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Traveling to the rodeo can be fatal to ignorance, or possibly just fatal

A bronc races by a gate during a Labor Day rodeo out West.
A bronc races by a gate during a Labor Day rodeo out West.

Mark Twain said travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, which means it’s fatal to ignorance, I guess, and sometimes it’s just fatal.

This occurred to me on Labor Day, when I went to a rodeo out West, in a town I can’t specify for reasons of national security.

Here’s a hint like that kids’ TV show “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” (“Call our ICE hotline at 1-800...”). It’s home to the Copper Queen Saloon, which in the rodeo program advertised “OK Food” and “Decent Beer.”

That’s because this is the West, where people don’t bull-shoot you nonstop like folks back East, who would call the tater tots “gourmet” and the short-order cook a “chef.”

It’s the kind of ad that makes you want to go online and write “Rated ‘Not Bad’ by visiting Midwesterners!” in a Yelp review.

The rodeo was across the highway from the saloon, and being a small town rodeo – the town’s about the size of Seale, Ala., where I grew up, only smaller – you could get right up against the action.

That’s because this is the West, where you are expected to look out for yourself, so no one in a yellow “venue guide” vest or whatever is going to run up and tell you to quit leaning on the gate before a passing bronc or bull kicks you in the face.

So I’m leaning on the gate, right beside a bunch of ranchers, and trying to get some pictures on an iPad. I have a real camera, too, but it has to be downloaded to get the images and the iPad can email them … later, when I can get cell service.

But the iPad can’t focus in to frame the shot, and it’s hard to hold still, so I’m bracing against the gate and shooting rapid-fire frame bursts to practice for the upcoming “wild-cow milking contest,” which is another story that turns out not to be as entertaining as it sounds.

Preceding that is a sheep-riding contest, for toddlers, who hang on as long as they can as the sheep takes off like a monkey’s on its back.

The announcer noted this may look risky, but this is the West. Some states won’t even let you discipline your kid in Walmart, he said, but here we put them on livestock and laugh at them.

I don’t know which states won’t let you hit your kid in Walmart, but they must not be in the South, where I never hear an angry mama say, “Boy, if this Walmart weren’t in the state of Georgia or Alabama, I’d slap you right now!”

During the saddle-bronc riding, I was leaning on the gate by the ranchers when a bronc bucked its rider and went racing around the perimeter, two wranglers hot on its hooves.

So I was like “Yeehaw!” and did not look up as the horses passed; I just tapped that camera icon as fast as I could, and then immediately bent over to shade the screen to see what I got.

I could do that because it’s the West, where sweat does not pour off your brow onto the tablet like when you bend over it back home.

The bronc’s gaping mouth filled the screen, and I thought, “Wow, that was close.”

Then I looked up and noticed all the ranchers who’d been standing beside me were six feet back, because they had sense enough to leap out of the way when they saw a wild horse coming at them.

I had only a few nicks on my fingers from pebbles the horses kicked up, but it occurred to me that had the horse hit the gate, the gate would have smashed the tablet into my face and slammed me back to where the ranchers went.

So, like children’s television, it was a learning experience, a little reminder that a horse can kill you whether you’re on it or not, and that’s just the kind of fatal ignorance travel’s so good at killing.

So it’s not just about going places far away to find OK food and decent beer, and wild-cow milk that is rated not bad.