Multnomah Village is a quiet neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. The ‘town’, as locals think of it, is only a couple of blocks long. Lots of antique shops, booksellers, and small eateries line both sides of the street. Of course there is a bead shop for the crafty ladies and an ice cream/candy shop so little kids can peer at all that sweet goodness. A bank, flower shop, small market and even an emergency care center, pretty much make this small hamlet totally self-sufficient. Situated in the middle of all this Pat Boone and Mayberry RFD innocence, is a bar that goes back to 1939, Renner’s Bar and Grill.
One of the nicest parts about living in the Pacific Northwest, and Portland especially, are all the small towns in the area and any number of events you can drive to in a short while. The Verboort Sausage and Sauerkraut Festival, The Crawdad Blast in Tualitan and who wouldn’t miss the Tulip Growers Festival. Every Fourth of July, the little town of St.Paul has a rodeo. Even though there are several in the area to choose from over the summer months, most folks think the St.Paul Rodeo is the best.
The town of St.Paul is about 30 minutes south of the Portland Metro area and like most small rural towns, they have yet to get that ‘first stoplight’. There is a blinking light at the corner of Main and the only other cross-street, and yes, the other guy who arrived at the same time you did, will always wave you on first. I visited the town back in the 80′s and went to the rodeo with my then wife and mother-in-law ( Yes you’re right!, I didn’t hang out in a cowboy bar just outside the fairgrounds. RATS! ). But skip forward to the present day and that was going to change. Boy Howdy! & You Betcha!
They say timing is everything and timing is usually something I never have. The exception was one evening at Renner’s when it was announced that there were only a couple of seats left on the St.Paul Rodeo bus. A small fee got you transportation, VIP status at The Tack Room, drink tokens and probably the best reserved seats in the house, right next to gates where the bulls did their thing. I stepped next door to the bank, inserted my card, pressed a few buttons, drained my account and presto, I had the correct amount and I was ‘going’. Wahoo!
During the next two weeks till the Fourth of July, various patrons at Renner’s would talk about how much fun they were going to have and of course, what they were going to wear. The outfit of choice was a ‘no brainer’; Cowboy Hat, Cowboy Boots, Western Cut Jeans and a Long Sleeve Western Shirt with two pockets and pearl snaps ( no buttons please ). I tried to imagine myself in such a ‘get up’, and could only think that people would see right through me for the ‘city slicker’ that I am. Besides, I didn’t have any of that stuff, as I already mentioned my current banking shortfall. I would have to go with plan B.
Lucky for me, I happened to mention to self-professed funny guy and real cowboy, Dan Finnigan, about going on the bus trip and how much fun everybody was talking about having. Somehow the topic of what to wear came up and I told him of my plan B. “I’ll be wearing; Wing Tip Shoes, Slacks and a Hawaiian Shirt.., oh, and maybe a lightweight jacket with an alligator on the chest”, was my answer. I was promptly informed that I would set a new record as the first person to get beaten up upon entering town. Not wanting to fight my way across town just to get to the fairgrounds, where I was sure to get beaten up again, I asked for a suggestion. “First off, do you have any jeans?”, he asked. “Yes I do, but they have holes in the knees”, I replied. “Even better. Rap some duck tape around your holy knees, find any kind of boots and meet me here early before the bus leaves, I’ll take care of the rest”, he sez. I still couldn’t help but think I would get beaten up as a ‘fake cowboy’ just the same. Maybe if I didn’t talk to anybody regarding quantum physics, I could pull it off.
The big day arrived and I showed up at Renner’s one hour early. Finnigan was waiting for me with a surprise. His first request was to lose the Hawaiian shirt and try on a variety of western styled, long-sleeved, pearl buttoned, two pocket shirts. I picked out a white one with very nice embroidery across the top. The sleeves were a little short, but the rest fit nicely. I rolled up the cuffs, got a thumbs up from Dan and we started to drink heavily. The appointed hour for the bus to leave arrived and the driver came in and said: “No drinking or smoking on the bus”. We all put our current cocktail in a to-go cup, downed a final shot of some kind of whiskey, and got on board.
Now you have to realize that a school bus full of liqueured-up cowboys & cowgirls, may have a little trouble following the rules. We barely made it to the freeway to head south, when someone remarked: “Who just stepped on a skunk?”. I believe this is code for someone who smelled ‘Wacky-Tobacky’, which is also code for…, well you figure it out. Once this precedent was set, pulling out an ‘actual’ cigarette seemed OK. After that, multiple pints of whatever were passed around. The booze was slyly hidden at first, but that didn’t last long. When the ‘cowboy’ songs started, and even Robin & Face joined in, I
decided to pull out my camera and record the rest of the trip to St.Paul. People were hamming it up from the front to the back of the bus. I probably shouldn’t mention any names, but you know who you are; Dave, Phil, Cathy, John & Karen. ( I should be able to make a few extra bucks, just by keeping the video off U-Tube ).
Arriving in the town of St.Paul, parking the bus was our first assignment. Naturally, we found some fresh-faced cheerleaders waving us into an open parking lot. What better place for the 20 of us to fall out of a school bus, ‘drunk-as-skunks’, than a Catholic Girls School. We were given a VIP spot right in front ( I would have chosen the ‘back forty’ but HEY! ). It took a moment for us to collect ourselves, and the final words from our leader were: “The bus leaves at Midnight sharp. Be on it!”. This was an important thing to put in one’s memory bank, as we would find out later.
We could see the town and main street only a couple of blocks away. A ferris wheel loomed large to let everybody know the fairgrounds was only about another block. Getting into town those three blocks was done with ease. This would not be the case later that evening. About halfway there, our fearless leader sez, “Hang a left down this side street”. So we did. Nestled behind another building was a sure-fire, rootin-tootin, spit-off-the-porch, cowboy bar ( Hey!, 1-1/2 blocks is a long way, we were thirsty ). Seems for now, the rodeo would have to wait.
I walked in trying not to look too ‘fake-cowboyish’, when I heard someone yell my name from a corner table. I turned around just in time to see a lasso fly over my head and drop around my ankles. Not to reveal my age, but if that rope had been tugged on, I would have hit the floor crying like a little girl, and spent several months in recovery from a broken pelvis ( don’t get old, trust me! ). At the other end of the rope, grinning from ‘ear-to-ear’, was a friend of mine Nicky from Portland. He had driven down with four friends, yes!, three of them were extremely cute girls, and it was obvious he had been in the bar awhile. We headed for the front porch where John & Karen were smoking a cigarette ( a real one this time ). Nicky showed off his roping skills and was actually pretty good.
After a time, we all seemed sufficiently watered down, so we decided to mosey on. Tickets to the rodeo were passed out at the last-minute. We would have surely lost them by now, had we gotten them earlier ( I never did like having notes pinned to my shirt, Mom! ). We made our way to the main gate and headed for the arena. “Follow me little pardners”, was the command from fearless leader, and of course we did. Our next stop was to be The Tack Room. I thought we were going to get schooled on how to saddle a horse or put on a bridal…, Nope. It was another cowboy bar located under the grandstands. This was a fabulous idea as that second block and a half walk had worked up a powerful thirst, well…, at least for me it did.
Now that the group was well into the ‘Where the hell are we now zone’, most of the ladies started hugging actual cowboys left and right ( I got photos ). This was a major ‘photo-op’ and I snapped away ( more blackmail material ). Eventually, someone who was still aware of time and space, informed us that the rodeo was starting. We could hear it right above our heads, but how to get there was another question.
The next few hours are a little fuzzy. Horses jumped, bulls went crazy, pretty girls raced around barrels and then it was over. Now for the two big questions on everyone’s minds: “What time is it?” and “Where the Hell is the bus?”.
Again, lucky for me I bumped into Cathy. She asked me if I knew where I was ( of course I did! ). I asked her; “Do you have any money left and an extra cigarette?” She nodded her head yes and I said; “Grab your money & cigs and follow me baby!”. I remembered how to get to The Tack Room, and we arrived amid a sea of ‘real cowboys’, fresh off some horse, bull or ‘whatever’. Cathy took full advantage of this current ‘hugging’ opportunity, while I sipped my bourbon and seven. I did manage to keep a watchful eye on her. I mean really, she had money and cigarettes…, duh!
Eventually the hour arrived to head back to the bus. By this time, seven more lost souls were asking me for guidance. I grabbed them up and headed out the door. Only one block later as I was making a right turn towards the main drag, someone chimed in saying: “I think the bus is to the left”. I turned to crowd and said; “Look down the street to your left and all you’re going to see is countryside. Look to your right and you can actually see the bus from here. Unless you want to spend the night in St.Paul, I advise you turn right!”. After much discussion and drunken chit-chat, I decided to press on.
Arriving at the bus with 5 minutes to spare, I turned around to find only two of the seven people I started out with ( not a good percentage ). One of the guys Tim, who was already there, got concerned and said: “I’m going back into town and round everybody up, don’t let the bus leave without me!” Yeah right!, I thought. I was already planning to wave at him as the bus pulled away. He eventually made it back with seconds to spare, we closed the doors and headed back to Portland. Turns out only 10% of our group got arrested and brought back to the bus in various police cars with lights flashing ( those lucky bucks didn’t have to walk three blocks ). The first part of the ride was OK as we still had pints, smokes and most everything else we needed. Then came the phone call from Chad.
Now, I don’t really know Chad, but he seems like a nice fellow. He did have one small shortcoming. When he arrived at the Catholic Girls School, he went to the wrong yellow school bus ( I guess they all look-alike ). His phone call to our fearless leader went something like: ” I’m standing by the bus, but none of you guys are here”. We informed him that we were 20 minutes away, heading northbound on the freeway and that he should make alternate plans. I mean, it was a warm summer night, he was surely feeling no pain, so he was informed to figure something out. “Oh…, and no!, we are not turning around to come get you.”
The rest of the evening for the twenty survivors consisted of a two-hour marathon of drinking and singing cowboy songs at an undisclosed location. By the time we all poured ourself’s into cabs in the wee hours, it gave new meaning to the phrase: “If you tell people you’ve been drinking all day, you’ve got to start in the morning”.
Should you ever get the chance to visit St.Paul for the rodeo, be sure to join the ‘party’ with us. Just look for 20 or so duded up ‘city slickers’, being led around by some real cowboys. If that doesn’t work, just follow any police car with its lights flashing and they will lead you back to the bus. Happy Trails.
“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they are going to feel all day”, by Frank Sinatra