For the past week and a half, my entire city has been deep in the grips of cowboy fever. Every July we celebrate something called the Calgary Stampede – a ten day rodeo/fair/ Western-themed, shenanigan-filled, booze-and-pancake-fueled party.
There’s live music, shows, agricultural exhibits, a huge midway with rides and deep-fried everything, and company-sponsored free pancake breakfasts every day of the week. Most downtown businesses and bars transform their storefronts into Wild West style facades – hay bales! Rough-hewn wood! Cowgirl silhouettes! – and the city goes wild.
I think most Calgarians keep a pair of cowboy boots and stetson buried somewhere in their closet just for this once-a-year event, and although everyone gets in to it in some way or another, I think most residents probably have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Stampede. As a kid, it was THE BEST. The rides, the midway food, the parade…nothing compared!
When I finally came of age and was allowed inside all of those crowded beer tents and hay-baled bars it was just chaos, debauchery- a ten day binge.
Then the cynicism set in – it felt the same every year. My adult brain started looking at the rides and seeing death traps instead of exhilaration, it felt too crowded, too hot, too drunk, too much.
The Stampede’s official slogan is “The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth”, but a friend recently suggested one that fits a little better: “The Calgary Stampede: It’s Excessive.”
Moderation does not exist during the Stampede. Nothing is done in half-measures. It begins to feel a little like the whole city just surrenders to gluttony and hedonism, there’s just so MUCH. The streets are filled with bare skin and drunk people, the food is deep-fried and cheese-covered, there was one food stand that had just rows upon rows upon rows of meat, grilling. The bars are packed with people fueling bad decisions with bad beer, and after it all subsides the city settles into a strange sort of quiet. A city-wide hangover.
(Oh god, I’m so sorry. This is really bleak for a Monday morning! Don’t worry, I’m about to turn it all around!)
This year was the first year Olive would be attending the Stampede as an official resident of Calgary, and I was determined that she would have the EXPERIENCE. I could sift through my layers of cynicism and remember how much fun I had as a kid, how novel it all seemed, and I wanted that for her, too.
She ended up staying an extra day in Edmonton on our last visit, so she missed the parade at the beginning of the Stampede, but on Saturday we ventured out for our first pancake breakfast.
I’m not sure how this tradition started, but hundreds of companies and community organizations sponsor these free breakfasts – there are dozens of them all around the city on any given day of the Stampede. We drove down to one in the SW of the city thinking it wouldn’t be too busy, and ended up standing in line for about half an hour for three pancakes, 1.5 sausages, a juice box and a lukewarm coffee.
The rational part of my brain stood there in line, baking on the asphalt with an impatient toddler swinging on my arm, listening to the ear-shattering blend of country music and a cacophony of whining kids, wondering “Why the HELL am I doing this??”
And then this happened:
She was SO excited. She couldn’t believe that we were eating pancakes outside just like in her Curious George book! She couldn’t believe she got a juice box, because her evil hippie mom has never bought juice boxes for her, she couldn’t believe she got to watch a band playing drums and guitars while she ate pancakes and maple syrup.
She was in heaven, and suddenly it was all worth it.
The next day it was grey and drizzly in the morning – a welcome respite from the unbelievable heat wave that had been gripping the city. Lizzie and Olive put on their rain boots, I grabbed my umbrella, and we headed down to the Stampede grounds, crossing our fingers that the rain would keep the crowds down.
It worked! We’re geniuses! The place was almost empty, rides had no line-ups, we weren’t hot or angry or irritable. Success! But still…it was so expensive. Admission to the grounds, ride tickets, food, everything cost about 50% more than it should have, and suddenly it seemed really silly to be blowing the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries on a few hours filled with bad food and rides that spun slowly in circles for two minutes.
But then, this happened:
She could not believe the Ferris Wheel. And it wasn’t even the big one, it was a little baby one in the kid zone. Every time we rose to the top of the wheel she would gasp and make that face, “We so HIGH” she would shriek, “I can see EVERYFING!”
And then the Dizzy Dragon ride, where she smiled so hard I thought her face might crack:
And then a cowboy hat (red, because red is best) that I debated over for far too long, wondering how long she would actually even wear it, which turned out to be the best thing ever because it came with a WHISTLE!
This is one of the best parts of having a child – seeing the world through their eyes. It is unbelievably cliche, but it’s repeated so often because it’s true.
Moths become butterflies, sticks become wands, and sweaty, overpriced, gluttonous fairgrounds become pure magic.
Happy first official Stampede, Olive! Yahoo!