She brushes past the crowd of worn out people waiting for their tables, her blonde hair preceding her real self, and her bling blinds us all. Cowboys tip their hats, women take deep breaths and straighten their spines, their eyes burning into their men.
Miss Terri, owner of “Terri’s Dirty Blonde Salon”, is in the house.
I first met her last year at the Canby Rodeo while I was photographing rodeo riders with my Speed Graphic 4X5 film camera. As I fumbled with the low light conditions, I reached for my dark cloth, and instead almost plunged my hand into her ample and adorned-with-a-huge-shiny-necklace cleavage.
Hi, I’m Terri!
She proceeded to rattle off cowboy names and stats, peppering the conversation with a bit of rumor here and there just to make sure I was listening. Her passion for the rodeo was unlike any sideline sports fan I had ever met. And yes, it extended past the “I want a sexy cowboy” quest.
We met several other times at other rodeos (imagine her glee when I got us press passes for the dressing room at the Mollala Bull Riding Competition) and throughout the year she kept me informed via text messages about champion rides, marriages and divorces, broken legs and even the death of one of her favorite riders who was her dear friend.
Her heart is big and unbound. She brings her scissors to each rodeo and cuts the riders’ hair when they need it, feeds them chips and salsa, gives them a soft place to pass out in her trailer after a night of too much whiskey. She’s a good girl.
And a sexy mother hen to boot! At home, she cares for her beautiful thirteen year old daughter and her erratic and loving autistic son. Sparkly and girly and bold and strong as a man, she drives a monster truck and hitches her trailer by herself, thank you very much. And she can shoot a gun like a bandit.
This week we are at the Pendleton Round-Up, the Mother Lode of Rodeos. After finishing our plate of bad Mexican food, we head over to her usual evening starting point, The Hut. We meet up with her cowboys and they take turns feeling her breasts, betting whether they are real or not. They have to check a few times to make sure their previous conclusion was correct. Oh, Terri.
Before I finish my Pendleton Whiskey on the rocks, she grabs my arm and swings me toward the door. Time to go downtown. I pony up to walk a mile in my cowboy boots, when I see a bull rider run into the street and stop a flat bed truck. On we pile, and away we go. This is how the cowboys get their rides downtown! (A few days later I try this technique on my own, and it doesn’t work. I had to resort to hitting up people in trucks waiting in line at the Taco Bell where they were trapped and had to listen to my sorry begging for a ride.)
We make it downtown, and one exceptionally sturdy cowboy who had seen my attempt trying to jump up on the flat bed fail miserably lifts me onto his shoulder like he would a heifer, and in a jiffy I am on solid ground again.
We make our way straight to Crabby’s where Terri tinkerbells her way around the room. Boy, Man, Girl, Woman….everyone watches Terri as she sashays her way to the bar to the dance floor and back to the bar.
I learn to dance the Cowboy Swing, taking home arm bruises to prove that I lost my battle to try to lead these bull riders.
And I vow one thing before the night is over: tomorrow I will bring my stick horsie with me and get these rowdy boys to ride THAT.
I think Terri would approve.
(This account was written about Day 1 of the workshop I taught at the Pendleton Round-Up. I was sworn to secrecy about Day 2, 3 & 4.)
(Last photo courtesy of Terri Nicol)