Friday, July 3, 2009

Fort Worth, Texas

Welcome to the shortest cattle drive in Texas.

In spite of its status as the (almost) biggest state in the union and home to more self-applied superlatives and boundless boosterism, twice a day a small group of cowpokes move 17 Texas Longhorns past the Hyatt and through a tourist gauntlet for two whole blocks in the old stockyards of Fort Worth.

Let's just say that it is, on the whole, rather less daunting than the Chisolm Trail.

The stockyards themselves have seen more robust days. Once renowned as Hell's Half Acre, the whorehouses and acres of cow shit are long gone, though there is still a fair bit of bull. Wooden cactus sprout from flower pots, and you can pay 50 cents for a pony ride or a couple bucks to either straddle a bored longhorn or get tossed around by a mechanical bull. There's a number of perfectly reputable museums, an indoor rodeo and Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show and and an admirable number of watering holes and BBQ joints.

But I came for the cattle drive, so I lined up with the sugar-hyped kids and sweating parents and watched the show. Traffic was blocked, cowboys who wouldn't look out of place at a pride parade rode out into the broiling sun and escorted their bovine charges down the cobblestones. Kids darted about but I was disappointed that no stampede ensued. In eight minutes the cattle were on their way back to the feedlot, and the cowboys rested in the shade.

I chatted with one of the cowboys after the show. He has traded the cowboy life for a rather more refined career as city employee. "I used to work up at a stockyard running 8000 cattle a day. That was work. I took this job 'cause I loved the horses. The gets too much and I can say my horse needs waterin' and ride off."

We chatted for a bit longer, then he mumbled something his horse seemin' a tad thirsty, and off he rode into the noonday sun.

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