25 June 2022
Denver is a key city in the American West with a Western-style bar to prove it: the Grizzly Rose. Located in an unlikely industrial district at the edge of town, it’s a place where cowboy boots, hats and Western-style shirts are not just normal, they’re practically obligatory. They might as well have a sign at the door saying: “No cowboy shoes, no cowboy shirt, no service (cowboy or otherwise).” I’m here to improve on the underdeveloped cowboy facet of my personality with Western-style line dancing and rodeo skills like calf roping and bull riding.
Tonight, Sunday, is family night, meaning that all ages can get in. But if you are under 21, you cannot drink alcohol in the U.S. The first time I came here three years ago, I learned exactly what that meant. They take their drinking laws very seriously.
It is a bizarre contradiction for non-Americans (and for Americans living abroad) that while guns are seen as a sacred right, drinking alcohol is an evil to be controlled at all costs. I made the mistake of not bringing any ID to prove my age on my first visit to the Grizzly Rose. They allowed me to come in but marked the backs of my hands with oversized black X’s using the widest black magic marker I had ever seen. If they were yellow, they would have been perfect for marking the lines on the sides of the highway. That was the closest I’ve ever come to being branded.
This time, I am perfectly prepared. I have my hand curled around my photo ID in my pocket, poised to flash it before the guy with the itchy hands and black marker gets any ideas. But they have now relaxed the rules; people who are clearly above the age of 21 are simply waved in. I am frankly disappointed at this missed opportunity to show my cockiness. It seemed like such a Western thing to do: lacking a six-shooter, I could have at least whipped out my ID.
Not only am I armed with my ID, I am also better prepared on the fashion front in my bona fide cowboy boots. I justified this purchase by convincing myself that I would actually wear them back in Munich. On the other hand, no matter how hard I racked my brain, not a single incident of a person wearing a cowboy hat came to mind during decades of living in Germany. So no hat.
The first event of the evening is at 7:00 pm: a lesson in line dancing on the spacious wooden dance floor. The instructor announces that he has been giving lessons in line dance here for 18 years. He has the perfect combination of humor and the ability to explain things very simply for beginners.
Once I recover from the sight of so many cowboy boots and hats on the dance floor, another realization hits me: there are almost as many men on the dance floor as women. Young men, too. For reasons yet unclear to me, men in the U.S. and Western Europe have largely lost the ability to dance. At some point in the past, somebody must have deemed dancing to be unmanly, unnecessary or otherwise stupid. Or perhaps a common hip defect spread across the Western Hemisphere (mysteriously bypassing Latin America, as any visit to a salsa club will prove), causing all men’s hip joints to fuse by the age of 12. Whatever this mysterious ailment may be, it has not afflicted these men on the dance floor in the Grizzly Rose. It’s a refreshing sight.
After the dance floor fills up with people who actually know what they are doing, we move on to the twin mechanical bulls. These bulls gyrate in tandem, first moving gently from side to side, then spinning around with increasing speed, and finally swiveling on their axis at which point nearly everyone falls off.
These bulls are easily mountable from the inflated mats surrounding them. This is a key improvement over my last visit three years ago, when I agreed to ride the single bull they had at the time – but was unable to get up onto it. The woman operating the bull even left the bull console to come over and give my backside a good push to get me up onto it, much to the amusement of my friend watching and laughing at the sidelines.
But as the cowboy Lloyd in the Western series Yellowstone rightly says, mechanical bulls are for drunken girls at county fairs. With this quote ringing in my ears, I feel justified in not getting on this bull again, since a) I’m not drunk, and b) I didn’t have to show my ID to get in, so I’m obviously no longer a girl, either.
My final attempt for this evening at obtaining any semblance of cowpersonhood is in the lasso room. This room has several lassos hanging from hooks on the wall used to “lasso” the legless plastic calf sitting lifeless on the floor. In front of it are several people trying to rope it, the lassos cracking on the wooden floor when they miss.
This I have to try.
I heft a lasso in my hand. It’s somewhat stiff, with one end threaded through a small loop at the end. Can’t be too hard to swing this, I figure.
I swing it in a circle over my head. It immediately gets tangled around my wrist.
I swing it again. This time, it gets caught in the hair clip on top of my head; now half of my hair is hanging down into my face.
While I desperately try to stick my hair back into the clip before anybody notices, a man dressed in classic cowboy fashion walks over to me. He later tells me that he’s been doing this since he was five (but since he has X’s on his hands, that wasn’t all that long ago, at least from my middle-aged perspective). He clearly feels sorry for me.
“Make the loop bigger. And hold it tight when you swing it like this,” he says, making imaginary circles with his arm over his head.
I try it. It works.
“Good! Now move closer to the calf and aim for the horn on this side,” he says, kneeling and pointing to the horn on the far side.
After several tries, I am getting better but still don’t manage to rope the calf.
Then a blonde woman with her hair in a bun approaches me.
“Have you ever bowled?” she asks.
“Then imitate that motion when you throw the rope – throw it underhand. I’m a healer, so I know how to do this.”
A healer? As in TCM, Ayurveda or reiki? What has healing got to do with roping cattle, I wonder. I consider asking her if she had a dexterity potion that could help. But since she is so confident, there must be something about this cattle roping business that I just don’t understand.
That turns out to be precisely the case. When I tell my Denver friend that this friendly woman was a healer she says, “Oh yes! They’re the ones who rope the back leg of a calf when they’re being caught to be branded.”
She was a heeler. I am overcome with a sense of relief at not having asked any stupid questions.
I keep throwing the lasso for a while, smacking the floor, which – short of actually roping the plastic calf – is very satisfying. Combined with the cowboy sensation of swinging the lasso above my head, I don’t mind that I never succeed. Besides, my unofficial lasso coach tells me, “Most people just give up. You’re trying so hard!”
I feel proud to be praised by a real cowboy. But maybe wearing a cowboy hat would have helped after all.
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