This last weekend my girlfriends and I had the pleasure, after not knowing if we could go up because of Covid, of taking our annual girls trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to go to the rodeo. The National, U.P. Championship Rodeo is the only one in Michigan that is sanctioned and this was its fifty-third year it has been in my sleepy home town of Iron River Michigan.
The other three girls and I had been talking about it for a while. We made hotel reservations in May so that we got the (only) hotel that is in town’s walking distance, I didn’t want to miss a thing. They have events all day long in town, like a Rodeo Queen competition, a sidewalk sale, and even a parade. “Town” by the way is 2 1/2 blocks long and consists of more bars then places to eat or shop, but it is still down town to me. The storefronts mostly are now sitting empty but for an occasional location that has changed from selling new merchandise to antiques, or the old jewelry store that is now the towns only beauty shop. I have such fond memories of sitting outside the U.P. Power company storefront, where my dad worked, on the curb, and watched the rodeo parade, eagerly waiting for the floats to drive by that would toss candy for us kids to catch. If you got lucky, you got more than one piece as kids all scrambled to get each and every piece that hit the ground and made a combination cracking and crinkling noise from the hard candies wrapped in individual pieces of plastic bouncing on the hot paved road.
The parade was long back then, in my mind hours long, full of marching bands and floats and dealerships driving their fanciest new cars off the lot for all to see. The local rival football teams had floats taunting the other schools, “Beat the Cardinals” or “Stomp Stambaugh”. My dad was a fireman and marched back in the day, and I was so proud. After the parade we all went straight to the rodeo to get our seats. The bleachers faced the sun and the shinny metal was hot so you had to bring a blanket to sit on. The back of our legs would get the imprint of the rough blanket we sat on, but that was still better than scorching our skin on the hot metal. The smell of dirt, manure and tractors filled the arena but if the wind blew just right you could smell the brats and corn on the cob being cooked for spectors to buy and eat in the stands. Everywhere you looked cowboy hats moved along the rodeo grounds, some were actual cowboys, some were locals that were wearing their hats if only for the day. And don’t forget the kids begging their parents for cotton candy or to “go ride a horse in a circle”.
This year, and for last couple, the rodeo has changed for me. For the last couple of years my girl friends and I all say goodbye to our significant others, and our kids, jump in a car and head for the rodeo for a girls weekend. The first time I took one of my girlfriends on the 8 hour drive to get there she exclaimed rather stunned “oh! It’s a real rodeo”! Evidently the entire drive she somehow thought it was just a theme for a big giant party. “No, I stated, Its a real rodeo with cowboys and bulls and bull poop”. She laughed and said “who knew!”
This year the parade was only about a half hour long, and had only 2 floats in it, the same two as last year. One is a group of elderly (ok my age) people who play funky jazzed up Polka’s and the other is a float from the local 4H club showcasing their prized pigs and chickens. The Rodeo queen and her court ride through on their horses all dressed up in their finest show cloths… both the horses and the riders. Then comes the little kids with their pooper scoopers to pick up the horse poop. Finally the firetrucks all clean and shiny come through. With a smaller parade that means time between the parade and the rodeo. Truth? We had couple of drinks before noon, then took a nap, we are old now after all. Then we took, what has become part of my new rodeo tradition. I stopped at my dad’s gravestone for a bit. After all these years I still cry. Then I picked up the girls and we went for a drive. We went past the place I grew up, and some of my old friends houses. We saw houses that are still there, old and weather worn and brand new ones being built that look out of place with their new styling and design. We went passed my school and I showed the girls how the airport is on top of a cliff and the only two sides that aren’t cliff are where a school and a bar (still) stands. We drove passed the “murder house”, more on that in the next post. We ate and had some more drinks and just relaxed all before finally going to the rodeo late show.
I have some anxiety bringing my L.P. friends to the U.P. It’s just a small town in the middle of no place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, that has really only one event that happens every year. They rodeo means more to me then “A real Rodeo”, and I enjoy it very much, even if it has changed so very much. It’s my town tho, and my family, and my event. Everyone said they had a good time and everyone said it was nice to get away from it all. I sure hope so, because I did and can’t wait to do it all again next year.