Low-Budget Living: The Rodeo

One of the reasons I wanted to keep a blog was so that it can serve as a tool for the person who comes in to replace me next year; you can give plenty of good advice over coffee or on the phone, but there will pretty much always be something you omit, something that seems trivial that they’ll wonder about at a later date. So hopefully when I’m done paying it forward to a new VISTA, I can also give him or her this URL for when they feel like perusing the ups and downs of poverty-level living. So from time to time, I plan on gathering my thoughts about different aspects of life on a tight budget and trying to say something helpful – and hopefully, entertaining.

In that spirit, and since I haven’t updated in a while, the first episode of this series is going to focus on those whirlwind two weeks when Cheyenne seems to be the center of the universe, at least for the mountain time zone: Frontier Days.

Cheyenne Frontier Days is, apparently, the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, and it has been going on for quite some time. 2009 was its 113th year, and it’s a significant cultural touchstone – Chapter 4 of Keroauc’s On the Road features an interlude in Cheyenne during “Wild West week” and caricature-like descriptions of businessmen in ten-gallon hats. Although it’s still a depot city (…“city”…), there’s no question that the Wild West, inasmuch as it ever existed, is long gone. However, that doesn’t mean that stomping around town in boots every day and watching twenty-year-old idiots get thrown off of bucking bulls while sucking down Budweiser tallboys isn’t ridiculously awesome fun.

But how do you do it when your pockets are poverty-level shallow? A confession up front – an appreciative board member of a VISTA sponsor organization actually bought fantastic seats for myself and another volunteer, so I got to watch one of the nine days of competitive (PRCA) rodeo from behind the chutes – a great intro to living in Cheyenne, an afternoon off work, and several of the aforementioned tallboys. A fantastic day. I even discovered a new sport: steer wrestling, or “bulldogging,” in which a cowboy chases a steer and proceeds to jump off a perfectly good horse in order to wrestle said steer to the ground. This is a timed event. My mind was blown. Another highlight: a bareback bronc rider definitely came out of the gate while the song “Semi-Charmed Life” played, which I thought was 100% apt – “charmed” because he’s kind of famous, “semi” because he has to get thrown off horses for a living. I’m not sure that he lasted all eight seconds.

Photo credit: Destination 360

Photo credit: Destination 360

Aside from being handed tickets to the best seats in the house, a good thing to keep in mind when planning is that the organizers do throw some love at the greater Laramie County community for putting up with the hundreds of thousands of people that descend on southeast Wyoming for the event. On Cheyenne Day (CheyDay for short), pretty much all businesses close at noon; a migration to the bars follows immediately. The Depot Plaza, which normally hosts Friday in the Plaza evenings during the summer, also has a beer tent and some entertainment. Tickets for the rodeo on CheyDay are half-price for Laramie County residents, and entering the midway at Frontier Park is either free or extremely cheap. Of course, most of my office migrated to the downtown bar scene and never really looked back. I had a truly very interesting sunburn for multiple weeks afterwards from sitting in the Plaza for a few hours with a fistful of drink tickets.

In case you haven’t noticed by this point in the entry, a lot of Frontier Days revolves around drinking – but it’s also often during the day and outdoors, so make sure to stay hydrated. The Outlaw on South Greeley closes down the block around it every night and it’s apparently a huge scene, but I never made it out there. The bars closer to downtown have good drink specials, but most of them won’t run tabs for the duration of the two weeks – cash only. Incidentally, it was the only time so far in my almost-three months here that nobody’s blinked twice about my (waaaaay) out-of-state ID – the rodeo draws crowds from all over the USA, and internationally.

As far as actual rodeo events, the best way to get to see some competition for free or cheap is through the qualifiers. In the mornings there are slack events: basically, guys trying to place into the main PRCA events come out to do time trials. Going to the slack rodeos are free, and you can get up close and personal – a born-and-raised Wyomingite (yes, that is the correct term) told me he doesn’t go to the “glitzy commercial rodeo,” that he only goes to the slack rodeos because that’s how it used to be. Of course, he was around for the days when you could get in free if you came on horseback. So.

The Professional Bull Riders (PBR) qualifiers are at night, and those tickets are a lot cheaper than PRCA tickets – again, guys who are trying to place into competition in the big leagues. Ultimately, people who do well enough at PRCA events, including “The Daddy Of ‘Em All” – that’s us – get to go to the finals in Vegas. Talk about “glitzy commercial rodeo,” eh?

Speaking of which, the concerts….holy hell, apparently the George Strait concert this year had the highest attendance of any concert in Wyoming EVER. There are tons of top-bill country artists – Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney came this year, for example – though that isn’t really my thing. I’m not sure who’s in charge of bringing in the Token Non-Country Band, but they generally do a terrible job. Three Doors Down this year…apparently they’ve had Def Leppard in the past? I do mean the recent past, like 2007…not the 1980s. On the plus side, those tickets tend to be cheaper. Duh.

There are also tons of free events – art shows, two separate parades, a Native American village, and three pancake breakfasts that serve over 10,000 people per morning – now that was a sight. You wait in line for about an hour, but everyone’s in such a good mood, and craning their necks to see the little Boy Scouts catching pancakes flipped off the chuck wagon, and the mounted cops are all smiles and you suddenly realize how absurd it is that there’s a dude in a Minnesota Vikings jersey in line behind someone who looks like Buffalo Bill talking to somebody with a clear Jersey accent while musicians set up all along the route that the line follows while you all wait for free pancakes during rodeo week…..you just don’t mind hanging out.

So there it is – Frontier Days. If you like horses and hats and crowds and cheeky rodeo cowboys trying to coax your number out of you, Cheyenne is a blast for those two weeks. Of course, like any other blowout festival, it is a sigh of relief when it’s finally over and life slows down again. Not that it isn’t fun, but anything more than two weeks a year? That would be pushing it.

Final note: I have a camera now, so this should be the last post without pictures contributed by me! Yay!

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1 Comment

Filed under Low-Budget Living, Wyoming

One response to “Low-Budget Living: The Rodeo

  1. Beth

    I’m so glad to hear (read?) that you enjoy rodeos as much as I do (did? …so many questions, so little/few/less concentration). Also: I had Bud Light there too. Also: were you concerned about how the riders always seemed to limp after trying to wrestle the steer?

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