December 14th, 2014
A blaring spotlight, tonight’s artificial sun, silhouettes the figures of onlookers perched above the tall wooden fence. I position myself to be in the shade of a man dressed in button-up checkered shirt, jeans, cowboy boots and a sombrero straddling the fence, one leg dipping into the eager crowd, the other into the temporarily calm world of potential danger. Up in the stands, little groups, separated by empty bench, are huddled around carnival carnes and cotton candy, enjoying the privileged view from their 6 dollar seats.
The music blares through the sound of hundreds of little conversations, laughter, creaky portable carnival rides and distant salsa from the dance floor on the other side of the grounds. Sensational electronic dance beats pound against my ear drums, steadily drowning my auditory senses to the collective level of numbness here tonight.
Through the heads of the crowd in front of me and through the slots of the wooden fence, I catch sight of the faces illuminated by the spotlights. Twenty odd folks of all ages and of one gender are spread out through the arena, facing the same direction. A 16 year-old boy dressed in neon running clothes stretches in place preparing for what is to come. A dude with a name-brand baseball cap, shorts, skater shoes, long hair and a beer in his hand is joking around with his identically dressed friend standing next to him, both making a point to look laid back and cool. A group of guys at the far end of the ring are kicking around a soccer ball, killing time. A señor dressed in full cowboy outfit holds a serious posture with an animal hide draping from his hand. Two fair-skinned foreigners who look a little buzzed up chat with their arms crossed side by side facing toward the part of the arena out of my visual range.
Their faces suddenly change from easy-going to surprised and battle ready. Everybody else switches from anticipation stance to a short-stop’s ready position. The music dims quickly and is replaced by the announcer’s booming voice crying out the commencement of the extravaganza. Half of the conversations stop, the heads in front of my view begin to move from side to side trying to catch sight of the arena’s star.
Finally after a few long seconds, the source of the attention comes into view. The horned beast tramps into the chaotic scene and like a powerful wind, causes all humans in his path to blow away like leaves. The bull turns to his left and charges along the rim of the arena in pursuit of ten odd bull runners in full stride.
One of them decides to hop onto the fence where the straddling cowboy is perched. As he holds on to a pole and turns to look back, a pair of horns emerge from behind him and slam him against the fence. The spectators in front of me collectively startle and take a step back. My attention on the scene is broken by a lady in front of me dropping her beer. I back up from the spilled beer below my feet, look up and the horns are gone. The injured human remains clung to the fence.
I scan the limited range of vision and find the bull again. He has stopped running and is standing in attack ready mode, scanning for brightly colored moving threats. The boy with the neon running gear runs full speed just inches away from the bull and almost provokes a chase. The cowboy runs by and flails the animal hide in the bull’s face. The bull takes a couple of steps, faking a chase to scare away the mysterious fleeing predator, but stops in his tracks, changing his mind.
All of a sudden, four men on horseback twirling lassoes above their heads invade the scene and encircle the perplexed bull. A head blocks my view for a second and when I catch sight again there are two ropes tethering the bull to two different encircling horses, yanking him into different directions. A soccer ball flies by the bull’s head, missing him to the disappointment of the crowd.
I turn away from the scene to the big smile of my friend Kevin.
“Let’s get in there mae!”
His coolly dressed, long-haired surfer dude friend makes a hand motion to urge me to peel my eyes away from the spectacle so we can get a move on. I look back and see the two ropes taut around the bull’s horn, a mystical force of nature pulling him against his will.
“I don’t think I will go in there” I reply.
“Ohhh, come on, don’t be scared, it’s easy” Kevin urges, half tauntingly.
“I don’t know anything about this and I’m tired. Not in a good mindset.” I explain.
“Wusss, C’mon, just follow us anyway.” He begins walking.
I decide to follow along anyway and begin carving through the crowd behind Kevin and his friend. I squeeze by groups of nicely dressed middle-aged guys with tucked in clubbing attire and beers in hand, scanning for chicas. “Disculpame”, I pardon myself as I cut through a young couple, each holding on to either hand of their child between them. We walk by a group of three scantily dressed girls whose parent’s are probably over at the salsa dance floor or taking their younger siblings on the kiddy rides. Tough guys lean against small dirt bikes with their arms crossed, looking into the mass of movement for chicks and enemies. A well dressed first-dater follows close behind his cleavaged and mini-skirted date as she leads the way without looking back at him, she knows he won’t let her out of sight and she feels in control. Young boys run between the legs of tall adults and crawl under the bleachers to get a peephole view of the arena, implanting the dream of one day running with the bulls.
We make our way to the backside of the wooden stadium where the lassoing horsemen are waiting outside the gate for the next round to begin. Kevin and surfer dude approach the gate without hesitation and the gate-keeper unties the ropes and swings it open for them to enter. Kevin turns around and waves me in but I shake my head and give him the thumbs up for good luck. His friend scoffs and feels cooler that he’s doing something another dude is too afraid to.
A competitive show-off side of me feels the urge to get in there but the logical side of me reminds me of the reality of the dangers and that I’m inexperienced. I question what the purpose would even be to do it. The gate shuts and my logical brain sighs in relief. I watch Kevin and surfer dude disappear into the group of show-offs, athletes, challenge seekers, girl impressors, drunks, adrenaline addicts, approval seekers, and compensators. Kevin just spent half of his last paycheck on a couple of American brand-name shirts in the nearest city a couple of hours drive from here and this is the perfect setting to model one of them.
I feel engulfed by the sound. I look up and realize I’m right below the blaring speakers. My ears are numb now.
I imagine myself standing out there. Feeling the eyes from the onlookers. I’m drugged by their energy, loving it, not giving into it, staying focused on the menacing gate ready to open any second. The responsibility of reality takes me over and I’m a machine of survival. I’m going to overcome a fear, or get badly hurt trying. I’m going to show these guys that I’m braver than they think I am. I’m going to live a story I can share at any social gathering or to anybody I want to impress. I’m going to get credits in bull evasion 101 to add to my list of accomplishments. I’m going to attract one girl in the stands and go home alone feeling good.
The announcer’s roaring voice snaps me out of my fantasy.
A full-faced helmeted boy holds on for dear life to the raging bull. The crowd cheers. He gets jerked from one side to the other and within a few seconds he is tossed off. His childhood fantasy of being the brave rider, the pressure from friends, the desire to be in the spotlight, the months and hours of anxious anticipation, all get relieved in a few short seconds.
I lose sight and have to move my head to unveil the blind spot created by one of the wooden poles making up the fence. The scene is revealed to me again. The boy’s body is lying motionless below the liberated giant. Somebody runs by and lures the bull into a chase. A few guys rush into the center of the ring and carry the limp bullrider to the exit gate. They set him down while they get the gate open and I see the boy’s face clearly through one of the lower slots a few feet away. Eyes closed, flat on his back, blood running from the crack of his mouth, wrist bent awkwardly draped over his stomach, still.
His first-aid friends suddenly scatter, leaving him alone as the bull charges along the fence line. He steps inches from the boys unconscious head as he runs by. The gate opens and the first-aiders make it out of the ring without any further damage. I step out of the way as the scene passes me by. The faces of the first-aiders carrying the boy are serious and focused, in survival mode. Fellow onlookers take a look at the spectacle, passing by and within seconds are glued back to the present scene in the arena. I feel the urge of following the helpers, of lending a hand, of watching in a stupor but I remember I don’t know first aid, and I don’t want to gawk at someone’s misfortune. A few seconds later I am back on the same page as my fellow onlookers watching the show.
My vision is glazed. The music pounds. I want it to be louder. My nerves want a renumbing. Reality is breaking through the wall of sound, through the energy of the crowd, through the breath of spirits, through the spinning rides, through the cleavage and miniskirts, through the coolness and chaos.
From behind, a more immediate reality in the form of a horse towering over me trying to get by, breaks through. I step aside and let the four lasso spinning horsemen enter the world of mayhem. The crowd roars again. Confused horses run through a blur of moving figures. The angry bull’s head gets pulled from side to side by a force unknown to him. The music blares. The lights blare. The collective fervor blares. The numbness blares.
My palette is splattered with confusion and everything homogenizes to a stupor brown. I find my feet carrying me away. The fervor fades into an after taste. I float through the crowd of blurry faces. My ears sing a high-pitched constant tone of blare residue. My feet keep doing the walking while my thoughts and emotions get yanked from side to side by the mystical forces of nature.