The Secret Cowboys of 7th Avenue live among us. They ride the same subways, buy the same coffee, work the same jobs, and walk the same sidewalks. With their cowboy hats hidden safely away in their closets, they’re almost like you and I. Almost.
One Tuesday morning, as I peacefully ate my breakfast, my father confronted me with a strange inquiry: would I like to see bull riding in Madison Square Garden next Tuesday? I was floored. Bull-riding? Does that still exist? How had my dad even found out about it? Besides, isn’t killing bulls a little cruel? (Though apparently, bullfighting and bull riding are different sports. Who knew?) Most importantly, why? To be clear, my father is in no way a sports enthusiast. My family often laughs together at the dullness of sports (“So they try to put a ball in a basket for three hours? Doesn’t that get boring?”), and bull riding seemed like the pinnacle of dullness and repetition. The concept is overwhelmingly simple: someone gets on a bull until the bull forces him off, a process that usually lasts from seven to ten seconds. And yet, there was something intriguing about the proposition. Bull riding was so out there, so atypical that I simply had to see what it was like. If anything, I would emerge with a newfound sense of superiority over those whose cultural traditions were beneath me. Though my decision was ultimately irrelevant, as my dad had already bought the tickets, I decided to go.
Arriving at Madison Square Garden on the night of the event, I felt strangely out of place. On any other night, my go-to outfit of skinny jeans, dress shoes, and a t-shirt would have allowed me to blend right in, but not that night. I was surrounded by men in cowboy hats, rough-n-tumble jeans (I doubt that this is a real term, but it is the only way I know how to describe them), and cowboy boots with real spurs! Everyone had a beer in hand and a paper tray of ribs that was either completely or almost finished. Suddenly, I was out of my element. This was not so much a sport as a lifestyle. While I had come expecting a good laugh and the excitement that comes with any live sport, I was introduced to a new world, one that existed in the nooks and crannies of our own, appearing only to those who knew how to find it, whose cowboy hats, otherwise collecting dust in closets, were brushed off the night before, saved for this specific occasion. This was no longer the New York I knew, but a microcosm of a different society entirely.
Watching the actual bull riding was even more surreal. Every seat at the gargantuan Madison Square Garden was filled, each person eagerly awaiting the spectacle to begin. As the announcer read out the names of the bulls and their riders, the audience held up signs with the names of their favorite bulls (Go get’r Buttercup! Knock’er socks off Clover!) and cheered as only football fans are supposed to cheer. As each bull in succession came out into the dirt arena, it was nearly impossible not to be swept up in the excitement. Though I had entered this arena with no knowledge of Buttercup’s knockout record or Steve “The Wrangler” Jones’ personal records, I began to feel that I had known these things my entire life, that they were entrenched in my very being. For those four to seven seconds of excitement after the rider mounted the bull, I cheered along with the crowd—if not for the bull or rider, then for the spectacle itself. Perhaps it was the audacity of this little world of cowboy hats and bulls and beer that so amazed me. Indeed, it was one that not only managed to sustain itself in the most unexpected of places, but that did so while maintaining its complete integrity. Here we were, in the middle of New York City, and these cowboys had managed to make me feel out of place.
And yet, as the show wound down, the cowboys exited their world and silently assimilated into ours, gradually fading into the hustle and bustle of 7th Avenue. As I watched them walk away, I realized that I had most likely known these people my entire life. They would most likely go home, tuck away their cowboy boots in their closets, and ride the 6 train as if nothing had happened. And just like that, I could never look at the people around me in the same way again. How did I know that the man with the briefcase on the M86 didn’t have a pair of cowboy boots in his closet? How could I be sure that the woman in the high heels walking down 5th Avenue wasn’t part of a roller derby? That she didn’t prefer to be called by her derby name, “Pippi Strongstocking”? For the first time, my eyes were opened to the different worlds that lay hidden beneath the surface. Bull riding was just the beginning! I would see tattoo festivals, mermaid parades, Mexican wrestling, and anything else that resided in a world unto itself. Perhaps then I might be able to see the worlds hidden all around us.
Age 16, Grade 11
Hunter College High School