Let's face it. To the extent you come to this blog at all, it isn't to wade through my written words. You could probably care less if I craft a perfect metaphor describing the vast waste of winter that is fifty degree temperatures and melted snow. You may not even bother to read my attempts at capturing accurate and colorful dialogue, your eyes glazing over at the first sight of an opening quotation mark. You certainly don't laugh at the quirks I find funny. No, if you bother to come to this blog at all, it is very likely because you hope I'll post up pictures of cowboy hats.
And now I have. That sound? It is most of my web traffic heading to the door with no reason to stick around any longer.
But really, why I am going on about cowboy hats at all? Well, C and I were knocking about the house in early December, unsure of how to fill our days, mindlessly surfing the web, when we saw that the world's largest collection of cowboy hats was descending on Las Vegas, Nevada. In what appears to be an annual migration, the hats are drawn from far and wide to attend the National Finals Rodeo. Intrigued, we loaded up the car, drove to the airport, and arrived in the southern Nevada desert ready for the kind of excitement you can only find by combining raging bulls with Wranglers. But alas, tickets to the National Finals Rodeo were expensive. And it turned out we didn't really care all that much. So instead we went and played in the dirt.
And while the rodeo itself was expensive, a rodeo affiliated Christmas market had taken over the Vegas convention center. The Christmas market was free. So we wandered to the convention center, not sure of what we would find. It turns out, they were selling coin operated bucking broncos.
How cool is that? I remember the coin operated horse outside of the Super Mart in Socorro. I would beg off following my mom around the store and sit outside on the horse, pretending I had the kind of cash needed to make it work. One day, some kind man came out of the store and found a forlorn little boy slumped over on a stationary horse, chin resting on his fist, muttering an occasional and uninspired “Giddy Up.” The man reached into his pocket and pulled out . . . A quarter? A nickel? I have no idea what that horse used to cost.
“Want to take a ride, son?”
“Hell yeah! Fire this thing up old man!”
The coin dropped into the slot and the horse started its stationary gallop without an ounce of the drama I had imagined. The man wandered off, probably pleased with himself. And at that moment my mom came out with groceries in hand, horrified that I was accepting money from strangers. And so we all learned a valuable lesson that day.
Suffice to say, I did my best yet failed to convince C that we should take a coin operated horse home. But we did wander the vendor halls, admiring all stripes of western themed bric-a-brac. The whole thing was a little like visiting a foreign country. People talked different, dressed different, and embraced a whole different cuisine built around the flavor profile of Coors Light. It turns out about half of the U.S. population is more exotic then, say, the French.
The most awkward cultural exchange probably occurred at the Ducks Unlimited booth. A lot of the various vendors had games with promotional prizes: “Step right up to spin the great wheel for your chance to win cheap crap!” The Ducks Unlimited folks were set up in front of a long row of what looked like a carnival shooting gallery, with pictures of large game behind shooting blinds. A man was standing nearby with a rifle in hand, motioning me over, offering me the weapon. I jumped to conclusions, assuming he was enticing me in to play Duck Unlimited's little game for my chance to win a hat or pamphlet. And so I walked right over. I stuck out my arms and he set the rifle in my hands. It didn't take long to figure by the weight that this was a real gun. Ducks Unlimited was raffling a limited edition rifle, and I was being given the opportunity to admire it in person before, Ducks Unlimited hoped, breaking out my wallet and buying multiple chances at being a winner. I stood there for a minute with no idea what a person should do to admire a gun. Swirl it and sniff, like a glass of wine? Give it a good shake and see if it rattles? I did neither, but just stood with the rifle at arm's length, like a young man handed someone's baby for the first time, praying someone will come by soon and relieve me of the burden. In due course the Ducks Unlimited representative recognized that I am something of an idiot with firearms and wisely reached out to take the gun back. I thanked him and scuttled off to find someone offering a chance to win a Dodge truck.
I did find a chance to win a truck, by the way, but won neither a truck nor a hat. I did get a lot of pamphlets to read up on in preparation for the next time I visit the other half of the country. And I'd be happy to share if your thinking of your own visit. Just remember to exchange your Euros for Coors, which appears to be the real currency of the realm.