand between both and provide a buffer where it was safe to learn and explore.

We were surrounded by people who provided a buffer on Patriot night at the Stampede, keeping us safe, protected, and allowing us to become whoever we want to be without boundaries or restrictions. We should all thank God for our Military.

I hope they and their families had a wonderful night out at the rodeo.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Stampede for the Cure: Real Cowboys and Cowgirls Never Give Up

What’s a good way to start out the Stampede for the Cure night?

With pink cotton candy. Pink cotton candy equals happiness. Seeing those kids outside the Idaho Center selling their hearts out made me say, “Oh, why not!” and purchase a bag. I gave them the raised eyebrow when they asked, ‘What color, pink or blue?’ On this night, they should know which would be the most popular, and I hoped for their sakes they’d stocked up on one particular color more than the other.

There was a lot of pink to be seen, everywhere I looked. The security guards, the volunteers, the Stampeders wore pink shirts after their performance (with some majorly bling-bling belts). The Cervi stock guys wore pink from head to toe. I thought I was seeing things, but nope. Those were pink jeans those boys were wearing.

Some kind of weird, pink-focused dream?

Nuh-huh. This was real life, and as good as it gets. We were all wearing pink to fight breast cancer, something far too many of us have been affected by. We could all tell stories of loss connected with those two words, ‘breast cancer’. The disease is detestable.

What can we do? We can raise awareness, money, and we can wear pink.

“I only wear this shirt once a year,” said one of the male Stampede volunteers.

Good enough.

The evening started off with a triumphant ride, totally busting the mutton with a score of 94.

When the main program got started, it was apparent that this was going to be a different kind of night. Ladies all decked out in every shade of pink possible were here with their daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, and best girlfriends, and they were letting their hair down. There were people dancing in their seats, waving their arms to the music, living life out loud. It made for a rowdier audience. We girls know how to have fun!

The other difference was that whenever someone fell off or was in harm’s way of a kicking, bucking animal, the sounds of sympathy or concern were more audible than they’d been on opening night. We women tend to be caretakers and nurturers to the core, even at a rodeo.

Announcer Boyd Polhamus, was literally ‘back in the saddle again’. It’s hard enough to announce for 2 ½ hours, harder still to do that with a mike in hand, program schedule, working the reins and on horseback. He did a great job of building the excitement and suspense by giving us a run down of all of the world champions that were present, ready to compete, while dramatic music played in the background. He knows how to put an exclamation point on an event. He introduced Dan Tiller, Snake River Stampede’s president, and then Nampa Mayor Tom Dale and another man who’s name I didn’t catch (feel free to comment), who sang an impressive rendition of our National Anthem, all as a girl held our flag on horseback. Knowing that virtually everyone had their hands on their hearts at that moment (or should have), gave me a feeling of connection to everyone in the arena. One nation under God. Speaking of God, it’s a big thing at the rodeo. I don’t think there are too many bull riders that don’t believe in a God of some sort. I could be wrong on that one, but I saw plenty of them take a knee in the dirt after a ride last night.

Featured on this night was the pink bull that they called ‘Victoria’s Secret’. According to Boyd Polhamus, it had only been ridden twice for the duration of eight seconds in the last ten years. Polhamus gives us background on just about everything, if he has time to. Scheduling-wise, they run a pretty tight ship. Conversely, he’s great about filling up the time with interesting talk, too, a definite skill when there’s a delay with an animal, cowboy or something going on in the chute. Polhamus told us about Tilden Hooper, bareback bronc rider.

“Someone you hope your daughter never brings home, because he’s someone you’re gonna like.” Not too many moms dream of their daughter marrying off to a traveling rodeo cowboy.

He commented on the animals, too.

“Love those undomesticated farm animals! They won’t come when you call ‘em, and they won’t sit around beggin’ for doggie treats.”

During steer wrestling, more than a few cowboys struggled to get those horns down, but wrestled them till they could, even if their time was toast by then. Tenacity and showmanship can be thanked for this. The people came to see a steer wrestled, and they were going to see it.

A person could learn a lot from a rodeo, there’s object lessons a-plenty if you’re really looking. Cowboys and cowgirls don’t give up, a good thing to remember in a sea of pink for the fight agains breast cancer. You never, ever give up.

“Cowboy up!” said one parent to a child in the stands last night in a good-natured way.

We have, we are, and we will.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Opening Night 2012: Watch and See

“What do you like to do?” said Boyd Polhamus, while saddled on a horse in the arena.

“Cowboy stuff,” the mutton-busting boy told him.

The muttons were jumping, great lambs-a-leapin’, all around that famous Idaho Stampede dirt, making it pretty technical to hold on, but some did.

Stampede Board member Roger Todd was making sure honored guests were comfortable in the sponsor boxes, seats only a metal gate away from where the action is. Two ladies in the box loudly clapped and whooped, decked out in straw cowgirl hats with hot pink bandanas tied around them. The two were having the time of their lives, and the main events hadn’t even started yet. They were the epitome of ‘If you’re going to the rodeo, go all the way.”

I’d be willing to bet that those two could have given other rodeo-goers a few pointers. Pointers like, wear your most comfortable jeans. Purchase a large soda or cold water from the concessions stand; you’re going to be here a while. If you’ve got some comfortable, kicked around boots, it’s okay to wear ‘em. (Disclaimer: If you normally wear flip-flops, don’t try to pull off the boot thing. It might not work.)

When the girls carrying the flags flew around the arena on their gorgeous horses, dirt clods got flipped clear up into the twelfth row, which added to the experience.

The announcer, broadcasting to us via horseback for the first time in nearly a decade, created an even more involved vibe. When the saddle bronc riders burst out of the chute, he said over the cheering, “This one’s jerking this guy to pieces…He’ll have to buy shirts with one sleeve longer than the other one.”

I looked around and realized that a lot of people were, quite literally, on the edges of their seats. When Matt Reeves got done steer wrestling, the announcer guessed that he’d just broken an arena record, but it was not to be. He timed out at a 3.5, not the supposed 3.0. Still, exciting stuff.

Mounted cowboy shooting was added this year. Talk about coordination and timing. Caps shot from a gun pop balloons as the riders sped by. Precision maneuvering.

Intermission and the calf scramble. Initiator for the scramble years ago is Rodney Moore, who was given a respectful ride on the famous Stampede wagon around the arena. The kids in the scramble worked hard to get themselves a calf this year; several walked away holding their noses and/or slightly limping. The calves have a little weight to them, and they can run. When they're caught the don't take a tie-down lightly, either. During the scramble, the announcer said, “It’s not like non-competitive soccer, where at the end everyone gets a trophy.”

I was reminded again of cowboy and rodeo culture: You get what you earn.

All too soon, the Stampede’s opening night was over and slack was beginning. The seats emptied, all but a few, where families of riders sat patiently waiting…also a part of the culture. I remembered the lady that told me she read a whole book and three magazines one weekend while waiting for her roper to get done riding.

Those following the Stampede this week will play the waiting game, too. We’re going to have to wait clear up until Saturday to see who gets to bring home the prize. With the first day under our belts, we’ll just have to watch and see.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pet The Bull

"Pet him," my friend told me.

No way, I thought, remembering the sort of scenes I'd witnessed last year and the year before when it came to a full-grown rodeo bull.

"Chicken," she chided.

Absolutely accurate, and I didn't care.

"Here's my reasoning," I told her, turning my back on the massive beasts inside their pen while I was standing outside of the pen, "I saw these guys crush ribs last year. Doesn't it make sense that if I stuck my hand inside and patted his head, that he could bash it up against this rail here? I'm thinking he could easily break my wrist and smash my fingers."

"Yeah, he could," she agreed with a grin that was hard to read. Somewhere in there the word 'greenhorn city girl' was swimming around, I thought.

"Look at these bars," I explained, trying to further prove that my fear was more from simple common sense than from being naive, "They're flimsy. Even I can move them around. That doesn't seem secure to me."

My friend's mom, sitting nearby with the driver's side car door open, laughed and said, "Oh, Amy, you're precious."

I wasn't so sure I wanted to be precious, either, although I was their free entertainment of the evening. That was okay, the trade was an invitation to dinner. My friend and I walked around to the other pen, where the even bigger and more beastly bulls were.

"Aren't they pretty," she told me. That was not the word I would have chosen.

"Look at them when they're sleeping," my friend went on,"Their eyes are so cute, they look like they're smiling..."

I had to admit, yes, the eyes were sort of cute, in an 'I don't trust 'em, monster-ish' sort of way. They didn't look so cute while they were bucking, I can tell you that.

When we returned to the car, my friend's mother had a story to tell. It seemed that a couple of the bulls had gotten into a skirmish while we were away.

"Look," she said, pointing, "They bowed out that part of the pen."

Just about where I'd been standing earlier, a part of the metal was bent into the shape of an 'S'. I was sort of glad I'd chosen to step away before the scuffle occurred. I wouldn't be petting any bulls any time soon.

You can see my 'cute' friends at the Snake River Stampede this week, with some brave riders atop them, hoping to bring home the bacon.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Taste of Victory: Lions State Chili Cook Off 2012

For Dan Lea, judging the Lions State Chili Cook Off is just part of the job. He’s the Arts and Entertainment Editor for the Idaho Press Tribune.

“They were looking for celebrity judges, I don’t know if I qualify to that degree, but my publisher asked me if I’d be available and willing to do that. I’ve actually judged some county fair chili cook offs in Michigan, where I’m originally from. I enjoy food in general and experiencing new things. In that sense, I think I was a pretty good pick.”

Dan himself makes a mean chili. Personally, he likes to use celery salt or sea salt, three different beans (garbanzo, black, and red kidney), and consistency-wise, his preference runs on the soup (vs. the stew) side. His base flavor falls under the tomato and tomato juice category. Green chilies are what Dan uses to provide the snap, and his meat of choice? Ground turkey.

“My compromise for good health,” he adds.

Heaven only knows what ingredients he’ll see tomorrow. The kick could be provided by green chilies from New Mexico or even ghost chilies, like in the concoction last year that I had to sign an actual waiver for before I could try. Style will differ. Tomato based? Green with chicken? More of a beefy dish? Protein-wise, Dan suspects he could be seeing shredded beef, chicken, turkey, buffalo or elk.

Secret ingredients are anyone’s guess. Dan’s heard of people using ketchup before.

“---Which makes sense, because it’s sugar-based. It obviously sweetens. People are also going to have a variety of onions, beans…I’ll be taking notes. I’m actually going to go a couple of hours early to see those ingredients and how they’re used.”

There are a lot of off-handed jokes to be made about a chili cook off contest, but Dan gives a gentle warning:

“These people are pretty serious about their craft. They’re pretty intense and take great pride. There are secret recipes and ingredients that might be unique to them. Conversely, sometimes they love to share, there’s a lot of pride in what makes their chili special.”

Judge Dan Lea gives the rest of us, acting as unofficial judges, these chili cook off tasting tips:

-Make sure to give yourself a chance to sample everything, don’t think you might have found the perfect chili on the first try.

-Keep moving along, make sure you savor the vast variety that will be available.

-If you’re seriously trying to cleanse your palate, use saltine crackers. Water alone won’t do it.

“It’s very much like what you’d do if you were wine tasting,” shares the experienced judge.

Tomorrow afternoon will contain the moment of truth as contestants from all over the state cook up a storm, all with the firm knowledge that (for that one day, anyway) the bucks are in the beans.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Fabulous Fourteenth!

I think we should name Saturday the Fabulous Fourteenth. Here's a revised list of events going on in our area. Talk about rocking it, Idaho! I've probably missed like, six or seven more. If you know 'em, add 'em!

Community Festival (pretty much all day long) Idaho Center, Nampa
Snake River Stampede Parade 11am, Nampa
Lakeside Lavender Festival, Nampa
Main Street Cruise-Northwest Motorfest/ Meridian
Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed/ Eagle
Summer Arts Festival/ Meridian
Rope and Run Competition/ Nampa
Truck Show n’ Shine/ Idaho Center, Nampa
Tater Cup Racing/ Sand Hollow
2nd Annual Brewer’s Festival/ Nampa
Boise Food Truck Rally
Jazz on the Canyon Rim/ Twin Falls
Rally in the Valley/ Murtaugh Lake
Exergy Downtown Boise Criterium
Fit For Life 5k, 10k and Half Marathon/ Boise
3rd Annual Chicken Play Day/ Jackie’s Livestock & Pet Emporium, Middleton
Lions Club Annual State Chili Cook Off/ Idaho Center, Nampa 9-4