Salt of the Earth
What do you get when you take a city girl on the area’s oldest and longest trail ride? A rip snortin’ good time ? plus a whole lotta hay
by Jessica Rossman
“Someone’s horse is ringing!”
Granted, it’s not exactly straight out of the Wild West, but it is something commonly and appropriately overheard along the Salt Grass Trail. The Salt Grass Trail Ride, Texas’ oldest and longest trail ride covering nearly 100 miles on horseback over eight days, makes a few concessions to modern times but preserves and playfully celebrates Texas’ history of cowboys and horses, cowboy hats and stampede strings, and wagons and campfires.
This avowed city girl, contentedly addicted to sushi, day spas and happy hours, swapped her heels for cowboy boots and took on the Salt Grass Trail Ride for the first time last February. I became one of the newest members of The Desperados, one of the Salt Grass Trail Ride’s most fun and famous wagons of the approximately 30 wagons that journey the venerable trail. And after eight consecutive days and nearly 100 miles on a horse, I had to re-write a familiar saying: “You can take the city girl outta the city” and she’ll absolutely love it!
The Salt Grass Trail Ride was conceived in 1952 as Brenham Mayor Reese Lockett, Houston Post editor Arthur Laro, KPRC-TV President Jack Harris, Charlie Giezendanner and Clark Nelson joked over cocktails about how Mayor Lockett, after being “weathered in” on a trip to the Orange Bowl, had vowed never to travel anywhere again where he could not get back home on horseback. In turn, to get to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo that year, Mayor Lockett insisted he would ride from Brenham to Houston on his horse. In this cocktail-inspired, half-serious pledge, the group recognized a brilliant idea that would simultaneously generate publicity for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and celebrate Texas’ colorful history.
On Jan. 30, 1952, 17 riders trotted out of Brenham towards Houston, following many of the trails ridden by Texas cattlemen decades before. The following year, 80 riders made the ride; in 1954, 800; in 1956, the ride’s fourth year, more than 1,400 riders hit the trail for Houston. In short, the 1952 ride that sprang from the lunchtime banter at the long-since closed Cork Club evolved into the largest organized horseback movement to take place in modern times.
Today, the Salt Grass Trail Ride boasts more than 1,400 riders organized into approximately 30 wagons, which function as separate yet intermingling groups. The Trail Ride originates in Wittenburg’s Pasture in Cat Spring near Bellville and winds through southeast Texas towards Houston, finally arriving at Memorial Park and then, in the grand finale, right through the middle of downtown Houston as part of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Parade. Each wagon, consisting of between 50 and 75 riders each, rides and camps together during the ride. And the term “wagon” is not used here metaphorically – there really are 30 horse-drawn covered wagons, each with its own wagon boss, a muleskinner (cowboy-speak for guy who drives the wagon) and colorful name, such as Lazy 8, Chappell Hill Cowpokes and R U Lazy 2. Each wagon also boasts its own distinct personality and claim to fame, such as the Desperados – female wagon boss, Beverly Wilson Smith, the first female wagon boss in the history of the Salt Grass Trail Ride, or the Rocking 21 Trail Riders? mind-blowingly potent yet undeniably irresistible mystery cocktail, “Scud.” (And for evidence of how compelling Scud is on Trail Ride, try dropping a jug of it in the middle of the road. The speed with which a dozen trail riders leapt from their horses to the rescue would have been truly touching if I had dropped, say, a helpless baby rather than a jug of mystery hooch.)
So what does one actually do on Trail Ride? Well, you ride – on a horse – for miles – everyday – for eight consecutive days. In fact, the typical day begins in a half-sleep, awaiting the faintly eerie cattle call that lures everyone into consciousness early every morning. After pulling on jeans and throwing on your cowboy hat (you will notice the word “shower” did not appear anywhere here), you saddle your horse, hop on and wait for your wagon to pull out into its place in the long line of riders, perhaps nibbling on a piece of spicy beef jerky if you are lucky enough to find one in your saddle bag. And then you ride along for up to eight hours, depending on how many miles the ride covers that day, stopping for lunch and perhaps a roadside snooze along the way.
But something fascinating (other than eating beef jerky at 8 in the morning) happens to you as you ride along. You talk. But it is not the kind of talking that we are all used to every day of our busy lives. It is not talk about the office or errands or what you are running late for. It is leisurely conversation among people in absolutely no hurry to get anywhere at the moment and who may never have otherwise met, much less spent a pretty intimate week with one another, in their usual routines. It also is conversation among people without their usual trappings or status symbols – no business suits, no titles, no children, no cars. The result is that you actually get to know the people you are riding with in a way you probably do not know the colleague you have worked with for years. As Desperados’ wagon boss Wilson Smith explains, on Trail Ride you “eat, sleep, work, ride, are grouchy, are sometimes cold and miserable or hot and tired, all with the same people – and it is wonderful.” In other words, people bond. And this is the best part of the trail ride because this is the part that does not go away after the horses go back to the stable and you return to civilization. In fact, I was warned of the post-Trail Ride blues syndrome, where, upon returning to civilization, you find yourself missing being on Trail Ride. I got it and got it bad. I missed sleeping by the campfire and being awakened by cattle call. I missed beef jerky. I missed my new friends. I even missed my horse. As Wilson Smith would say, I had a bad case of the “overs.”
The other thing you do on Trail Ride is to have a whole lot of fun. When 50 people gather to take eight days out of their lives to ride on a horse the distance that would have taken an hour by car simply for the fun of it, clearly a blast is unavoidable.
And the Desperados have this part down pat. In addition to being one of the Salt Grass Trail Ride’s most famous wagons – having been awarded Best Wagon Group in the downtown parade by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Committee and Best Wagon Group in the Salt Grass Trail Ride by the Salt Grass Trail Association for many years – the Desperados, simply put, have a good time together. The Desperados consist of fun-loving folks from all walks of life – brokers and business people, attorneys and architects, husbands and wives, high-techs and not-coms, a former Houston police chief and even a few real cowboys. There is a chemistry among this combination of people that has worked for years and years. Some of The Desperado’s founders, including the families of Welcome Wilson and Gary and Beverly Smith, have ridden the historic trail for more than 25 years. It is no wonder they are so good at it.
The Desperados are not the only trail riders who have gotten good at having fun on Trail Ride; they share the trail with other experts, such as the Magnificent 7 and the Rounders.
The Magnificent 7 was founded 17 years ago by Constable Bill Bailey and Steve Watson, who also serves as wagon boss. Riding on wagon eight one year, Watson and Bailey noticed that the wagon in front of them was wagon six, not seven. As it turned out, the Trail Ride lacked a wagon seven for some reason, so Watson and Bailey, both vice presidents of the Livestock Show, launched wagon seven with five other vice presidents of the Livestock Show. Today, the Magnificent 7 boasts more than 150 members, some of who read like a Texas who?s who list. The Magnificent 7 riders have included Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, former Secretary of State John Sharp and Houston’s own Dr. Red Duke. Magnificent 7 also has captured its share of awards, such as Best Wagon Group 2001 in the downtown rodeo parade, locking the Magnificent 7 and the Desperados into a long-standing, good-natured rivalry, with both wagons typically vying for the same distinctions. Watson enjoys the competition, claiming it makes each wagon work a little harder to outdo the other. And the rivalry is not a subtle one. Watson happily offers to compare honors in a pretty straightforward way: “Let?s stack ’em up!” No matter which stack of awards is higher, it is clear that the “Mag 7” and the Desperados have had a lot of fun getting good at Trail Ride.
And then there is Wagon 21, the Rounders, the unofficial social coordinators of Trail Ride. Founded in 1972 and named, speculates wagon boss Ronnie Havemann, for being “kinda rowdy,” the Rounders host some of the few functions on Trail Ride where all riders from all wagons are invited, with food, drink and lots of live music. The Rounders’ hospitality comes naturally to the group because, as Havemann says, “You could sorta say we are party animals.” Party animals with horses and big hearts – the Rounders – interest and commitment to their community is not limited to their fellow riders on Trail Ride. Certain holidays find many of the Rounders sponsoring horse rides for the kids from the Lighthouse for the Blind.
So I admit it, the Trail Ride rocked this city girl?s world. I knew something very strange was happening to me, for example, when, one evening after one of assistant wagon boss and Desperados? chef Joe Bennett’s exquisite meals and a cocktail or two, I felt the inexplicable urge to go visit my horse. And even more strangely, I actually did. Another meaningful moment occurred when, upon discovering mud on my jeans, it was gently pointed out to me that “That’s not mud, sweetheart.” And I did not even mind. And finally, upon returning to civilization, I had to resist the impulse to tell complete strangers that I had slept outside on the ground next to a campfire – by choice.
If you have the opportunity to join the Salt Grass Trail Ride, do it. Basically, if I can do it, anybody can. But be prepared for a new addiction with only one cure – riding the Salt Grass Trail Ride again. As a good Desperado would say, “Hip, Hip, Hooray!”
In Your Face
by Roger Gray
We Understand the Precise German Translation of “Chrysler” is “Enron!”
We talked last month about Ken Lay, the captain of the Enron Valdez, and his “generous” refusal of an exorbitant severance package. Given subsequent events – the mass layoffs, the refusal to let employees sell off 401K investments in his corporate Hindenburg and his stiffing of congressional oversight committees – we hear an unconfirmed rumor that Ken now only goes out wearing a burka. In his case, we approve.
It Would Have Been Cheaper
Outside of capturing that world-class slime, Osama bin Laden, which is necessary, if we wanted to scare the Taliban out of their burnooses, the solution was simple. Fly an armada of C-130s over Afghanistan, drop every member of the 82nd and 101st Airborne, kidnap every Afghan woman and girl in the country and then ? send them to college.
Of Course, Edward Teller Won’t Complain as Long as We Keep Building the Things
Let me get this straight. GW spent a lot of personal capital trying to woo that walking Sears mannequin, Vladimir Putin, convincing him to come on out to the ranch, chow down on some barbecue, shoot the breeze and, oh yes, get rid of some of his nukes. Having done that, and with Putin heading back home to sell the Duma on this new relationship, GW listens to the unrepentant cold warriors in his White House rugby scrum and decides to spend untold billions on that grandest Reagan folly, Star Wars. Never mind the deficit, the war on terror and the issues of Social Security, Medicare and discounted drugs for seniors. We, by gosh, have to stop the non-existent missiles in the hands of some rogue terrorist, as though an ICBM can be fired by anyone, anywhere like some kind of 10 megaton bottle rocket. And by the way, everyone in Washington, the word is “nuke-lee-er!” If I hear “nucular” one more time, I’m going to buy an SS20 from the Russians and point it at someone myself.
Lee Brown Somnabulates Into Another Term
Our narcoleptic “Mayor of all Houston” Lee P. Brown has done it again. He has swept aside yet another challenge, this time from that energetic political Yorkie Orlando Sanchez. And to Orlando’s credit, it was a near thing. Were it not for a resumé that was seriously deficient in that most crucial of resumé requirements, a work history, we might be calling him “Mr. Mayor” about now. So Lee P. can settle into a comfortable last two years of not weighing in on issue after issue. Hey, we have stadiums. That?s legacy enough.
If We Start Checking Gun Records, Then the Terrorists Have Won
As if the administration didn?t have enough on its plate fighting terrorism, trying to sell a phony economic stimulus package that would have given folks like Enron $254 million, the prospect of the insecticide-impaired Tom DeLay as the face of the Republican House majority (the Democratic Party donation letters will practically write themselves) and a Presidential inbox full of “freedom of information” requests to stonewall, it has the chilling performance of Attorney General John Ashcroft telling one branch of our government to butt out of its oversight function. While lamely defending the hastily conceived military tribunals, which former Nixon speechwriter William Safire has decried as “kangaroo courts,” Ashcroft refused to allow gun purchase records to be checked to see if any potential terrorists are arming themselves legally. Raiding art exhibits in Houston is one thing, but guns are another, apparently. The only thing more inept and frustrating was the performance of his congressional inquisitors. With one eye on presidential approval polls and another on next November, the Democrats choked like Greg Norman at the Masters. And as for Ashcroft, it is clear that Cheney and Rumsfeld should simply handle all administration interviews. At least they didn’t lose a Senate seat to a dead guy.
Looking for love in electronic places
by Phaedra Friend
“You wouldn’t believe how many people are dating through the Internet,” said Inside Houston editor-in-chief, Laurette Veres, and before I knew it, I had accepted an assignment to research Internet dating. I was curious to see what the online dating fad is all about. If the workplace, bars and mutual friends helped to get our parents dating, married with children, divorced, displaced and devoted to self-help books, maybe Internet dating is the answer.
Internet dating has become a craze “somewhat shady, yet more enticing than Melrose Place, the Gen-Xers” topic of conversation at the water cooler. We’ve all heard of soul mates meeting across oceans through the Net. While Internet dating is the new age version of our parents’ ads in the personals, it seems to be as contagious as the computer virus you caught last week.
With a little nudge, I caught the bug. I know what you are thinking because I was thinking it, too: Some psycho-stalker might hunt me down and sever my fingers one by one because I didn’t return his letter of fetish-laden love. Despite this and because I am an aspiring writer and recent graduate, I embraced the proposal of this story with all appendages – and some devoted roommates who swore they would discreetly accompany me to any rendezvous.
I was off to “pimp myself out for print,” as my brother so poignantly put it, yet starting was the most difficult step to take. Whispers of information came to me through conversations with people who had friends and cousins who had dipped their toes into the Net dating pool. Like the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” everyone is connected to an Internet relationship in some way. One Internet dating service boasts more than 4,000 members in the Houston area alone.
What I learned in the mysterious world of Internet dating negates many common misconceptions and hopefully will guide any novice through the experience.
So many choices
Because there are so many services out there, it can be somewhat overwhelming. The first obstacle you should tackle is figuring out what kind of service you want to use: paid or free. What I found is that paid services are more user-friendly, specific and controlled, while free services are more decadent, vast and unregulated.
You get what you pay for. Depending on how long you want to be a member, the bill for online dating services varies. I chose to pay every month, which also gave me the option to quit or renew every month ? and that cost about $30. If I had chosen to sign on for a year membership, my bill would have been considerably lower.
Although that may sound expensive, the paid services offer such things as personal diaries to keep up with your travels, icon markers to automatically spark your memory of suitors, information pages to answer frequently asked questions, blocking options and a Web master that you can write to directly with questions and problems. Members of the paid services are more serious about getting connected with others since they actually spend money to use the service. A key aspect of the paid services is that members can sort prospects by anything from age and location to interests and sexual preference.
The free services that I dabbled in were definitely more titillating. They are more like the steamy personals you find in the back of some weekly newspapers. Without a sorting option, profiles can range from a 35-year-old carpenter from Montreal to a 68-year-old sadist who likes guitars. There are no rules because there is no one to enforce them.
The choice is yours, depending on what you want out of your online dating experience. Due to my preferences and personality, I chose to go down the avenue with all the traffic signs posted and police to enforce them: I paid.
To write or not to write
Each profile has a set of multiple-choice questions that you are required to answer, but in addition to that, there are a handful of essay questions that each member can answer if they so choose. The essay questions in your profile are somewhat probing and reasonably silly. They allow for originality and humor, which impart prospects with a little fuller personality than just their age, favorite food and area of town.
While the Internet allows us to become whatever and whoever we want to be, if you are serious about meeting that special someone online, you need to be as honest and frank as you can. I stumbled into an immense gray zone when trying to describe myself truthfully yet positively and unpretentiously. I definitely appreciated others who conquered that gauntlet.
In addition to providing a little sliver of information about the member, the essay questions also portray the member’s sincerity in the process. If he didn’t take the time to fill out his questionnaire, I didn’t take the time to write him back.
Posting a picture
Putting your picture on the Web is a little daunting, I agree. People might recognize you, but realize that the ones looking are doing exactly the same thing. I was reluctant to post my picture at first but finally decided to do it. Oh, what a difference a picture makes! The number of letters I got after I included my picture in my profile multiplied drastically.
Don?t get me wrong, I am not trying to imply that my looks won admirers. I am far from being a supermodel and can pretty much be summed up as the girl-next-door type, but just like in normal dating, humans are sparked visually. Pictures simply make the experience more “real.”
The time factor
Let?s face it, we are all busy people, but finding someone to spend some of that time with also is important. The amount of time you spend online shopping for that perfect someone and writing and replying to letters is completely up to you. The more you are logged on, the more you will get out of it. Because other members know if you are online or not, the amount of letters you receive reflects how often you are online. The immediate satisfaction of writing back and forth between two members who are both logged on spurs this phenomenon.
Through the course of two months, I visited the Web site 51 times and received 692 letters, which sounds impressive until you understand that I was browsed 5,301 times. That means that I sparked enough interest for members to check out my profile, but not many of those wrote me. Nonetheless, 692 letters were plenty for me to try to keep up with, which leads me to my next point.
Beware the addiction
Attention from the opposite sex is intoxicating (or the same sex depending on your preference). Flirting and writing letters online is harmless enough, until you find yourself perpetually on the computer. This experience took more than a large bite out of my time, and I had to stop myself from logging on because I knew how much time I would spend on the computer if I did.
How to sift through the rocks to get to the gold
Just like in everyday dating, you are going to meet some weirdoes online. Surprisingly, I really did not have to deal with that many deviant people. I did receive a couple of letters from people with different sexual preferences than I, which I politely declined, and never received another letter from them.
The one problem I did have with a member was solved with astounding ease. I simply blocked him from contacting me again and notified the service of his behavior. That was that.
Etiquette: What are the rules?
Should I give out my personal e-mail and phone number? This is up to you. Many people will give you theirs or ask for yours. I rarely gave out my personal information and found that if people were really interested, they would continue to write me through the service if I simply ignored their request. Another option is to open an additional, vague e-mail account specifically for your new Internet friends. Many of the people with whom I made friends never knew anything but my ambiguous username. It is not like the bar is closing and you are parting ways forever. In deciding to share your personal information, you can take as much time as you want.
I am strongly against ever giving out your address or letting one of your dates pick you up at your house. Wait and be safe. Meet the person a couple of times out in public before you decide to divulge that type of information.
Just how many dates are you going to get out of this? Don’t plan to eat for free for the rest of your life using this service. Although I definitely got asked out on more dates than I expected or accepted, the number that I went on was not that many.
But keep your hopes up. Each person is different, each relationship is different, and how you feel about handling your dates is your call. Whether you are meeting for coffee or a concert, make sure you are safe, confident and having a good time.
All in all, I enjoyed my experiences with online dating. I made some new friends and encountered some new endeavors. I give my Internet dating adventures two completely connected “thumbs up” and would recommend it to just about anyone, at least to try. Now, did I find the love of my life on the Internet? Nope, but that doesn’t mean you won’t.
What Do You Think the Next Big Thing Will Be?
As we settle into 2002, we, as a trend-seeking society, can’t help but begin to wonder what is going to be the next big thing. In the retail trade, companies even hire “trendologists” or “cool hunters” to comb the streets and malls to spot cool fronts. What will the buzzword be? “Hybrid cars for clean driving” “Ginger” (a.k.a. “It”), the scooter that simulates our body’s ability to sustain balance? Or “Web phones?” Mine is not so much a prediction but an expression of excitement for the continued advancement of technology. It has brought us the wonderful world of Internet, which will spread the good news of democracy and human rights much more powerfully than any bombs or tanks. And everyone on the planet will have the greatest access to news, information and ideas, which will make the world more easily accessible.
As recent events rocked our world and challenged our comfort zone, our optimism and the way we predict our future also have changed. Katherine Knorr, deputy editor for the International Herald Tribune, sums it up eloquently: The only honest prediction, of course, is to foresee more of the same. That means a rapidly changing world that we nevertheless recognize, interrupted by something big – perhaps good, perhaps bad, perhaps both- that no one will have foreseen.? It’ll be interesting to see which prediction will come true as time goes by. Meanwhile, let the debate begin.
Unfortunately, the next big thing will be continual discord in the world and in an economy that will never reach the affluent 2000s.
Shirley Barr, chairman, Shirley Barr Public Relations
If it hasn’t already happened at the time this column is printed, I think that most journalists are anxiously waiting the capture of Osama bin Laden, either alive or dead. That event, although it would not be the end of world terrorism, would be a major victory in the coalition battle against world terror.
Donna Savarese, anchor/reporter, Channel 39 KHWB
The next big thing to hit us here in Houston in 2002 is value. Houston has survived many obstacles, and the one ahead of us in 2002 involves several economy issues. Value has always been a focus of our business, and we will continue to express that focus to our customers. We believe that value, along with great customer service, will establish us as the perfect neighborhood establishment.
Timothy E. Myers, vice president of operations, Sherlocks/Baker Street Pub & Grill
Ironically, I think the next big thing will be a movement to try to find the next big thing. We have a knack for always trying to predict what huge event or trend may next befall humanity. But try though we might, we can never really know. Neither the ways of nature, nor any of its subparts, can ever be adequately determined. So let’s wait and see.
Derek Menchan, cellist and arranger/owner, Menchan’s World of Mruzick/solo cellist, OrchestraX
Spirit. I think that is going to be the catchword of 2002 – reigning in the spirit of our country, community and family. I think connecting with people is going to become more and more important, and we are going to see a rebirth of organizations and groups that have seen a decline in memberships in recent years. A networking group I belong to, Houston Area Professional Express Network, has recently seen an increase in the number of guests each month and is now starting to translate (the numbers) into new members of our group. I think people are feeling a need to belong to a group where they are cared about and respected.
Myrleen Parlette Knott, vice president, Buffalo Flange, Inc.
The next big thing will be tours and cruises using huge airships.
Kim Coffman, photographer/owner, Kim Coffman & Associates