NEARLY two years ago, I left behind my 500 square-foot apartment in New York City and moved to the tree-lined suburbs of Dallas, Texas.
Though the friendly neighbors and presence of queso dip at every gathering were certainly new to me, I didn't experience real culture shock until I saw kids chasing a calf for pleasure at my first rodeo.
As a Cuban girl born and raised in Miami, my upbringing consisted of boat days, beachy afternoons, and poolside barbecues with other Latin-American kids whose families had been friends with mine for decades.
Moving to New York City at 18 and living there for nearly 10 years, I was introduced to customs and lifestyles that I was not totally familiar with, but still ones that were compatible with my own.
It wasn’t until I relocated to Texas and entrenched myself in the locals' ways that my eyes were opened to a completely new mentality.
Sure, Dallas is a booming city with many similarities to Miami and New York: buzzing restaurants, high-end shopping, transplants from across the country buying homes sight unseen.
But head 45 minutes west and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a different era — something so unlike what you’re used to as a Miami girl who fell in love with New York City.
You’ve arrived at the Fort Worth Stockyards.
The cobblestone streets, Western saloons, herd of cattle, and Bull Riding Hall Of Fame greet you with open arms and make you question whether you’ve entered the set of one of those black and white movies your grandfather watches.
But don’t let the horseback riding, Texas-flag-waving cowboys strolling down the street fool you — it’s all totally authentic.
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Once the largest livestock-trading center in the country, it is now a thriving historic district with businesses, restaurants, bars, and, of course, the rodeo.
Since moving to Dallas two years ago, I had it on my bucket list to make my way over to the Stockyards for a stereotypical Texas experience — get away from the scene and go towards the cowboys.
And after finally checking it off, it’s safe to say I’ll be going back.
A group of friends and I planned for a fun evening “out west” based on what we had heard from Dallasites: start with dinner at Joe T. Garcia’s, move on to the rodeo, and end at Billy Bob’s for country music.
In my best cowgirl garb – which consisted of a straw hat, big-buckled Ralph Lauren belt, and boots – I waited in the long, winding line outside of Joe T. Garcia’s with a frozen margarita from the patio bar in tow.
The sizzling beef fajitas and second margarita made the 45-minute wait worth it.
But truth be told, I was just there for the rodeo, which turned out to be, unsurprisingly, the most fascinating part of the night.
I was impressed to learn that this happens nearly every weekend, on both Friday and Saturday nights. It’s like your regular soccer game, with athletes training all year long for these shows.
But even more interesting is that riders come in from all across the country — Utah, Wyoming, Colorado — to compete here.
After the star-spangled banner was sung and a cowboy rode through the lit stadium with an American flag in hand, the events commenced.
Some notable parts of the rodeo included bull riding, barrel racing, and team roping.
During the bull riding, cowboys and cowgirls in chaps and hats compete to stay on the back of a bucking bull for as long as possible — which was usually no more than a few seconds.
I was amazed by the steadfast determination in the contestants, holding on even as their bodies flipped and their heads nearly grazed the ground beneath the bull.
Then came the barrel racing, which instantly made me think of the show Yellowstone
Men and women rode like lightning throughout the stadium grounds, dodging and weaving around the barrels without knocking a single one down.
For a change of pace, the team roping involved two contestants working together. While one aimed their rope at the top of the young bull, the other went for the legs to catch it.
But perhaps the wildest part of the night was the open call to all children in the stadium to enter the grounds and chase a running calf.
The excitement and carefree attitude of the kids brought on some nervous laughs from me, for sure.
Although the rodeo offered enough honky tonk for most, our crew was eager for more.
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We headed to the iconic concert venue and bar, Billy Bob’s, for some country music, two-step dancing, pool, and beer — and it did not disappoint.
So, if you find yourself in Texas looking for some Southern hospitality and good ol’ country fun, put on a Stetson hat, slip into your leather boots, and head to the Stockyards.
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