When we first expressed interest in attending the Professional Bull Riders event last weekend at Madison Square Garden, PR man Jack Carnefix apprised us of the rules. Number one, we must “buckle up.” Number two, if we “go on Friday [we’re] going to want to come back Saturday. And if we go Saturday [we’re] going to want to come back on Sunday.”
(It is important to note at this point that The Transom is a wire-thin arts reporter, a Brit whose Queen’s English and Hugh Grantish stammer sounds like a royal parody.)
With weekend plans disregarded, there followed an anxious ride on the metro to Penn Station, early Friday afternoon, wondering what to expect. Will the bulls be chasing a fox? Would there be a ringleader with a bugle? Should we have bought our jodhpurs?
On our arrival, we joined the herd of cowboy hats and flannel shirts streaming into the arena, welcomed by the sound of Kenny Rodgers’s “Oh Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” At the bar more burly blokes in flannels and their denim-clad lasses drank Jack Daniels, all the time singing to an obscure compilation of country music that was foreign to this Englishman’s ears.
It appears New York is not as American as one had imagined. Or rather, is very American, but only when you give it a chance to be.
Up to this point, we believed cowboy hats to be a thing of thrift stores, which even then had remained on the shelves. Now, what we thought had been Midtown felt more like the Southwest. At least how we imagined the Southwest. We felt out of our depth and overdressed. Or maybe underdressed—we weren’t sure.
The riders filed in: jeans, boots, buckles and hats. Several posed for pictures with the event’s first-place trophy, which had been set up in a room of its own, while the rest went straight to the bar.
“A lot of the guys like to drink. I don’t,” last year’s winner, Valdiron de Oliveira, told us while eyeing up the trophy. Mr. de Oliveira was one of the few without a can in his hand and appeared, shall we say, as approachable as a man of his size could seem to an undernourished introvert.
“I think of this as work but about half of them drink. More important for me is the win, but it’s hard because we have the greatest bulls in the world.” He paused and smiled before continuing. “I think you’re going to get a surprise tonight.”
He was immediately right. The enormous New York Giants tight end and aptly named Bear Pascoe towered over us as we turned around. He had come to look at the trophy. Mr. Pascoe, “what should we expect tonight?” we heard ourselves ask.
“A lot of action-packed bull riding. Guys riding bulls. It’s going to be fast, it’s going to be full and you’re going to enjoy it.”
The anticipation was too much to bear (pun intended). We stepped into the arena and gawped at the pre-event proceedings. There were explosions, heavy metal music so loud as to be indecipherable, trucks, a prayer, the national anthem and popcorn—in that order.
Having spent the first 10 minutes in the “Party Area,” we decided to ignore our instincts and take a closer look at the livestock. Traversing the barrier that divided VIP from P, we anonymously made our way up to the bullpen, where we stood over the riders as they mounted their massive animals, some the size of small trucks. We were shoulder to hip with Silvano Alves, the reigning PBR tour champion. His eccentric preparation regimen had him alternating between jokes with the staff and spiteful slapping of his chest and arms. It was hard to discern between self-encouragement and flagellation. We decided on both. Ensuring we were out of arm’s reach of Mr. Alves we focused on the sport. Dakota Beck, one of the younger riders at 20 years old, took his turn. A couple of seconds in, he was bucked off his bull—as he fell, a vagrant horn speared him in the side of the face. The crowd cheered, the riders were quiet and Mr. Beck remained on the floor for quite sometime.
The riders watched, numb and spooked by the brutal inevitability of harm their sport always guarantees.
Afterward, we approached Mr. Beck, who spoke in a low voice with his hand covering the side of his mouth. “Yeah, I was knocked out and I don’t remember anything from it. You put your life at risk but we love doing it,” he said.
“I’m just going to go home, get some rest and come back tomorrow. I got a little headache.”
As is to be expected at an event that has recently partnered with the beer of the same name (Pabst Blue Ribbon, Professional Bull Riders. Get it?), copious amounts of drinking is a major time consumer both in and outside the bullpen.
Chatting to rider Douglas Duncan about how “a lot of riders go out hung over on the Sunday,” a young, red-haired girl in all pink sports clothes approached. Mr. Duncan appeared flattered and accepted her request to sign her hat. He shook her hand but the bull-riding fan wanted more from her hero. She wanted a hug. He obliged before backing away and humbly mumbling, “Um, thank you for enjoying our sport.” -Henry Krempels