Fear and Loathing in Cloverdale
posted by Chad on 6/17/02
A true doctor of gonzo journalism wouldn’t have started his day with a list of chores and groceries, but I was too incoherent when I woke up at noon to argue with the tasks assigned. The short temper and grouchy attitude that came with my morning-after-binging was shelled out on the fucking retard working the bank counter, whom took 15 minutes to process my Mastercard payment. Back at the apartment, I made a quick breakfast of two hotdogs, a meal that I didn’t even finish before I began paying for it. I knew the day would be a long one.
Not feeling as brave or foolish as the day before, I left the car and took public transit to the rodeo, which included multiple buses and skytrains. Each piece of transit I boarded was filled to the rim with horrible lizards reeking of poverty and poor cosmetics. The true multicultural blend of local society emerged before me, and the collective nauseating stench they made delayed my trip considerably. Worse yet, at every unnecessary stop I made to get fresh air and more THC into my system, nobody was selling mushrooms. I had the weed and a flask full of vodka of course, but my wish for a different high wasn’t lost with Nick.
My hopes for hallucinogens quickly turned into fears of sickness, as my belly swam and swirled as I rode my final bus for that day. My backpack was heavy, for I was carrying my clipboard, my jacket, and a change of clothes, as I had intentions to spend the night wandering or sleeping on the Cloverdale streets. However, I was already having second thoughts. The two bowls I had hit enroute to Cloverdale rushed to my head much quicker and harder than expected, and I was already feeling beat and worn by the time I finally arrived at the main gate. Worse yet, the main gate wasn’t the media gate, which just so happened to be located on the opposite corner of the park.
I needed to pick up my media pass while I was still able to form complete sentences. Saying BigMeats was a web magazine about Vancouver cowboy culture, I was put on the media list for all four days of The Cloverdale Rodeo. I was proud of my cunning manipulation until I found out firsthand that media access is highly overrated. I didn’t get a badge, or a laminated pass to hang around my neck, or a buffet table full of food, but rather a mere hand stamp just like the general public. My hopes of crashing the VIP tent for food faded, but my hunger was not lost.
Luckily, just down the street a chili cookout was taking place. Under the oversized Yosemite Sam balloon sitting atop the local grocery store, hordes of people served their special homemade chili for absolutely nothing. I smoked a bowl on my walk over to the cookout, and to have my munchies confronted by dozens and dozens of people handing out free cups of chili… well, it lifted my spirits and made me feel a hell of a lot better. I had just begun eating at the chilifest when I found a familiar face panhandling the fuck out of the crowds…
Moaning aloud with his flat guitar and smiling kindly at anyone that threw a few cents his way, The Universal Cowboy Slade Shannon Steel was on the scene. Since the chili cookout was 90% populated by women and children, Slade Shannon Steel was making enough money to buy himself some more rye for later that evening. He knew he recognized me, but needed his memory refreshed as to exactly where I belonged in his scrambled recollection of events. After telling him my name again, he began calling me by my last name and “sssshshshooter,” which I humbly and wisely accepted. Just as before, we were both too wasted for me to understand what he was saying, yet he never stopped talking. I begged him to eat some of the free chili with me, but he told me to “FUCK OFF” and decided to panhandle while he could.
While The Universal Cowboy played more songs for change, I went in behind the strip mall hosting the cookout and climbed over the railway tracks. I was already beginning to feel full, but the limited chili I ate wouldn’t keep me going for the rest of the day. I had a bit of cash on me, but I wanted to spend that on beer, not food. So I smoked another bowl out of the eyesight of the general public, setting my appetite up for another round of chili, but also causing a temporary sensory overload. I told myself over and over again that it was just a chili cookout in a parking lot, but all the clowns and cowboys and queers and kids seemed quite overwhelming. The key was not to act sketchy, but that was easier said than done. I made small talk with the chefs, but words leaked from my mouth that I had no intention of saying. With their disapproving looks came varieties of chili, and sometimes bread, nacho chips, cheese, or juice, keeping me happy and moving me right along to the next booth.
I began regretting the chili when my first fart shot out, reeking of yesterday’s binge. Allowing beef and beans to ferment in my belly, which was already filled with a vile marinade of alcohol, weed, and hotdogs, left me baring an incredibly toxic ass which plagued my every move for the rest of the weekend. For the time being though, the occasional stench was the least of my problems. Just like the evening before, everybody on hand at the chili cookout was notably innocent. Despite the subtle humors and horrors I faced, the whole affair lacked the madness I hoped to see. Perhaps the rodeo wasn’t all beer and brawls. Perhaps the rodeo was about fun for the whole family. Everything so far pointed to a substance free occasion.
It was time for a different scene.
I left the chili cookout and headed towards my parents house to escape the public and the sun, but I found The Universal Cowboy Slade Shannon Steel sitting on a bench outside the Cloverdale Seniors Center along the way. We sat together, he smoking discarded cigarette butts and me weed, keeping up a casual conversation about absolutely nothing. Slade frequently stood up and began shouting at an invisible man to stop interrupting him, becoming angrier as time passed. Eventually Slade Shannon Steel became so sick of it that he took matters into his own hands, and challenged the figment of his imagination to a game of invisible horseshoes. Up he got, tossing horseshoes that didn’t exist against an opponent that was just as illusive, with me sitting on the sidelines cheering the crazy fucker on. The afternoon progressed slowly as The Universal Cowboy dominated, making “clink” and “POW!” sound effects for every perfect shot he threw, and complimenting his opponent on the few good shots he made. Although the match was supposedly close, The Universal Cowboy was obviously the big winner.
“HA! YOUs ththought I wassss tough? TRY LEAMAN!”
“HA! You tell him Slade. Say, are you going to go over to the rodeo?”
“Why shshshshooter, yessss I am. I’m goingssss to goesss an makesss ssssome moneyssss. LISssTEN UP! HERE’S WHATthtSss ISssss I’M GOINSss TO do.”
“I think I can get you in for free Slade.”
“HOWSS ththTHAT shshshSHOOThthER?”
“Come here man.” I licked the ink left from the stamp on my hand, and pressed it against the back of Slade’s fist, hoping the ink would smudge into an admission. Despite multiple attempts and a lot of slobber lubrication, the ink had dried onto my skin and wouldn’t run onto his.
“shshshIT’s not GOINGsss to worksss shshshoooTER.” Out of his pocket Slade pulled a pen, and began drawing the simple stamp pattern onto his left hand. While the pen and my stamp both happened to be blue, the illustration Slade drew was completely unconvincing. He grinned as he began adding more and more crap to the simple smiley face stamp design, and beamed wildly as he dug the pen deep into his skin. Instead of blood, out oozed some odd white puss, a site I couldn’t stand to watch.
“Slade, for fuck sakes, what are you doing?”
“You fuck off you crazy fucker! You’re digging that pen into your hand!”
“FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF!”
“Stop it man, you’re hurtin-”
“FUCK OFF LEAsssMAN! NOBODYsss TELLSsss ththTHE UNIVErsssAL COWBOY shshshSLADE shshshSHANNON shshSTEEL WHATSsss TO DO!” Slade took a swing at me with the pen in hand, missing by a lot but giving me a good scare. With that attempted stab, my trust in The Universal Cowboy Slade Shannon Steel wavered.
“You crazy stupid piece of shit! What the fuck are you doing? I’m outta here you crazy fucker!”
So I set down the street with him still screaming and sobbing at me, yelling that I was no longer his best friend, and that we were going to be a team but I ruined it, and that he hated me. As much as I wanted to help the poor son of a bitch out, I wasn’t coherent enough to counteract his madness. I had to leave him behind: he was full of adventure, but would never be rational enough to sneak into the rodeo. He was dead weight, and I wasn’t willing to part with my beer money to cover his admission, just to have him stab me with a pen.
Moving along, I passed a couple of hours by visiting the small open grass areas in the neighborhood around my parent’s house, lying in the multiple fields I found. Watching town traffic pass from the church my family attends once a year, cheering on children’s baseball in the local athletic field, and smiling while a father taught his son how to bat in an overgrown ball diamond that has been long forgotten by the general Cloverdale public, I rested and relaxed like only a poor man could. I had time to kill and drugs to smoke, but my attempts to keep myself at the edge of oblivion were becoming less successful, as the weed was no longer making me feel high. I needed to switch drugs and paces, and knew just the way to do it.
After buying a slurpee from the closest corner store so I could have a tye-dye vodka drink, I shot a quarter into the payphone. One… two… three… four rings, and the answering machine. I hung up, the best quarter I had ever spent: no answer meant no one home. Just as I suspected and had confirmed with that phone call, my parent’s were once again volunteering in the VIP tent, just like they did every Friday in recent Rodeo history. I entered their unguarded house and borrowed another couple of beers which I’ll never repay, starting a buzz that didn’t die that day. With alcohol beginning to flow freely in my veins, I felt ready to confront the adult aspects of the Cloverdale Rodeo.
I made it back to the Stetson Bowl for the last rodeo show of the day, where cowboys did their best not to be thrown off wild bucking horses. After that grew tiring, the big tough men switched over to giving calves whiplash as they lassoed the animal’s neck while it ran full speed in the opposite direction, snapping the animal to the ground. Horribly barbaric and incredibly painful to watch, the audience of honkies loved it to no end. Despite all the ethnicity public transit portrayed earlier, not a single person of color could be found in the Stetson Bowl. Even most of the cowboy hats were white.
I ventured into the male washroom on my way out of the rodeo event, taking a leak and smoking a bowl out of sight from the numerous cops that were watching every move anybody made. Passing through the exhibit area on the way from the rodeo to the saloon, I found the hidden gem of the Cloverdale Rodeo: an unknown beer stand. The rules at this “concession” were simple: to have beer here, you had to make a food purchase. I bought a bag of potato chips for a dollar to go with my three cans of beer, and sat alone in the deserted cafeteria mustering up drunken courage for what was ahead. My media pass had brought me this far, but a stupid hand stamp wasn’t going to get me into the bars. There was no chance in hell of me waiting in the hour lineup and paying cover, so the only option as I saw it was to weasel my way in.
Putting my camera around my neck and carrying the media accreditation form in hand, I walked past the hundreds of cowboys at the front doors of the “The Longhorn Saloon,” and began banging on a side door. When a security guard made her way over, I flashed the media form and stated that I merely needed a couple of pictures for my article. Just like that, she held the door open as I sauntered on in and proceeded directly to the beer line.
When I finally made it to the front of the line, I asked for two beers and how much it cost. “No I’m sorry, you have to buy your beer tickets at the back. Next please.” Luckily, the lady behind me slipped me a beer ticket in exchange for a five, so I had a beer to drink while I waited in the ticket lineup. When I neared the front of that line, they had sold out of tickets and were turning people away. Determined to drink more beer, I approached the window as the line disintegrated and asked, “What about those two tickets?” pointing to the two tickets taped to the window. Sure enough, the man peeled the last two tickets off the glass and slid them to me in exchange for my ten, good for two more of the most watered down piss beers ever served. The poor quality of brew didn’t stop the crowd from drinking the saloon out of beer tickets of course, but it was a starting point in most of the conversations held that evening.
The Longhorn Saloon was everything I expected: packed, dehydrated, drunk, sleazy, silly. The dance floor had line dancers in matching outfits, lustful men stepping on toes, and dozens of people watching the band on stage. People were pounding drinks and skulls and groins, each and every person in attendance wanting to be noticed. Hundreds of tables were filled with people looking for companionship and love, and finding boring stories and hand jobs instead. Men abandoned by their friends searched for someone to answer their screams of “YEEE-HA!” with “YAAAA-HOOOO!” Security was comprised of local angry volunteers, all too eager to bounce heads and brutalize anyone that stepped out of line. Everybody there, for just one night, was living a portion of the dream life they could never achieve. They were unwinding quickly, and it was only a matter of time until the whole scene snapped.
It started with the music stopping. With nothing to dance to, the crowd looked for a new emotion and found anger. I heard profanities and saw blood trickle from the side of some poor fool’s head, and the violence spread from there. Shoving matches broke out, and people were flung and crushed against empty walls. I escaped the barn through the same side door I had entered, only to face teens battling in the midway. I worked my way to the closest exit, only to find the entrance blocked as there were already enough people inside the fair grounds brawling. I jumped a fence and cut into a field, where I laid out beside a little-known pond and listened to the frogs croak. Any previous idea of spending the night on the street was abandoned as sirens filled the night air, for I didn’t think all the community workers would be able to save the civilians from each other.
I saw everything I needed to see and had now seen quite enough, so fuck that crazy town and everybody in it. I dug out the cell phone, and made the call home as the evening slid into the night. I knew heading home would mean missing the parade and pancake breakfast held early the next day, but those were family events. All the other family events so far failed to hold my attention, and at any rate, I didn’t have the strength to last another 9 hours. I almost passed out while sitting on the bus stop I was supposed to be picked up from, feeling completely numb but somehow managing to stay conscious. Not only did my girlfriend rescue me, but she handed over a ½ ounce of weed she’d bought earlier that day. My curiosity sparked just enough to smoke one last bowl, and the high from this new weed kept me awake until the second my head hit the pillow at home.
I had quite enough of the Rodeo. I had seen enough, endured enough, survived enough. I didn’t bother setting my alarm for the morning parade, no need to lie to myself. It was much too early and family orientated, and I’m sure the politicians in slow moving cars didn’t want to look into the crowd and see a long haired young man wearing a trench coat. Besides, I couldn’t handle bag pipes and screaming kids. I was quite happy to call it quits and sleep for 12 hours, but a phone call awoke me, and the conversation that ensued convinced me to attend one more day. It was Favio with his very own plans for weed, free meals, and a final Rodeo showdown. My gut felt rotten, but Saturday night has historically been the peak of Rodeo madness…
“The possibility of physical and mental collapse is very real now...
… but collapse is out of the question; as a solution or even a cheap alternative, it is unacceptable. Indeed. This is the moment of truth, that fine and fateful line between control and disaster…” (Hunter S. Thompson).
Luckily, the next few hours were a safe haven. Riding shotgun to Favio’s plans, we rambled and roamed and became lost in the picturesque scenery that composes our city, each car ride filled with golden oldies on AM radio and our own brilliant monologues of stoned gibberish. He lined up free smokie hotdogs and drinks at a local Home Depot. From there it was off to the creek in the backyard of some remote little place he was housesitting at in North Vancouver, where we dropped in and smoked up. Not wanting to rely strictly on excessive weed smoking, we each bought a mickey of hard booze. The bottles of gin and vodka were transformed into tye-dye drinks with constant slurpee runs, ensuring everything we consumed would make the barn dance that much more of a blur.
But the barn dance wouldn’t be until much later, so we passed the hours by the side of a nearby rushing river, where the spray of water kept us cool while we filled our minds with toxins. I smoked more weed than I ever had at a single sitting, and from there, much is lost. The tape recordings have been sworn to secrecy in the best interests of our personal freedom, with the final recording mentioning a last ditch effort for “harder drugs.” A trip through the city didn’t produce anything else to feed our head, so we hit the highway in for one last classic rock soundtrack, and settled into Cloverdale.
Since the Rodeo is all about tradition, it was only fitting that Favio and I mooched off my parent’s groceries like I did the two days previous: if it ain’t broke, then get drunk that way again. The house was empty, but at the same time, it was almost inviting. A platter of chips and dip were waiting for us, and the fridge featured more beers than a local brewery. The entire house was spic-and-span, and the icing on the cowboy cake was the homemade bar outside. Loaded with all the necessary features, including: horns, “T. A.” (tits and ass) brand marks, accompanying cooler, and a clichéd name “the Oasis” written with rope. This is what the Cloverdale Rodeo was all amount: excessive hickness.
The house seemed too inviting, like a trap for the fiend(s) that were behind the mysteriously missing beer, so we consumed all we could quickly before venturing to the rodeo. Favio was still without a pass to get in, but I parked his car in the media lot, gave my name, took the stamp, and rubbed the ink over to the hand of my accomplice in no time flat. Even though we now both had the free admission stamp, we still decided to enter the fair grounds by jumping the fence, a decision that caused an 8 inch rip in the trench coat I was wearing. There was no time to worry about apparel, and no need to make casual foreplay with the attractions surrounding the saloons: we came for the beer barn, and outside of a final weed smoke up, there would be no delay.
Making the journey to the barn dance through the fair grounds was nearly unbearable: I mingled through the bright carnival ride lights and Alan Jackson look-alikes, and each person I focused on was more hideous than the previous. In the distance, shrieking teens could be heard saying remarkably clichéd things such as “OH MY GOD!”, “YOU ARE SO DEAD!”, and “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU JUST DID THAT!” Girls used the men’s washroom to avoid line-ups, and the males inside laughed so hard they pissed all over their own pants instead of the urinals. A skinny greasy man with two rattails hanging from the back of his hairline roamed around looking for young pussy to pray on, and was later seen necking with a junky mother wearing a T-shirt saying “I LOVE BAD BOYS” as her baby carriage sat unattended beside her. The most hideous of all was a sinister old woman, wearing florescent green pants pulled up and over her gunt. Her horrible apparel was only matched by her face, which slouched forward off her skull and masked in poorly applied cheap make-up. These people had all settled into their lives of compromise, and the Rodeo was the only time they came out to show how ugly they could be. Favio and I needed into that barn dance before these mutant locals devoured us…
The scene that followed was reminiscent of geekboy William Miller in “Almost Famous,” where his attempts to enter the stadium for a Black Sabbath interview were only met with continual humiliating rejection. The line for the front door was too long to even be considered, and there was no way either of us would spend perfectly good beer money on cover. We attempted flashing the media accreditation forms like I did the previous evening, but the routine didn’t go over smoothly with the first security guard, who demanded business cards instead of media forms. While we reporters of the highest dignity and integrality attempted to negotiate the importance of our presence, “real cowboys” were allowed to slip into the back entrance. Then the proverbial kick to the nutsack came, as the girl Favio hadn’t stopped talking about all day passed before us and through the same gate we were still trying to con our way into, sporting cleavage as certification. She left Favio with a lingering “Hope to see you inside…”
Every other gate we attempted to penetrate either shot us down, or returned us to the same man that rejected us earlier. Procedures had been set in place, and if you didn’t pass the standards this one ridiculously anal-retentive man imposed, then all hopes were lost. We eventually recognized defeat, leaving us only to seek petty revenge:
“That’s it asshole. What’s your Goddamn name!?!” I yelled, whipping my minitape recorder into his face.
“Rob M*******, and I’m The Chairman of the Longhorn Saloon. If you want to complain, you can call the office tomorrow, and we’ll be glad to deal with it.”
“Damn right I’ll complain. But what good will tomorrow do me when I’m here to report on tonight’s barn dance?”
“Do you have a business card, sir?”
“No, I’m a freelance journal-”
“Then I can’t let you in. Now please leave before I have you removed.”
Screaming profanities as we stumbled away, we left without attending the dance or seducing the desired love. But we didn’t leave empty-handed - I tape recorded the name of the enemy… so we looked “Rob M*******” up in the phonebook and visited the corresponding address. While he continued to volunteer as “The Chairman of the Longhorn Saloon” for the evening, we were pissing all over his front door and patio, getting a small amount of retribution for the story and love we missed. There’s my business card, sir.
I awoke from my dreams of The Universal Cowboy, and found myself on the floor of a foreign living room. Chatter rang through my head and the hallways, speaking of how poor he looked. How his jacket was ripped and tattered. How his hat only cost $5, and looked foolish and warped. How his jeans were covered in dirt and food stains. How his breath stank. How he blabbered on endlessly, obviously bent and warped from his drugging and drinking. How he just might be insane.
Of course, they were talking about me.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Dragging myself home after an exhausting game of floor hockey, I saw The Universal Cowboy Slade Shannon Steel getting off the skytrain as I boarded. He was missing his hat and had traded his guitar for a ski pole, which he was using as a walking stick. However, outside of those two prop changes, he was dressed exactly the same as when I saw him last.
“Look here, it’s The Universal Cowboy!” I proclaimed… but he staggered right past me, not taking his eyesight off his footing. “SLADE! Slade Shannon Steel! How are you doing?” But he continued walking, not recognizing my face, my voice, or even his own name.