By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
It’s like family. You walk into a place you haven’t been to in a while, but instantly feel yourself falling into a sense of comfortable familiarity. Like pulling on your oldest, most care worn sweater, you’re surrounded by a sensation that’s warm, soft and welcoming. It’s almost like muscle memory. The sounds and smells evoke a pleasant reverie. You find your footfalls, the very beat of your heart, joining in lockstep with the thrum of hooves on soft earth.
At the same time, however, you realize this place is not the same place. The setting is the same, the smells and even the sunlight are similar, but this day is not the one replaying itself in your mind. These are new people — fresh faces you’ve never seen before. Their faraway looks of concentration as they sit atop a saddle visualizing what’s to come, or as they tie cords of leather around their boots to more strongly secure them to their feet — they’re familiar looks, but they’re not the same.
It’s a new year and it was a new rodeo this past weekend at the Los Fresnos Rodeo. The scene, so familiar and new at the same time, is perhaps the closest one can get to stepping foot into an alternate reality or parallel universe. The same things were set to happen — bulls and broncs would buck and leap about a corral as an assembled crowd of thousands held its collective breath watching cowboys try to ride the beasts in what one cowboy described as akin to riding a “stick of dynamite.” But as in that fabled parallel universe, the characters were different this time around.
The first competitors weren’t set to try their luck until after the Star Spangled Banner was sung at 6 p.m. I got to the arena early. A swift wind was coaxing a blanket of thick. patchy clouds into the area, but the sun was still prevailing, if a bit wan, when I got there.
I like to take my time when I first arrive to an assignment. I drink in the atmosphere, letting my eyes and ears do the heavy lifting for just a moment. It was during that time that I felt that alternate reality sense of disjointed familiarity. It had been a couple of years since I’d attended this particular rodeo.
Soon enough, though, I saw someone I recognized — a colleague. TJ is a career firefighter and accomplished, self-taught photographer. With his black felt cowboy hat and waxed mustache, curled into loops at the end, he fit right in with the modern Old West atmosphere that surrounded us.
It was nice to see a friendly face at this, one of my favorite events to cover. TJ and I have covered this rodeo several times in the past and we share a similar approach to making photographs. We soon sparked up a conversation reminiscing about those times as we sought various vantage points around the arena to take photographs. It was as if the two parallel universes finally came into phase.
Until next year, TJ!
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