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All Saturday morning and afternoon it goes on, bulls torquing in the air, riders snapping back and forth with terrible speed. Brown is coming up fast with a score of 89.5 on a bull named Tuscarora, leaving him in the top few by the end of the day.
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In the evening, the bulls return to their pens, stomping out of the metal trailers with an air of lumbering superiority. Riders do the same, only they go back to a high-rise hotel for a dance party. There, lasers strobe through an acrid, smoke-machine haze full of cowboy hats and petite feminine shoulders. Young women parade in and out; tight jeans and halter tops, pretty mouths, hands clasping and unclasping. Some dance, and some remain wrapped around beer bottles.
I've never been especially good at parties, and the music is so loud it makes my ears hurt. Working my way out takes a while, and involves navigating past an overbearing publicity agent in a black leather jacket who is shouting the names of his clients at me. He has some Brazilian riders on his roster and he wants to make sure they get mentioned in the article I am writing, for who is it? New York Times, Newsweek, what magazine?
I come slowly awake facedown on a pillow, reminding myself why I asked for this room. I'd wanted to get as close to this sport as possible, to spend as much time with the bull riders as I could. I sure as hell was not going to actually get on a bull. But this morning I feel as if I've been in the arena all night.
The finish line comes on Sunday afternoon. Zack Brown has been coming out on top of every ride, his points pushing him to the final round. The top two Brazilians have made it this far, along with a gutsy rider named Mike Lee from Decatur, Texas. For Brown, a win here would be a thunderous victory, since it was in this same arena that the bull stomped him back in 2006.
In the earlier rounds, the bulls are randomly drawn. But in these final rounds, riders are allowed to choose their animals. Lee makes the bold move of picking a bull named White Magic, who has never been successfully ridden and has an average buck-off time of 3.2 seconds. Nobody behind the chutes is surprised at his decision. Lee is known for his snappy, jolting judgments, and this time it works for him. Lee manages to hang on through the kick-storm for the full eight seconds. He dismounts and runs, but before he reaches safety, the mass of White Magic comes down on him, and drives him to the ground just as a bullfighter gets his body between the two. The bull grinds its head into them as another bullfighter slaps the bull's head, whirling it around. Somehow, everyone gets out without injury, and Lee comes off with a satisfying 88.75 points.
Brown reaches the chutes and slams his hand on the challenge button. Few riders ever hit the button. Here are the rules: You have 30 seconds to challenge after being disqualified, and if you turn out wrong you get a $500 fine.
The roar eventually dies down. Autograph-seekers fill the halls, and then trickle out. Long-haired roadies in T-shirts move in, coiling up heavy lengths of electrical cord. TV crews pack up their production trucks and depart for the next gig. Riders start the cycle all over, leaving for home or wherever before being sucked into yet another spectacle the following weekend. Empty except for folding chairs and rolls of sports tape, the prep room still smells of chew and rope.
I jump on that comment, trying to get him to admit he is in bull riding for the animals, in order to have a raw experience with them. Brown sees where I'm going, but says the bulls might just as well be surfboards. You ride them, that's all. 041b061a72