Independence Day in the Wild, Wild West

Last updated 10:00 06/07/2012

"It's America's birthday and everybody is invited."

I heard some derivation of this line about a dozen times yesterday.

Parade1When a close friend of yours is having a birthday you go all out. And about Ennis, population 840, on Independence Day everybody had nice words to say about this country of theirs.

It was a fun day. It was a little bizarre. I couldn't have imagined a day like it up.

The day began with a parade. Ennis, Montana is an unlikely candidate for a parade. If you go to the high end of Main St, you can see the whole town centre.

We arrived for the parade a few minutes before its start time of 10am and the town was lively. Off the parade route, which couldn't have even been half a kilometre long, the fire service's annual pancake breakfast was wrapping up and the car show was getting going. The parade route was packed two or three people deep with excited faces.

Parade2The parade was incredible. There was no connection between the float you were looking at and the one behind it. Old-timey dressed ladies astride horses were followed by a succession of vintage army vehicles. A disturbing female clown was followed up by a group of bagpipers. A flatbed truck came by decorated with straw bales and real-life men drinking whiskey, advertising a party at a bar in a nearby town, and was followed up with no explanation by Santa dressed in his summer attire and driving a red sports car. There were fancy vehicles and floats advertising local shops. There were all manner of horses and mules. An entire group of clowns were in the mix at one point. There was a float decorated with small plastic ostriches, and one with a giant bull sculpture. I saw a small kid with a red, white and blue Mohawk. There were almost as many Tea Party flags as there were American. The smell of horse manure and diesel hung thick in the air. 

I got the feeling that if I wanted to suit up and stroll with the parade while playing theme tunes of popular television shows on an acoustic guitar, the crowd would have clapped along merrily.

Stop two for the day was at "Buddy and Molly's" for a hot dog barbecue. LP has been coming here her entire life, every July 4.

Parade3I ate two hot dogs, drank a Budweiser that was decorated with the American flag, had a cupcake that was covered in red, white and blue frosting, red, white and blue sprinkles and with a little American flag poked in the top. I ate food served on a tablecloth decorated with the American flag, off a plate decorated with the American flag, and wiped my face with American flag napkins.

Post-meal I napped under a tree for half an hour in soft, shaded grass. This was amazing. But as LP's father pointed out, engaging in a post-lunch siesta in the heat of the day is a distinctly European activity and he encouraged me to not let the side down again. 

By the time we arrived at the rodeo at 2pm, the day's climax, I was a little high on America. 

The rodeo is infamous in Ennis folklore. There was a time when Steven Seagal would come with his entourage (which apparently included a monk), in the glory years when Seagal owned land nearby and even shot a movie in town. There was another time, apparently, when a contestant in the bull riding competition was gored in front of a crowd of about a thousand, and as he was led off the announcer deadpanned, "well, he's going to have a bellyache this evening ladies and gentleman..."

AmericanMealThe crowd today was packed with cowboys and cowgirls of all ages. Stetsons and chaps were in abundance. The event began with the national anthem, sung while a young lady rode laps around the field toting an American flag above her head. The Cowboy Prayer was read aloud as the crowd bowed its heads.

The announcer was at the core of the day's charm. He provided a running dialogue of all the events, dishing out such classic rodeo gems as: "all you gotta do is put a T-shirt on a calf, it will be a whoopin' good time", "lil' Tex just blew it loose!" and a favourite, "last chance for romance".

The rodeo events fell into two categories. The most viscerally entertaining involved the rider trying to stay Napon a bucking horse, bronco or bull. The others saw riders jumping off a horse on to a steer and having to wrestle it to the ground, or lassoing the steer, jumping off his horse and tying three of the steer's feet together. The latter events were kind of pointless outside the context of a ranch, but they required a lot of skill and were no more pointless a competition than, say, the javelin.

One rider was kicked in the back. One fell off his horse hard and walked off limping. LP and I watched the bull riders from a few feet away. As one of the riders prepared for his run, we could see him forcefully slap his own face several times.

RodeoAt the end of the rodeo I was sunburnt and exhausted. I napped again, and finished the day with barbecued chicken and potato salad looking out at a vintage Montana vista. There were no fireworks, sadly. The ground is tinder dry statewide and a ban is in place.

It was such an utterly peculiar and charming day that bested my expectations and my experiences in Boston last year. There was something so sincere and non-ironic and genuine that it was infectious.

As we've discussed, extreme shows of patriotism make me uncomfortable. But it was all in such good fun that I felt that I could join in.

At first, there were traces of sarcasm within this, but I felt this fade as the day progressed...

Sigh. Nothing left to do but pledge allegiance, I guess?

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12 comments
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Shane888   #1   10:52 am Jul 06 2012

I really hope that one day New Zealanders can celebrate its own national day with as much enthusiasm and joy as the Americans celebrate 4 July.

kiwijenn   #2   10:54 am Jul 06 2012

I long for hot dogs, potato salad, sparklers, and a cold beer by the pool (after the requisite parade). But I also make a point of reading a bit of the Constitution. I know it sounds weird, but stay with me on this.

My friends in NZ tease me about my patriotic leanings for home(which are probably ingrained from an early age), and are therefore shocked when I have harsh words to say about the US stance on a particular issue. But as I say to them, one of the main points of the war for indepedence was the right to criticize one's government without fear. Therefore, to exercise that right is one of the greatest acts of patriotism there is.

You can pledge allegience and mean it while in the same breath decrying someting that the government has done. All while eating a hot dog.

Simon   #3   11:25 am Jul 06 2012

@ Shane888

I agree mate, its about time we did.

Tones   #4   11:43 am Jul 06 2012

I thoroughly agree with shane888. Waitangi day is nothing but a day of dissention and unpleasantness and something of which we cannot be proud. We have so much to be grateful for but Kiwis tend to be a nation of knockers that see the glass half empty. A single exception would be when the All Blacks play when we all tend to rally together. Good on the Americans for unashamedly and wholeheartedly celebrating and endorsing their own country. It is nothing but positive and grows a feeling of shared identity.

Expatrick   #5   12:04 pm Jul 06 2012

Everyone's invited except if you're Mexican. Then you can come along, but only if you're doing menial labor. And even though you're more than welcome to clean our toilets and build our McMansions, we'll let you forget that you're always on borrowed time.

Will   #6   12:13 pm Jul 06 2012

Tones #4 it is not so much a day of dissention and unpleasantness but a day where a minority protest against a great injustice (they kind of have a point but are getting a little carried away), whilst the rest of the country are apathetic, enjoy a day off, winge about the minority whilst watching the 6 o'clock news, then forget about the whole thing for another year.

Ryan   #7   01:24 pm Jul 06 2012

James, I love you, and I don't mean to be a bummer, but Rodeos are pretty horrendous when it comes to animal cruelty. Just because something is a tradition doesn't make it okay.

Mikey   #8   03:18 pm Jul 06 2012

That sounds like a great day James, I am very jealous. I am intrigued also though. What is the pull of Ennis for LP and her family to travel there every Independence Day? It must be pretty darn strong.

I also smiled at your almost-apology at the end there. Like many New Zealanders I also find that my automatic reaction to charm is to seek sarcasm. I find that a little sad really. Sometimes I wish that I could let charm get to me more often. To be carried away and seduced by it. It sounds like you had a day where that happened to you. My advice is: revel in that and treasure it. Don't apologise for it. You had a good day, with good people. Nothing to be ashamed of there.

Jim   #9   03:42 pm Jul 06 2012

I've been staying at Ronald McDonald House, Starship Branch this week and Coca Cola popped in and provided an Independence Day dinner on the 4th. Hot Dogs, salads, bunting, Coke and lots of Bonhomie. They even had French flag table cloths.

It certainly lifted the spirits and was a very welcome distraction.

James Robinson   #10   07:50 am Jul 07 2012

@Ryan: Yeah, there was an extended cut of this that talked about the animal cruelty factor. It, uh, was a bit rough. I couldn't do this a bunch, but I had to go once. I've watched bull fighting before in Mexico, so this, was... better?

@Mikey: LP's grandmother has a house here. So it's kind of strong.


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