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Arts Home on the Range 

A former New Yorker’s guide to the texas adjustment

Everyone knows that the San Antonio calendar has 14 months, not 12, if you count Rodeo and Fiesta. Since moving here, I’ve been urged by many to partake of these cultural touchstones, yet I don’t seem to know anyone who actually does. Rodeo is for kids. Fiesta is for tourists. Not for them. But I — the resident tourist who also happens to have a little kid — might like it, really.

I’m a little baffled by Fiesta. I get the sense that it’s a debutante ball crossed with Mardi Gras crossed with an old-school sci-fi movie (Battle of Flowers sounds a lot like The Day of the Triffids to me). Folks who encourage me to check out Fiesta also tell me that the traffic and the parking and the crowds are hideous but of course they haven’t been in a dog’s age so maybe it’s better now? Last year I attended one Fiesta event, a perfectly nice children’s party at the Southwest School of Art & Craft, but with all the gorditas and face painting I’m not sure how it was different from any number of anonymous festivals I’ve been to in my life.

Rodeo is different. As of this writing, I’ve already been twice and have plans to go at least once more before it ends. Cowboy mythology with a Vegas sensibility — that I can embrace. I did a little barrel racing as a kid. I even named my daughter after Dale Evans, a choice that will no doubt annoy her in years to come. In other words, I wanna be a cowboy’s sweetheart, I wanna learn to rope and to ride — and if I can’t, I want Dale to do those things. Before she gets all into Bratz.

So to fan the flames of her incipient cowgirl obsession, my husband and I have taken Dale to the pony rides, to buy her first cowboy hat, to gawk at the cutting horses. We also went on a “date” to see George Jones (if doing anything on a Sunday at 1 p.m. can be considered a date). Little did we know that the Possum wouldn’t be hitting the revolving stage until around 4 p.m., dangerously close to the Super Bowl kickoff, which we hadn’t bothered to TiVo because we didn’t factor in the epic nature of the rodeo experience: the singing of the national anthem, the saying of the prayers, the marching of the Palominos, the parading of the Budweiser Clydesdales and raffle-prize trucks; the bucking of the bareback broncs, saddle broncs, and bulls; the tie-down, team roping, steer wrestling, and barrel racing; the part where a bunch of kids chase a bunch of calves for reasons that remain unclear, and my new favorite thing, the mutton-busting competition. All I could think as I watched those scrappy 4-year-olds clinging like monkeys to the backs of confused sheep was: Whose palms do I have to grease, what favors do I have to call in, to guarantee Dale a place on a mutton’s back in 2008?

Overall, it was an enlightening seven or eight hours of entertainment. For one thing, I didn’t know that cowboys really are as handsome as Jake and Heath — or that Jake and Heath could be cowboys because those are totally believable cowboy names. I’ve never seen so many guys named Jake, Colby, Cody, Clint, Bud, and Rope. And while I knew rodeos had clowns, I didn’t know they had DJs. Seeing angry bulls stomping to the tune of “Funky Cold Medina”? That was unexpected.

As for George Jones, well, it’s always a combo of thrilling and disappointing, watching a past-his-prime legend perform. Thrilling to see his silvery hair helmet, trademark aviators, and perky nose in the flesh (or on the Jumbotron, anyway). Less thrilling to see him surrounded by more Teleprompters than George W., glancing at his watch every five minutes and angrily gesticulating about his earpiece. Though his voice cracked and faded, he still sounded a lot like himself for the expected showstopper, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” We left quite satisfied, and many hours later than planned.

Maybe that’s a hokey way to spend a Sunday if you’ve grown up here and did all that cowboy stuff as a kid so now you’re over it — and Fiesta and the Alamo and the Snake Farm, too. I get it. Eighteen years living in NYC and I never went to the top of the Empire State Building or to Ellis Island. Never watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve or the Christmas-tree lighting or, God forbid, The Today Show. I did go to the Halloween parade for many years, but after a while even that got old. Which I guess might be as good an argument as any for moving on and changing cities — to have the chance to enjoy the unjaded pleasure of being a tourist in your own town. How long does it last? No idea. All I know is that Dale’s school is having a western dress-up day this week, and I’ve got an outfit to shop for.

By Gillian Fassel

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