Gallatin County Fair, Bozeman, MT

July 22, 2007

In perfect honesty, my only reason for going to the fair was that I looked at the schedule last night and mentioned to The Crazy Broad that the most impressive event listed was the Doxie Derby.

“The what?”

“It looks like greyhound racing. Only with dachshunds.”

The slightest of pauses. “I’m down with that.”
It’s Sunday, the last day of the fair, so admittance is down to $1. The program contains no map, so we wander around for a while before we discover the race track. We pass the Democratic Party stand, which is raffling a donkey and giving away pink lemonade (“I hope it doesn’t taste like ass,” I said, but I didn’t say it aloud), the local talc mining company’s PR blitz, consisting of a few rulers and some bags to put them in, and a Qwest stand as well-manned as their customer service lines. It would seem that the Spirit of Service they advertise is simply the ghost of the last person to be employed to man the phones, who was taken on shortly after phones were invented only to die of depression some months later. There was an “adventures with reptiles” exhibition, in which a bunch of snakes slept grudgingly behind glass screens. Amusingly, the exhibition (which promised “DEADLY VIPERS”) blamed Hollywood for giving snakes a bad rep. In a different part of the same room were some alpaca, the slightly more useful modern-day dodo – cute and defenceless, at least were it not for the guard-llamas the farm employs to keep them safe. There were sugar-gliders too, cuddly-looking marsupial bats.

Eventually, we found the Doxie Derby track more by chance than design. We were following the loudhailer commentating on the 4H rodeo, and stumbled on some bleachers and a quieter PA. And a bunch of very small, very yappy dogs, a wooden crate with four lids and four windows in front, a bicycle wheel and pedals to which was attached a string trailing something that looked like a rabbit skin. We had arrived in time for the practise heats; on some signal, the front of the box opened, the man with the wheel cranked the pedals, and the dogs…

Well, some of the dogs dutifully chased after the rabbit skin (indeed, one of them caught up with it and systematically tore it from its string and ran off with it; it was some minutes before it was retrieved and reattached). Others came out of the box, perhaps temporarily blinded by the bright sunlight (98ºF, said the radio, under clear skies) looked annoyed that their owners had abandoned them in the dark and, oblivious to the encouragement at the other end of the track, wandered off to the side where the remaining, more interesting, dogs were waiting their turns.

Bozeman is a dog town. If you’re the kind of person who stops to pet dogs, a simple walk down Main Street could easily take ten minutes longer than it should. The bleachers were full of poodles and their owners – small town America really could do with better hairdressers and fewer 9/11 commemorative t-shirts – and it seemed that there was little to no enthusiasm for the event at all. Not even applause as the winner of each heat was announced. A few might clap before the race as the dogs were introduced, but most seemed grimly determined to grumble about the heat and make jokes even lamer than the one about the Democratic lemonade.

After the Derby was a pet show – ‘pet’, as outlined above, being synonymous with ‘dog’. TCB has two cats, neither of which would have appreciated being entered for ‘waggiest tail’ or ‘best trick’. The star in the latter category was Rebel, a black lab who, when invited to roll over, raised his eyebrows and made a break for the paddling pool provided for his cooling-off comfort.

Montana doesn’t have the same kind of entertainment as London or Los Angeles or anywhere else, really. But it does have the capacity to make you beam with amusement for pocket change. That’s probably why I love it here.

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