“I try to get fired but keep getting promoted.”
So says Don Mabry. He’s one of countless volunteers for Rodeo Austin. He and his cohort, Brad Blaine, are charged for 16 days each year with the 100X Club on the Rodeo Austin grounds.
For years, I’ve been unduly fascinated by this tented lounge, located near the show barn and not far from the Travis County Expo Center, where the core rodeo events and music occur. Why? Because my usual tour guides say each spring: “Things can get kind of rowdy here late at night.”
Now, it doesn’t take a lot for a social reporter to imagine high jinks at the 100X. It’s got a band and a bar. And a big open dance floor. What more do you need? Oh yeah, cowboys. And cowgirls.
This is where the pro rodeo competitors hang out.
Sad to say, I witnessed no fistfights or upended tables when I visited with my pal Michele Golden. Besides her movie-star name and looks, Golden is a former rodeo queen — the first in Austin history back in 1982 — and she served as a longtime rodeo volunteer and board member.
Golden is the ideal date. She tends to know everybody. And those she doesn’t, she meets. We met up with Mabry and Blaine, who could double as a comedy duo.
“If you can’t laugh, you aren’t trying hard enough,” Blaine says. “It gets crazy here at the 100X.”
“We say: ‘Come early and stay late and if you can’t have a good time, go home,’” Mabry says. “The door’s that way.”
Mabry has instituted some changes at the once exclusive club. Five bucks gets you in the door of the rodeo’s most interesting 6,400-square-foot room. High cocktail tables are scattered about, including a few plusher ones and sofas in the Jack Daniels Gold Buckle Zone.
In the past, this area would have been roped off for rodeo pros. Nobody tended to take advantage. So Mabry opened it up to everyone, just like he encouraged live audio and video feeds from the rodeo arena, all-ages entry to the club so cowboys could bring along their families and a general sense of camaraderie so genuine, an urban journalist who hasn’t mounted a horse in years felt supremely welcome.
After watching them compete in a parade of thrilling events and catching a few listless numbers from vintage musical act Three Dog Night, Golden and I spent time where the cowboys do.
What did I learn this night? Bronc riders are cocky, but not as intense as bull riders. Team ropers are the friendliest. Steer wrestlers could use a few breaks. Swift and elegant barrel riders could do with some additional events for women. Neither the Olympic spirit nor Title IX have made inroads at the rodeo arena as far as gender is concerned.
Some cowboys sleep with their horses. Not exactly on the same straw, but inside long trailers that split the human and equine quarters. Others sack out in their trucks. A tiny elite make hundreds of thousands of dollars competing on the national circuit, which winds its way each season to the national finals in Las Vegas. Many more cowboys barely can afford to keep up their horses, tackle and other gear.
One last thing. Golden, who could give 2013 Rodeo Austin Queen, Alex Ingram, a run for her money, says: “I’d forgotten how good-looking rodeo cowboys are.”
March party parade
This week, we played “Who is the most intriguing person at this party?” Sometimes, it was a stranger. At other times, a known factor. At the Red Cross Luminaria pre-party high atop the Austonian, it wasn’t a person. It was a corporation.
Oh, that’s right, they are people, too. Dell’s gift to the national HQ of the Red Cross — a social media control center — had me all atwitter. Other honorees for the group’s upcoming Luminaria gala on April 5 include generous jewelry goddess Kendra Scott and veteran Red Cross volunteer Bill Dorman.
During the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium reception at Allan House, the most interesting guests were Diana Orozco-Lapray and Anthony Barron. They are among the first alumni of the group that nurtures Latino students all through the process of higher education.
Orozco-Lapray is a graduate student at the University of Texas. She has a hard time convincing her undergraduates that she’s their teacher. Usually they get it when she firmly, quietly tells them to put away their smartphones and laptops for discussion time.
Barron studied geographic information systems at UT. What is that? Think of it as digital geography. For British Aerospace Systems in Virginia, he gathers digital data on geographic features, then fashions them into explanatory images and texts. Totally mesmerizing. Failed to ask if drones were involved.
At the western-themed Bandana Ball at glorious Wild Onion Ranch, my first take on “most fascinating” was David Rabke, a regular volunteer at Ronald McDonald House who bears a passing resemblance to Brad Pitt.
Other candidates included Erica and Hobbs Allison of Lost Creek, whose dad’s club sells Christmas trees to benefit the house for seriously ill children. They usually net more than $6,000, which is no small take for a grassroots effort.
But the guy most likely to be profiled in these pages is Ronald McDonald director Kent Burress, whose links out into the community are so vast, they deserve special documentation.
The Big Hair Country Fair, another western-themed gala, was the same night, benefiting the deftly renamed Creative Action. Leave it to this group, formerly known by the clunky and aggravating Theatre Action Project, to stage an engaging three-ring circus to go with the gorgeous setting at the Salt Lick Pavilion and tasty vittles.
The Heart to Heart gala reached its second year in fine form. The benefit netted almost three times what it did in 2012 for the Sacred Heart Community Clinic in Round Rock. This is about it for Williamson County galas, at least ones that include an invitation to the area’s social columnist.
Theme: “In our own backyard.” The explanatory video: Award-worthy. In it, clinic founder Liz Burton-Garcia says: “Nobody chooses to be poor. Nobody chooses to be broke. … They are just down on their luck.” Wish more felt that way.
My search for the most intriguing guest ended with the event chairs: Amber and Doug Schmitt. Doug is a vice president for Dell and Amber was clearly the major force behind this classy, big-time gala. Worth a double interview?