Ride ‘em Cowboy
It is an amazing thing to see how even the tiniest bit of self-confidence can surmount any amount of common sense in a teenager when you add even a small amount of alcohol. Yes, I speak from experience.
We were rootin’, tootin’ buckaroos solidly on the fast track to becoming legends in our own minds! You could say (justifiably) that the group of us who rodeoed together had grown confident and cocky with our successes. I am told that this was a very common pairing of traits in males of the human species when things go their way more often than abject failure. To put it in today’s vernacular, we thought that we were “badasses.”
The four of us who were together that night had all made the buzzer (rode for eight seconds) in the final round of bull riding at the big Orange Blossom rodeo. Our abilities and derring-do increased with every telling of our rides, and that was before we were given a case of beer by an older cowboy who was calling it a night and going home to soak his battered body.
Our good fortune in obtaining free (and illegal for us) alcohol just reinforced our belief that we had the world by the tail and could not be stopped. We had enough sense left at that moment to know that we had to get away from the rodeo grounds if we were going to drink and celebrate; there were cops everywhere and they knew how old we were.
One of our older friends who did not ride (bulls) was there with his red Chevy Impala convertible and was very willing to do the driving while we drank the beer. He had a head start on us as he had been drinking while we were competing and only sipped on his own beer as he drove. I fully acknowledge that this was dangerous and stupid behavior on all of our parts; but we did it.
We cruised around on the back roads of our county, occasionally stopping to relieve ourselves in inappropriate places like under the traffic light in the middle of an intersection at 1 a.m. One such time one of our party was late getting back inside the car and leaped onto the convertible top of the car and hung on. We drove several miles before we finally realized that he wasn’t in the car with us.
It was while in this impaired state that one of our number suggested that we needed to ride something else like an elephant or a polar bear – because two thousand pound Brahma bulls weren’t tough enough for us anymore. IF we could have thought about where such an animal might be found, our journey would have taken us to the Crandon Park Zoo near Miami. I know that we (thankfully) would have lost interest well before we got there and ended up at a Waffle House somewhere.
Our pickled brains couldn’t process that much, and we were almost safe from that idea until we saw the sign for Pioneer City. Pioneer City was a local “Wild West” attraction that had just gone under due to bad location more than anything else. We knew that there were still animals being housed there and it was only a few miles away.
There were suggestions made that we might find an ostrich, or a giraffe, or maybe even a rhinoceros (which we could not pronounce at that point) to ride in their corrals. Fortunately for all concerned none of those creatures were visible.
We did however see something stirring in the paddocks from our vantage point atop the front fence. I make no excuses for why our driver had a large pair of bolt cutters in his trunk and only note that he called them his universal key. The chain on the gate was soon history and we drove into the first corral… literally; our driver missed the brake pedal and hit the gas.
There were a couple of Sicilian donkeys in the next corral and they were far too small to bother with trying to ride. We did give them water though as their trough was completely dry. The fellow who rode around on the top of the car once again wandered off to relieve himself and started screeching like something had bitten him.
Upon reaching him we found him excitedly pointing into a larger corral at some really shaggy beasts banging around inside. They did not appear to be happy to see us at all. Once again we filled the empty water trough and in the headlights from our car we recognized the heads as belonging to buffaloes, or more appropriately, American Bison.
You will recall my opening sentence about confidence and alcohol overcoming common sense. Yeah, we were on a Busch beer and testosterone high and any kind of sense was on vacation. The shouts to get the gear out of the bags and get ready to ride a wild buffalo were bouncing off the buildings. “Where were the cops when you needed them?”
I can tell you with certainty and personal conviction that bison and beef cattle are not of the same temperament. A bull may get irritated with you trying to put rigging on him to ride and may look for some payback for a few seconds after the ride, but a buffalo hates you on sight.
We thought that we were being smart by singling out the smallest adult buffalo and crowding him into a corner to attempt to put rigging on him. It was a lot like trying to catch a large alligator by holding onto the tip of his tail.
My mother asked me a couple of days later why I had holes in the front and back of my best western shirt. I had to use the standard teenager answer for everything, “I dunno.” I couldn’t very well say that I had been repeatedly hammered into the barbed wire that lined the inside of the buffalo corral and that the holes corresponded with the ones in my chest and back.
To say that we were hard-headed would be kinder than just saying the truth; we were stupid. Over and over again we tried to hold onto that furry freight train as it ran around the pen banging us into the wire, the fence posts, and even the other buffalo. One guy leaped up onto the shaggy back and only managed to get his body across its middle, like a “dead man riding.” He wasn’t there long.
Our older compadre was now drinking again and laughing until he wet his jeans. Of course he said that he spilled beer, but I had never, ever seen him spill a single drop before. He did what any good amigo would do for his brother cowboys; he brought us more beer. From his perch atop the fence he had the best vantage point and held the flashlight on our antics in the early light of dawn.
As the sun began lighting the eastern sky we conceded defeat: buffalo 4, cowboys 0. We were nearly sober by then and began to notice how bad we smelled from hugging that buffalo. The realization that we had broken into the park and were sure to be found if we stayed prompted our departure for the beach and a sunrise swim to get the smell off before we went home.
The abandoned animals of Pioneer City were there far longer than they should have been and we snuck back in several times to water them and bring some hay and grain to them. Eventually an animal rights group rescued them.
We never tried to ride the buffalo again; he won fair and square.
Our actions on that night bring a favorite Einstein quote to mind:
“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.” Albert Einstein US (German-born) physicist (1879 - 1955)