Leonard Zwelling

All you need to know about Texas can be learned from going to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Or, it least it seems that way.

First, it’s big.

I have been told that it is the biggest rodeo in the world and certainly the biggest in North America.

Second, there’s the food.

Every conceivable way to fry something has been devised and is on full display along the long strand of temporary storefronts set up in the area surrounding the NRG Stadium and Center. To find food that is not fried takes some digging. We found hamburgers and grilled cheese. I passed on the chicken fried bacon and fried chocolate pie. I know, do I want to live forever? I just got the feeling that The Texas Heart Institute had made a deal with the devil when I saw all of these fried food emporia. It seemed that one should get a free by-pass with every fourth order.

Third, cows. Lots of cows and bulls and horses and pigs and goats and chickens and rabbits and llamas. That’s the Livestock Show and it’s my favorite part. Best of all is the petting zoo. For a New Yorker, this is really a unique experience! Being a city boy, I never had the kind of contact with living, breathing mammals et al. (beyond dogs and cats) that can be had at the NRG Center.

There is also a huge array of places to buy Western wear from boots to hats and buckles in between. We saw a calf that was three hours old and freshly hatched chicks exhausted from the effort to break out of their shells. It’s real biology in action.

We were privileged to be guests at the rodeo and met the Chairman of the Board Jim Winnie. You could tell who was somebody at the rodeo as the VIPs had on vests along with their jeans and hats and boots. Apparently there are 33,000 volunteers working the place divided into 108 committees. I think each committee has its own vest. It all seems to go off without a hitch. If they can do it, why did MD Anderson go $500,000,000 in the hole? Well, at least that’s past history.

We were escorted past the parade entrance to our seats at one end of the stadium. That’s NRG Stadium, where the Texans play. It’s big, too.

Believe it or not, among all the cows and horses and fried food, a rodeo broke out about 7 PM. Steer roping, and bronc riding and bull bucking and barrel racing were all there to be seen right in front of your eyes. This went on for hours. Apparently this is a fierce competition that works like March Madness with a complicated playoff system for the best performers. These cowboys and some cowgirls can make big money running after racing animals and bringing them to their knees. Who knew?

The mutton busting where little kids ride sheep seemed like a modified form of child abuse to me and I learned that the bucking broncos and fierce steers are purposefully irritated with ropes around some of their private parts to get them to kick up a fuss. It’s called cinching. This bothered me, too.

When I saw the well-fed animals close-up at the Livestock show, it looked to me like they were all mindfully cared for, but it did cross my mind that some of these creatures would be food soon. But, it looked like they were being handled humanely, as far as I could tell. I would not consider myself much of a judge though. But men have been breeding animals for food and work for centuries, it just seems that we have become industrially good at it now.

It was ten PM by the time the musical act appeared. It was Little Big Town about which I knew nothing. I am fairly ignorant about country music. We didn’t stay as it was late, they were very loud, and the sound system was muddy. Concerts, music and football stadiums are not a good mix.

Having lived in Texas for over 33 years now, I have come to appreciate all the subtlety and splash that characterizes the Lone Star State. A lot of that is on display at the rodeo. It’s worth a trip.

I go every thirty years.

Leonard Zwelling