My parents were gone to an out-of-town church meeting. I had been daydreaming most of the morning, cleaning my rodeo gear and listening to Chris Ledoux tapes. The more I listened to those songs about the hardships and the glamour of rodeo life, the more I wanted to be the person in the songs.
Restless and under the influence of my delusion of being a cowboy on the circuit, I grabbed my gear, jumped in my pickup, and drove toward I-35 after buying $20 worth of gas, which was just enough to get to Belton and back. Belton was only 120 miles south of Joshua on I-35, just between Waco and Austin. I pretended like it was far down in South Texas.
There would be a jackpot at Johnny Boren’s arena that afternoon. I would worry about the entry fees when I got there.
Mr. Boren was a soft-spoken, friendly man who wanted to help the younger boys. He built an arena just behind his house and kept his own supply of bulls for practice and jackpots. It was that arena where, two years before, I had my first money-winning ride.
I arrived on this Sunday without my $20 entry fee; but I had an idea, which Mr. Boren agreed to: If I won, my entry fees would come out of the prize money. If not, he kept my bull rope.
When I left Belton that afternoon, my rigging bag was one bull rope lighter. Still, I had plenty of gas, and it was early enough to get to Kowbell for the 7:00 P.M. rodeo. I parked my pickup in the back and walked into the office.
Jack glanced up at me and grumbled, “When did they let you out?”
“They didn’t. I escaped. Jack, I need to work out a deal for my entry fees tonight.”
“How am I supposed to feed my bulls when you always want to ride for free?”
The truth was that I never rode for free. It usually profited Jack more when I didn’t have my fees than when I did. There were several times when I worked all evening hauling hay and stacking it in the barn, or Saturdays when I cleaned the arena— bathrooms, bucking chutes, and all—to pay my entry fees for Sunday. But then, he knew that.
“I’ll give you my chaps for collateral. As soon as I can, I’ll buy them back from you.”
“All right,” he grunted, “but I don’t know what I’m going to do with your chaps.”
When Jack posted the draw, I had the perfect bull. Just a few months earlier, I had watched Cory Turnbow place in a round of the Texas Circuit finals in Waco on him. He was a wide, big-horned brindle, good but not so tough that I couldn’t ride him.
So, barelegged and with a borrowed bull rope, I climbed on my bull and out we went.
He bucked almost in a straight line, turned one spin, and then gave a couple more kicks: not too impressive.
The judges were generous in awarding me 72 points.
That evening, third place paid $40. After I paid the $20 to get my chaps back, I had just what I had started the day with, minus my bull rope.
I was content—it would have all made the perfect rodeo story.