Every city and town has it – the claim to fame, the world’s biggest, oldest or best whatever, the birthplace of whomever, the unique mundane bit of trivia some chamber of commerce so thoughtfully applied to the town’s name as an official title.
And without fail, the more lame the designation, the more lame the town – the more lame the destination, the more lame the moniker.
So where does the World’s Oldest Rodeo fit? Pretty near the bottom. It’s not as bad as the world’s tallest cross, as a friend recently described the site of her family reunion. And it ain’t the Town Too Tough To Die, like that lame-ass place down the road that annually celebrates a 120-year-old murder by getting all dressed up in period costume and fake killing each other for a weekend.
But I was born in the town that boasts the World’s Oldest Rodeo, grew up there in the cool pines and the downtown of quaint shops, and never once went to the rodeo. I never gave a shit.
Once again I found myself in the middle of the madness, out and about on Whiskey Row on rodeo weekend, watching the cowboys drink and carouse.
Maybe it’s strictly a cowboy thing, or maybe any sort of celebratory crowd acts the same, but there was a seriousness they applied to the revelry that I don’t see on the average weeknight trip to my favorite haunts. They were geared up and gassed up, two-ton pickups unloading clean-shaven cowboys with new, perfects hats and perfumed cowgirls, asses nearly bursting out of Wranglers.
In the middle of that you had the Valley folk, the Phoenix and Scottsdale weekend get-away-ers looking for cool weather and some “authentic” small-town Arizona experience for their Independence Day.
And there, plain as the dust on the ground, is the paradox of every town’s claim to fame: that same dumbass thing that attracts all the folks to come see it, to see “real” sites, history and festivals, is what turns the town into a goddamned Disneyland façade of what it’s supposed to be. Americans don’t like zoos nearly as much as they like marveling at people slightly different from themselves. City folk like quaint heartland bullshit and country folk go nuts for the city’s manufactured glamour.
And when it’s your own hometown and you see through every bit of smoke and spin applied to everything it’s all the more maddening. I feel an amazing disconnect with the hick town that spawned me.
But for some reason those rare return trips home are increasingly interesting. I can peek through a kaleidoscope of different perspectives. Some close friends actually love it there; some are counting the days until they can get out; some will always hate it but never leave.
Real life has hit most of them and that’s the most fascinating of all. Some of my oldest childhood friends have families and honest-to-god careers. And not for the life of me does that seem the slightest bit attractive. It’s not a matter of arrogance or snottiness. Sitting on a porch with a couple beers, talking life and everything else, I can almost carve out in my mind an existence there for myself. It’s vague, ill-defined notions really, but it reinforces the connections that are the strongest roots in my life. But roots are just a support system, a delivery method for the ability and the opportunity to do so much more.
One day maybe I’ll settle on a place that defines itself in much grander terms. Or more likely, I’ll try out a few places, cities that can’t quite settle on a single claim to fame and offer up several possibilities. When you climb the ladder to the top, cities don’t have claims so much as nicknames: the Big Apple, the Windy City. And it’s all still for the tourists.