Willing and a bull
Sacramento, CA 95815
If you still think Sacramento is a cow town, I dare you to put on a cowboy hat, blue jeans and a pair of boots and mosey through Midtown on Second Saturday. I hadn’t traveled half a block in said outfit before someone called out, “Hey! Is that Shania?” I waved and kept walking.
“I like your boots,” a young man blurted out on L Street. His friends snickered.
“Girl, where are you goin’ looking like that?” a woman yelled in front of Club 21. Later, when I bumped into Indian stand-up comic Tapan Trivedi, he grabbed the hat off my head and improvised a series of cowboy-and-Indian jokes. Sacramento may not be as cosmopolitan as Carrie Bradshaw’s signature cocktail, but judging from the public reaction to my ensemble, it’s safe to say its cowpoke era has ended.
Except, of course, in Lavender Heights, where the Brokeback aesthetic is alive and kicking up its boot heels. Witness my destination: the Capital Crossroads Gay Rodeo Association fund-raiser at the Depot. Inside the parking-lot-turned-hoedown, everyone sported cowboy hats, crisp jeans and colossal belt buckles. The Western fashions were so fierce, I felt like a counterfeit cowgirl in my Target boots and $3 flea-market Stetson. Then I saw a cowboy hat perched atop a drag queen in a cocktail gown and heels and I remembered that, in the right setting, fake is fabulous.
This setting was as picturesque as an old-time barn dance—assuming such affairs featured men dancing together in T-shirts reading “So many cowboys, so little rope.” Beneath a starry sky, couples two-stepped across a shiny dance floor ringed with hay bales. Plastic wagon wheels dangled from strings of white lights overhead. Nearby tents sold beer and barbecue. And in a corner under a tree, the mechanical bull beckoned.
I’d never ridden one before but I knew this was my night. I’m straight and I don’t know how to line dance, so what other option did I have? I figured my first bull ride would go one of two ways: I’d exude seductive confidence like Debra Winger in Urban Cowboy or I’d be immediately pitched off the thing onto my face.
I hoped to learn from watching others, but being on the early side of 9 p.m., most people weren’t nearly drunk enough to try. The bull stood quietly in a field of inflated mattress, its rope tail moving slightly in the wind. I studied it, trying to determine my fate, but its headless form gave nothing away.
Finally, I approached the operator and told him I wanted to ride. He handed me a helmet with a faceguard. So much for Debra Winger. I looked like a goalie for the Mighty Ducks.
The operator told me to lean forward when the bull leaned forward and back when it leaned back. “I’ll go easy on you at first so you can get the hang of it,” he promised. “Then I’ll make it fun for you.”
I waddled across the bouncy mattress in my safety headgear, stumbling twice before reaching the bull. Sexy. Once in the saddle, I had a second to notice the stylish glitter finish on the bull’s flanks before it pitched forward.
I gripped its handle, leaned forward and almost slid right off. Fortunately, the bull reared back and I stabilized. True to his word, the operator started slow, and I eventually got into the sway.
The bull began to spin and buck erratically. I managed to stay on for what, to my bull-addled mind, felt like minutes. Flashbulbs popped and I heard cheers. I caught a glimpse of my shadow against the fence, one hand in the air like a wannabe rodeo star. I started laughing and I couldn’t stop, even when I finally fell on the mattress, overcome with the giddy thrill of trying something I never thought I’d do.
Later, as I sat on a hay bale drinking Corona and watching the Barbary Coast Cloggers tear up the dance floor, I cheered whenever anyone else donned the ridiculous helmet and took a chance. Perhaps there’s life in the cowpoke era yet.