Fear and Loathing in Cloverdale (parts 1&2 of 4)
posted by Chad on 5/24/02
I’d write a proper introduction to this article, but I had no proper introduction to these events myself. The Cloverdale Rodeo unofficially began on Thursday, but I had been drunk or high or drunk and high for what I imagine to be several days before that. The only things accomplished in that hazy buildup of impromptu house parties and stoned explorations was purchasing a ¼ ounce of weed, and acquiring a media pass for The 56th Annual Cloverdale Rodeo.
It seemed to be a great start, but the possible consequences of having drugs and passes ran through my mind as I packed my bags Thursday. The Cloverdale Rodeo is the largest event the small town I grew up in offers, and is the second largest rodeo in Canada – there was no way I was missing this hometown Honkey Festival. I didn’t trust my will power enough to avoid the alcohol available at the rodeo, nor my ability to stay out of the bag of weed. I treat my drugs like a bag of Halloween candy: when I got a big old bag of goodness, I’ll be damned if I ain’t goin’ to enjoy it and stuff my face, regardless if it leaves me a bloated withdrawn mess later on.
It wasn’t a decision, or a resolution, but rather the simple solution to the situation. When you put alcohol, weed, and a media event together, there is just one option. The way to cover this event was to go full out, take the step, and become a Gonzo Journalist.
As if the Rodeo itself wasn’t enough of a hurdle to clear while stumbling around high, there were extra factors that would weigh heavily on my decisions and actions. The Cloverdale Rodeo attracts a wide variety of white trash, and I knew my family would be a part of it. The year before, they and all their rowdy friends piled up into a big blue nearly-broken-down bus like a bunch of crazy bastards, which carried them from my parent’s house to the barn dance. Nothing quite like arriving in style. Despite the extreme lengths they embrace every year when the rodeo rolls around, I knew my drugged insanity wouldn’t be greeted kindly if our paths crossed. Given their involvement in nearly all aspects of the rodeo, it would take great work to avoid my family and all the possible complications their faces bring to the table.
Worse yet, circumstance conned me into throwing a 50th birthday party for my girlfriend’s stepfather on the Monday night of that very weekend. It’s hard to put up a fight when her paycheck is covering our rent and my drugs. However, this grey cloud of timing did have a rather bright silver lining. While I did become responsible for acquiring all the supplies, Allison’s mom insisted on us keeping the receipts and reimbursing us for all the expenses. So while I’d have to find some numbered candles and paper plates with “50” on the top, I basically was given the go-ahead to spend freely at the liquor store. Large quantities of beer, rum, and vodka were bought for the party, with a slight sampling surcharge of each, just to make sure I could keep going whenever times turned dark over the course of the weekend.
That’s the job. Let’s get to work.
The adventure to Cloverdale was muddled before it began, as Thursday was spent organizing, cleaning, and consuming the leftover drinks and drugs from the bender with my frat house buddies the night before. My tape-recorder and digital camera were packed to ensure nothing was lost in between the joints and pints ahead, extra batteries and connection cords shoved deep into my drug purse to guarantee everything remained available and accessible, and a copy of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was thrown into my backpack just incase I lost motivation along the way. The clock hit 4:20, I loaded up the Honey Bear Bong, and the mission was officially underway. My lungs filled with smoke, and my head swam in the delusions of grandeur, dreaming of the parties, events, and people my drug ravaged state would endure. Who knew how long I’d hold up for, but I had to cram in as much madness as possible before I burnt out and retreated to the confines of my apartment. The only thing for sure was that I needed to start on my way, or I’d miss the first event, the Bed Races.
I rolled into Cloverdale without much problem, arriving twenty minutes before the event began at six. The key aspect of arriving early has nothing to do with journalist integrity or personal interest: rather, the Cloverdale Liquor Store closes at six, and I didn’t want to miss my hard booze opportunity. I loaded up the trunk with 50th party liquor, and wondered how much would remain by the time Monday rolled around. The only thing for certain was that the Vodka would be the first tapped, as I mixed a few shots into the OJ I picked up on the way over. Mmmmm… Vitamin C and booze, the choice of a binging weekend.
The Bed Races are exactly what you’d expect from an event called “Bed Races.” There are divisions to separate the sexes and awards for best dressed team and a bunch of other useless information, but in essence, it’s just two teams pushing their respective beds down the street and back again to the cheers of the children and seniors looking on. The winning teams move to the next round, and the last team to remain undefeated wins… a bed pan trophy. Local companies, the small and the smart ones, usually form teams of co-workers to compete against the staple of community worker teams. As always, the crowd favorite has been the local fire department – the women love the firemen, and the kids love the wailing sirens, smoke, and flashing lights on the bed they push.
If one thing was for certain, the Bed Races were a family event. Not a single person (with the exception of myself) looked to be ripped or even influenced by mind altering drugs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but was no place for a manic like me that was hoping to stay low-key and high. Couple my displacement with the family factor, and I knew I couldn’t stay on the scene for long. My mom worked the front table, aligning the races and registering the teams. My step-dad shot the fire gun that started every race. My sister was the line judge at the bed turn around point, disqualifying teams that didn’t pass over her duct taped line on the street. Two sets of grandparents were on hand. Former friends. Family co-workers.
The decision was an easy one: get the fuck out of dodge.
If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you’ve never seen your hometown until you stumble around it incoherently. I found a collection of benches beside the local Salvation Army, where a silver cowboy hat was tucked away under one of wooden seats. It was strange not only to see a discarded cowboy hat, but also that the hat was exactly the same as the one I was wearing, but mine was black and with a Corona Mazatlan banner. I even remember seeing the silver hat in the store when I bought mine for $8. This time of self-hat reflection was short lived, however, when my Zippo lighter stopped working. Looking like the flint needed to be replaced, I walked to the closest gas station to buy another lighter for the day.
Blocking the entrance to the gas station was a screaming bum. He wore a scrubby white jacket over the dirty t-shirts covering his hunched back, tattered jeans over his old legs, and carried a beaten acoustic guitar. He was ranting and raving about, pacing in and out of the store and ignoring every person that tried to talk to him. The clerk was obviously frightened and not used to this sort of man, and the bum was drunk, mentally ill, and very pissed off. I found them both quite amusing until the clerk picked up the phone to call the cops. Fearing that this poor bum would be taken away forever, I injected myself into the situation.
“What’s the problem my man?” I asked, hoping just to give the bum a conversation that would distract his temper tantrum.
“SHE’Sss GOTSs MYSss HATsss!!! SHEsss GOTss my heyt behind DATsss DEREsss COUNTERsss!! YOUsss BITCHththththth!!” The volume in his voice wavered up and down, making his slurred words even harder to decipher.
“I DON’T HAVE YOUR DAMN HAT!” the clerk screamed.
“FUCK YOU!!” he screamed back twice as loud, visibly startling the clerk.
“What’s your hat look like?” I asked.
“SHE’Ssss GOTsss sIT! SHEsss TOOKss sITsss FROMss ME!!”
“Yeah man, but what does… hey, is your hat silver?”
“Your hat, I think I’ve seen it man.”
“YOU’VEthth SEENss MYsss sHAT? WHEREss DIDCHAsss PUTthth ITth YA BASTARD!!?”
“Okay, we’re going to get your hat. I saw it where I was sitting earlier.”
“GOss GETthth IT YA BASTARD!! HURRYSsss!!! DATs HATthth ISsss WORTHthth A BILLION ZILLION DOLLARSsss!!” He stumbled out of the store after me, suffering from a sore leg and a spinning landscape.
Nothing like a crazy man to change the course of the weekend.
He followed me to the hat, and swore at the thing for taking off on him. I began telling him that, if he took the time to look instead of screaming at – but he started screaming “FUCK OFF” at me until I gave my lecture up. I tried to take my leave, but he always asked a question every time I took a step away. It was through my attempts to leave that I found out he was “The Universal Cowboy Slade Shannon Steel,” and that he found out I was a writer. When I showed him my tape recorder, he began telling me story after story. I smoked up while he rambled on about the adventures he had with John Denver and Willy Nelson and Buddy Holly and the BC Lions and Johnny Cash.
Hell, it could have been worse: back at the bed races, I was the crazy muthafucka. Now, I’m the sane one. I like that – and the forty minutes of slurred slurpy silly stories on my minitape recorder are full of craziness that I still can’t make sense of. He talked endlessly, yet the only thing I learned was that he was “a professional entertainer going into the movie business,” his name was “The Universal Cowboy Slade Shannon Steel,” and he was full of clever one-liners that would make you break out laughing if you could understand what the hell it was he was saying.
After playing a couple of songs, sung in a voice not much lovelier than his slurred speech, I finally slipped away while he hollered his address after me. I returned to the bed races just before the last race began, the men’s final. I hit up my sister on the turnaround line, and she invited me to the bar she was going to with her friends after the race, where a guy named Nick was running a pool tournament. Done – the last time I saw Nick, he hooked me up with a bunch of mushrooms.
I slipped back into the crowd to watch the final race. It would have been completely trivial if the winning team hadn’t been full of my high school classmates… but there they were, all the “popular” guys from my grad class. They had all started working together at the racetrack back in highschool, and six years later, not a thing had changed in their lives. Still working together in the kitchen and stalls of the horse track, still high-fiving and yelling “fucking A!!”, still dating the same stuck-up snobs from high school. Although, I noticed that the body shape of those girls had changed from curvy to chunky as they cheered along in their newfound cellulite joy. So when Ms. Rodeo Canada handed over the bedpan trophy, or should I say, Thee Bedpan Trophy, I couldn’t help but smile while they applauded and screamed and kissed.
God damn, this was the best Bed Races ever.
The rest of the evening was still enjoyable but less climatic. I went to my parent’s place and dipped into their rodeo beer stash while I ate my step-dad’s “very special I’m the only person allowed to eat these” microwavable dinners, taking full advantage of their house while they were still participating in community events, those poor bastards. After dumping most of the meal into the garbage and downing the beer, I headed to the pub party where I drank some more, smoked some more, and unfortunately, didn’t pick up any more drugs. Nick’s guy was hiding out in a different country, but I found yet another guy dealing weed, so I took his phone number: hey, ya never know. As much as I wanted to stay and continue doing the bar chitchat thing, my girlfriend was getting off work and I needed to pick her up. So I shot back down the highway like a madman, pumping the classic rock, slipping and sliding around the corners, darting through the rain and against the wind, somehow making it to her work. From there, I can only assume I spent the rest of the evening obtaining further oblivion, for I have no tapes or pictures or recollection of anything until Friday morning.
-Chad “fouff finds himself in more trouble when the rodeo actually begins”