By CRYSTAL K. WIEBE
It's 9:45 p.m., and I'm straddling a beast in public. A couple of dozen people look on as I ride the mechanical bull at the PBR Big Sky Bar until it bucks me off. This is just my practice ride, but not long after, I'll join the throng of women who have come for ladies' night.
The country-themed bar in the Power & Light District holds men’s and women’s amateur bull-riding contests at 10:30 every Wednesday night -- and free bull rides always. I got a flier about it recently that specifically called for buckle bunnies, the slang term for rodeo groupies. Buckle Bunny also happens to be the name of my music column for The Pitch, so I feel especially compelled to investigate this scene.
The bar isn’t very crowded, though it can take awhile to get a drink. Other buckle bunnies seem to have better luck. Anna, a 21-year-old from Lenexa, and her friend Christa, a 22-year-old from Kansas City, come to Big Sky Bar about three times a week to see their favorite bartenders. "Kevin and Cameron are the shit," Anna says. And that’s not all. "The bull is the shit," Anna adds. "Even though you get bruises on your thighs." Anna and Christa aren’t sure if they’ll ride tonight, but they did wear the right clothes for it — jeans. "We usually wear dresses," Christa says.
The author, on an unnamed bull.
Another regular, a middle-aged divorced man named Steve, likes to buy drinks for all the pretty women. He says he spent 20 years in a marriage and now he’s trying to get his life back — "maybe a little too fast." He jokes that he lives at the bar and high fives the help. He asks if I’m riding the bull tonight. I say yes.
"Have you been practicing?" he asks.
"Yeah. I rode a little earlier."
"What was his name?" That Steve’s a cutup.
Before the bull-riding contest officially starts, I consult with Ryan Osburn, who spends more time than anyone on the PBR bull. He rides one-handed, no-handed, on his back, on his stomach and on his feet — surf-style. He often back-flips off. The 25-year-old has never ridden a real bull, and he’d never ridden a mechanical one until his first night on this job — April 10. But after 40 rides a night, four nights a week, he’s got the mechanical beast tamed. It’s all about balance, Osburn says: "The point is to stay up and down. When the head goes down, rock your hips forward so you stay up."
I try to keep his advice in mind as the MC — a woman with a manly voice — calls the female contestants to the bullpen. I survey the competition, which includes lots of attractive women in strappy shoes and strappy shirts. Most of them seem drunker than I am, judging by their wan smiles and stumbly gaits. Somehow, though, I don’t think this puts me at an advantage.
“Are you sure you don’t want one more drink before you ride?” Jenni asks.
After what seems like an eternity, the contest finally begins. I’m the first rider. Unlike the women who will follow, I don’t kick off my shoes. I climb into the padded ring in cowgirl boots — appropriate footwear for such an occasion — and hoist myself onto the furry hot seat, which begins almost immediately to rock back and forth, side to side.
As before, I focus my gaze on the bull’s horns so I don’t have to think about the people who are watching. Over the music, I think I hear my friend Benjamin holler. As the seconds (or milliseconds — I have no sense of time) pass, the bull spins faster and harder. I feel myself slipping, so I clench my thighs and tighten my one-handed grip.
And then I slide off one side of the fake animal, my legs in the air. Oh, well, I think. No one but Osburn could be expected to dismount gracefully.
My friends clap as I exit the bullpen. It’s a step down from the air-mattress landing pad back onto the bar floor. But someone has spilled a drink in the on-deck rider’s area, and when my slick-soled boots hit that spot, I topple, clutching helplessly at a trash can. Now who seems drunk?
According to the ladies' night ads, the "first 30 ladies on the bull receive $1 for every second they stay on." That’s $1 toward a bar tab, with a maximum of $25. But no one gives me any drink discounts at the end or even tells me how long I stayed on. Well, it felt like at least 8 seconds. I’ll make sure my friends pack a stopwatch next time. And maybe I’ll wear spurs.