Loudspeakers are pumping. Stools are filling up and cigarette smoke swirls around the bar at Sporty’s in Greenville, SC. A large-framed man grins as he gets comfortable in the seat by the controls. He looks flushed even though I feel chilly. Wiping the beads of sweat from his bald head, he asks, “This your first time rid’n the bull?”
“Why, yes it is. And remember the part about taking it easy on me,” I nervously remind him.
Minutes before, while filling out the Participant Agreement, Release and Assumption of Risk form (which basically reads that no matter what happens to me while riding the bull, Sporty’s is not liable), I had mentioned to Chip, the “bull operator,” that I had recently fallen down the stairs while playing with my kids, hurt my tail bone, and long story short, was in no mood for a raucous ride on the bull.
“Yeah, yeah…I’ll take it easy on ya. Grab the strap as hard as you can with your strongest hand and lean into it with the weight of your body. Just go with the flow.”
I don’t have time to wonder which of my hands is the stronger. I grab the canvas strap with my left hand just as the bull starts to glide forward. Another ten seconds or so go by and I’m thinking, this is a snap! Maybe I’m a natural at this? Smiling, I raise my right arm up in a John Travolta/Urban Cowboy pose. But my confidence quickly fades as the speed of the bull increases.
I grab the strap harder and try to “go with the flow” as Chip had suggested. The bull begins to buck and I start thinking about how hard those mats beneath me really are. No more hand waving and posing for the camera. I hold onto the thick-necked bull with my right arm and hold on tight.
“Chip, my tail bone is really hurting. Can you slow it down a bit?”
No response from Chip. The noise level is high and I realize that Chip can’t hear me.
“CHIP, CAN YOU SLOW IT DOWN PLEASE!”
Immediately and mercifully the bull begins to slow back down to the original “gentle gliding” mode and comes to rest.
Now it’s my turn to wipe the sweat off my brow. I dismount and approach Paul Grecko, the stocky, steely-eyed manager of Sporty’s to talk some bull for a few minutes.
“The bull has really taken off in popularity the past year or so. On Fridays, Ladies Night, we sometimes have a list of about a hundred people wanting to ride the bull,” hey says.
“The average rider lasts about eight seconds on a real bull. On this bull, the average ride is closer to 20 seconds,” adds Chip.
As we talk in a corner of the bar, I can see the next thrill-seeker getting prepared to ride. With a cowboy hat and tank top it looks like she came prepared. Chip excuses himself and gets back to job of bull operating.
“We have never had anyone seriously hurt on the bull,” mentions Paul.
“Does the bull have a name?”
Paul squints in deep thought for a second or two.
“No,” he says simply. For now, I’ll just call him “Buck.”