We had just driven through Buckeye, Arizona, and we were going nowhere. The exurbs of Phoenix seemed to go on forever, one beige/taupe/sand castle after another, the reach of old money seeping across the desert.
We were looking for ranches and rust, old cars, evidence of mistakes, fences falling over, dirt roads with weeds growing in the middle. We wanted to be free of curbs and sidewalks.
We stopped at a light and decided to go just a bit further. Mile after mile, the niceness started to thin out and the road got rougher.
And then as if by magic there was a parking lot full of horse trailers behind a metal fence where a big cloth sign flapped in the breeze: Welcome to the Buckeye Rodeo. We drove past and then turned around. We debated whether we should drive into the parking lot. There seemed to be no other vehicles there except pickup trucks hauling horse trailers, big horse trailers. We were driving a rented Chevy Malibu and we were wearing shorts. There were horses everywhere.
We parked the car. In a haze of tentativeness, we found the open door to the arena and after mistaking the calf chute for the way to the stands found seats about four rows up. An older couple sat a few rows higher, he watched the goings on, she watched us. Suspicious-like, as they say, out there in the country. Our foreignness sparkled amidst all the jeans and boots. Our shorts and baseball caps.
The calves were lined up in holding pens and then moved into the chute. They all wore protective headgear which gave the look of them being hired hands, if you will, like they did this calf-roping gig as an occupation. Calf-roping works like this: a calf is released from the chute, he runs like the dickens, two people on horses chase him, one ropes him around the neck and the other ropes his front hooves. And they do all this in about 5 or 6 seconds. After the roping, the calf gets up and heads to the end of the queue. The way it looks, it seems like there’s been a lot of in-service training or great pay, maybe both.
We watched for a while and then walked around. Everywhere, there were people lassoing. They’d ride by with their lariats making circles just inches above the dusty ground, oblivious to us trying to stay out of the way. We tried to act like we always dodged getting lassoed, like, however improbable it might have looked, we belonged there. It didn’t matter. No one looked at us.
On the way to our car, I spied an old horse trailer. The shadows cast on its worn wood, the faded red paint were lovely, the prize we’d been looking for. So I stopped to take a picture and just then one of the cowboys walked by, looking sideways at us like we were tourists, which we were.