“You have to see the bull riding cowboys at the Buffalo Chip Saloon” said Mary, the proud Phoenix condo owner where we would be staying over Easter. “It is a great bar and just down the street from the condo. You must go there on a Friday night, that is when all the action happens.”
Bull riding cowboys on a Good Friday? back in the old days I had to sit in the corner, be quiet and dwell on all worldly miseries on Good Friday. You certainly would not even dare to play with the thought of going out carousing on Good Friday. However, I play by different rules these days.
I travelled to Arizona with my good friend Louise, and she was all excited of the prospect of possibly roping in some cowboys for Easter. She will not be pleased that I say this, but that is exactly what I was hearing for weeks before our trip. Louise is a quiet rebel with an innocent face.
Looking back, it is a mystery to me that she never googled the bar and found out all the details. She is usually so organized with all the travel arrangements, and seems to take great pleasure in making extensive plans of where we have to go, and what we have to see. She is known to be the official social coordinator at her office, and it is not even part of her title. It really should be. I used to work in the travel industry in my younger years, and I am sick of dealing with travel arrangements of any kind, even my own. I am thrilled if someone else offers to do it.
Anyway, back to Arizona. It was hotter than you-know-what when we landed in Phoenix. The heat surrounded us like a hot blanket as soon as we got off the plane. We went straight to the car rental counter to arrange for our transportation and I was pleased to see that our car was a sporty, metallic grey, brand new Jetta. A cool ride is always nice, and being driven around is even better!
I have not driven a car in a couple of years, and I had no intentions of throwing myself out on the American freeways and risking everyone’s lives and limbs. I let Louise do that. She is fearless, most of the time. Or at least she pretends she is while hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life, with a wild look in her eyes and her hair standing up straight. I saw this view frequently from the passenger side and it was wildly amusing.
I was in charge of reading maps. I hate reading maps. But if I had to choose between driving and reading maps, I would have to choose the latter, for everyone’s safety. Louise takes great pleasure in studying the maps early in the mornings, and then telling me where we are going when I finally roll out of bed and have digested my first cup of coffee. It usually works out okay. Except that she sometimes decides to make unexpected maneuvers, and veer off into no man’s land just because the road we were travelling on ”didn’t feel right”. That feeling is never right. But I take it in stride. I am quite the patient traveller, believe it or not.
At one point, we did end up in a sketchy area called Guadeloupe, due to one of those unexpected Louise maneuvers, but we managed to find our way back eventually. But that is a different story altogether. The point that I am trying to make right now, in a very round about way, is that I will never travel in the US again without a GPS. Another life lesson learned.
We spent Good Friday in Scottsdale. We browsed the shops, sat in a park and watched other lazy tourists, and enjoyed a Sangria induced lunch on the patio of the Olive and Ivy restaurant, which had a nice view over the canal. I would have been perfectly happy to head back to the gated condo complex, and lay down by the pool and watch the rest of the day go by, but Louise had her heart set on those cowboys.
The distances in the US are different from what we are used to in Vancouver. “Just down the street” was actually 20 minutes away from where we were staying. I figured “down the street” meant maybe 5 minutes, and suggested we could perhaps walk there? You cannot walk anywhere in the US. You drive everywhere. This fact always surprises me.
It was dark when we rolled into the old cowboy town where Buffalo Chip Saloon was located. There were no street lights, plenty of rickety shops lined the main street, and there was s a quiet, eerie feeling all around. A busy Harley Davidson bar was right next door to the Buffalo Chip Saloon.
Parking cost $10 on the gravel field by the Saloon. I wondered if the guy standing there waving his flashlight was just doing that for fun to scare some dollars out of the gullible tourists? We asked him if there was anywhere else to park in town?
“Well, you can try to find somewhere else to park, but I am telling you…you won’t be able to! this is really the only safe place to leave your car” he said, and grinned at us almost triumphantly. “You idiot tourists”, he did not say it, but it was written all over his face. I could not blame him. I felt like the typical idiot tourist.
As we hesitated for a few moments, some trucks drove up behind us and started honking and hollering “Hey ladies, park or get out of the way would you?!” so we parked. I was muttering. Louise pretended she could not hear what I was saying.
We managed to find our way to the front door in the dark without falling over in the massive potholes. We got our hands stamped.
“Oh, the cowboys will be looking for ladies like you…watch out!” grinned the toothless guy with the big cowboy hat. The snug Wrangler jeans and the big shiny belt buckle completed his look. Charming.
“They are going to have to work hard for our attention!” said Louise, cheery as always, and with a hopeful glint in her eyes.
You know when you start getting the distinct feeling that you should just turn around and leave? I had felt like that since driving into this rickety western town. I had no high hopes for the cowboy scenario.
And as we walked in the door, all my visions came to fruition. Let’s just say that in my view, Buffalo Chip Saloon is a complete dive and a tourist trap. Instead of cowboys, it was filled with senior citizens, families and aging desperate looking women wearing thick layers of makeup, traipsing around in tight too short skirts and cheap heels. It was just a sad scene.
I climbed up on a bar stool and surveyed the place with a sneer and a sigh. I have been in places like this before. My first experience of Canada was a memorable summer in Northern British Columbia. There were plenty of cowboy bars there, and all sorts of craziness. I loved it when I was 18 but now…this place made my skin crawl.
We ordered prickly pear margaritas, an Arizonian speciality.
“I can try to make one” said the grumpy bartender, “but I’ve never had one so I don’t know what they’re supposed to taste like.” Well, we were not offering to buy him a drink! just make us one, that is what a bartender does! I felt like pointing that out to him, but managed to stop myself just in time. Grumpy would not hesitate for a second to throw another annoying tourist head first out of the bar, and I am sure he had done that many times before.
I bit my tongue and tried to find some patience. I sat quiet on my bar stool and wished I was back at the pool at the condo. There was a nice barbecue going there, and we could have met some nice civilized people.
We did not get Prickly pear margaritas. Instead, Grumpy served us each a gigantic American sized beer glass filled with vodka and pink lemonade. I took a sip and knew that if I finished that drink I would fall off the bar stool in a hurry. Buffalo Chip’s is not a place where you want to be falling down anywhere. You want to keep your wits about you until you have managed to find your way back to your car in the pothole filled gravel parking lot, and safely made your escape out of town.
Louise wanted to eat something and started studying the menu, careless as always. She did not seem to be aware of the overall low brow surroundings. Louise does not sweat the small stuff, ever. She took a photo of the big sign sitting on the bar counter announcing the 7 am Church service that would take place in the bar on Easter Sunday. Buffalo Chip’s is a church for hangover souls on Sundays? How unusual. But then, you can expect anything in America. Anything.
America is truly a country full of possibilities, in all sorts of ways. Fascinating, but also somewhat intimidating. I always feel like a kid in a gigantic candy store when I visit the US. Everything is so much bigger, but is it better? that remains to be determined. I need to further investigate all things American until I am ready to make up my mind if I love this country, or not. It certainly fascinates me, and I keep going back for more discoveries on a regular basis.
While growing up in Finland and struggling to learn Finnish (I grew up in the Swedish part of Finland), one of my teachers told me that “you simply have to learn Finnish if you are going to live in this country!”. My reply was “Well, I will not live in Finland for the rest of my life. I will move to America!”. Strangely enough, as fate would have it, six years later I moved to Canada with my parents. Life is sometimes stranger than fiction.
But back to Buffalo Chip’s and our Good Friday evening entertainment. I managed to convince Louise that chips and salsa might be the safest thing to consume at this fine establishment. I had seen how they cleaned the glasses behind the bar, and I did not even want to know how the food was prepared. Yes, I know, I sound like a terrible snob but I have my standards. I have frequented my fair share of dives in my lifetime, and there are certain rules that I live by now. “Avoid dives at all costs” is one of them.
So there we were, balancing on our bar stools, nibbling on chips and salsa, and wondering where all those cowboys were and for some reason it never occurred to us to ask where the bull riding show was supposed to take place? We saw no signs. We heard no one talk about it. We thought we saw Harry Connick Jr. stride by in a red cowboy shirt, until he sat down close by and started talking in a high-pitched voice. He was the most handsome man in the bar. Slim pickings.
We heard the repeated announcements of the cowboy band that would start any minute now, if they could get the wires connected on stage. And then we were joined by two beefy 300 pound (each!) American boys by the bar. That is when I turned to Louise and said in my most authoritative voice “We’re leaving…NOW!”.
Louise is a good friend and she knows me very well. I had stretched my patience for an hour at Buffalo Chip’s, but I was not going to be chatted up by these sumo wrestler type guys. I have my limits. “Okay Thelma, I give up, we are out of here!” she said and climbed off her stool with a sigh. I was relieved.
We never saw a glimpse of those bull riding cowboys. We found out later, when we came back to Vancouver and returned the keys to Mary, that the bull riding show takes place outside, behind the bar. Apparently, the show is spectacular and cowboys come from all over the state to ride their bulls there.
“I cannot believe you missed it! you were right there! what is wrong with you?!” Mary rolled her eyes at us. Lack of patience perhaps? maybe we could not think straight because of the heat? we were too hungry? the stars were simply not aligned that night. We were not meant to see the cowboys, for an unknown reason. It is a bit disappointing indeed.
So Louise is going back to Phoenix, with a different travel companion this time, and she is not leaving the state of Arizona before she has seen those famous and strapping bull riding cowboys. I have asked her to take some good photos. Giddy up, is all I have to say.
For the brave souls out there, here’s the link to Buffalo Chip’s, which has been voted the best western bar in Arizona: http://www.buffalochipsaloon.com/