Today is the 4th of July - America's Independence Day. Since moving here from Iowa a month ago, I've been getting pretty caught up in the Portland lifestyle recently, discussing police brutality and gender by day, drinking wine on my roof by night. I was missing the Midwest a smidge, so I asked one of my co-workers, "I want to spend the 4th of July with people who LOVE AMERICA. Where can I find such people?" The only British guy in the office knew just where to go. "Saint Paul Oregon Annual Rodeo," he said, with finality. Away we went this morning.
Saint Paul is 40 miles or so south of Portland. Its population is only 300, but for one weekend of the year, it becomes a patriotic promised land where you can eat a log of curly fries larger than your head in the shade of a cheap carnival ferris wheel.
The stands are rife with large animals and the folks who ride them. Big bulls, big belt buckles. Copenhagen Smokeless Tobacco and the U.S. Army both had tents right next to a cotton candy stand and the bull pen.One of the carnival's featured artists was a man who carves bears, salmon, horses and eagles with a chainsaw. I asked him which fearsome creature was the hottest seller. "Everyone wants bears. It can even be an ugly bear. Anything resembling a bear will sell."
Next we snuck into the rodeo by using an ingenious ketchup/mustard mix to mimic the re-entry hand stamp.
And the rodeo began with flag-waving fanfare! Oregon's small army of Rodeo Princesses led a procession of horses around the rodeo grounds. Some carried American flags, others flags emblazoned with the logos of sponsors. The crowd was having a good time, cheering and clapping the rhinestoned women on. Finally, the national anthem and a welcoming announcement from the loudspeakers including the warning: "If we forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be one nation gone under."
One thing I didn't know about rodeos: they're scary. And violent. Out of its holding cage bucked a horse, kicking its legs front and back as the cowboy's head flew forward backward forward backward, smacking against the horse's body until he finally tumbled off. I was terrified. What a Portland liver-bellied city slicker I am. Even the Rodeo Princesses seemed calm and collected during the wildest of rides.
We couldn't handle it for long. After about an hour of intense ride watching, we retired to the Saint Paul Rodeo Bar - the Tack Room. Above my head was a bison head and an American flag reminding me, "Rodeo: America's Number 1 Sport."