The buck starts here: Celebrity bull riding lassos another kind of bucks

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By Stephen Knapp

Just when you thought Rodeo Weekend couldn’t get wilder, woollier or wackier, on June 13 the ever-innovative Evergreen Rodeo Association kicked off Friday Night Bulls with some rootin’, tootin’ and hootin’ at the expense of the high-falutin’.

“We’re calling it the Celebrity Buck-off,” said association honcho Gail Ridings. “Last year’s ATV raffle was a big pain in the neck, and we thought this would be a fun way to raise some money for improvements on the rodeo grounds.”

The concept is simple enough. A handful of Evergreen’s most prominent galoots persuade friends and associates to pledge cash for each second they can stay vertical atop a charging mechanical bull. By nature a zero-dignity affair, you’d think roping in the necessary rank and fashion would be harder to pull off than a pair of wet boots.

“We didn’t have any trouble getting celebrities,” said Ridings. “The problem is that we only have time for eight riders.”

Lovers of fine horse flesh will tell you that quality trumps quantity every time, and Ridings managed to assemble a first-rate stable of audacious A-listers with more civic spirit than good sense. Alas, quality and capacity are two very different things, and Friday’s greenhorn-heavy roster promised a very entertaining show.

“I’m Evergreen’s most famous longtime non-cowboy,” declared Evergreen’s most famous longtime park advocate Peter Eggers. “I’ve never been on a mechanical bull, but they promised me it wouldn’t move, they’d count to eight and I could get off.”

Yeah, and they promised Francis Gary Powers he’d be home in time for “My Favorite Martian.” What’s your point?

“I’m not a cowgirl, but I love cowboys,” said Evergreen chamber trail boss Mel Nuchols, decked in Western finery from the crown of her feathered cowgirl hat to the soles of her scrolled leather boots. “I’ve never done this before, but I’ve gotten a few little style tips that should help.” Yes, Mel. As the pitiless metal beast flings you every which way but loose, you should definitely concentrate on your style.

“This is a new thing for me, but everybody’s been giving me advice,” said Karen Cage, clad all in black and, with a 35-acre ranch on Bear Mountain, one of the only celebs who could boast a little manure under her boots. “Some say, ‘Don’t grip with your feet,’ others say I should lean forward. I just want to stay on long enough to run out the clock.”

Not everyone was a stranger to the bull, however. Local luminary Jane Weinberger recalled having a bout with the beast a long time ago in a land far away.

“I rode a bull at a bar in Miami,” said Weinberger. “It was about 2 in the morning after Georgia won the Orange Bowl. I fell off immediately.”

While putting your caboose on the line to raise money for Evergreen’s cherished rodeo grounds is a fine and noble thing, at least one of Friday’s riders had more personal reasons for accepting the challenge.

“They were going to call me chicken if I didn’t,” explained local bank-wallah Jim Davis, sporting the authentic tailored suit and silk tie favored by 19th-century ranch hands. “I really didn’t have a choice.”

Speaking of chicken, longtime local worthy John Ellis occupied a category all his own.

“My family figured I’d kill myself on that thing, so I’ve been taking pledges not to ride,” said Ellis, courageously. “I’ve got seven pages of pledges. People have been very generous.”

Rounding out Friday’s star-studded playbill were Evergreen Fire Chief Garry DeJong, looking natty in his fire hat and shiny trousers, and Gail Ridings’ hubby, the aptly named Chuck Ridings, triple entendre intended.

To maximize the event’s humiliating possibilities, organizers planted the bull dead center of the area so everybody in the crowded stands could enjoy an unimpeded view of the carnage. Alas, there was none.

One after another, the eight brave Rhinestone cowfolk mounted the bull, rode for eight seconds and alit covered in smiles and glory. It would be unkind to point out that their success had less to do with any natural facility on their part than with the gentle hand of bull-master Brian Phillips, who never goaded the machine beyond a tenderfoot-friendly “2” on the mechanical bull Richter scale. Even so, there were spills aplenty, and the buck-off made for top-notch entertainment.

“It was fun, but it would have been more fun if we’d been able to take our beers on the bull with us,” said Davis, taking a victory pull on a longneck Coors.

“I confess to being a bit of a wimp,” said Eggers, who spent his entire ride brandishing his hat like the cowpoke on Wyoming’s license plate. “But I looked better than I rode.”

“Now I can say I’ve been there and done that,” observed DeJong, philosophically. “All I need is the T-shirt.”

Anything worth doing is worth doing for a trophy, and the Celebrity Buck-off had a pair of shiny prizes to bestow. For remaining steadfastly stylish in the face of adversity, Nuchols went home with the “Best Ride” award, plus dinner for two at the Aspen Grill. Chuck Ridings won “Top Fundraiser” honors and supper at the Black Hat Cattle Co. by squeezing a whopping $4,200 out of his family and acquaintances in just eight seconds.

“It was awesome,” said Gail Ridings, clearly amazed at the take. “The most we ever made raffling ATVs was $6,000. Today we made $13,533. I can’t believe it. This was my crazy idea, and it worked!”