Todd Spivak may be back from horsing around for his hog story, but his heart's still in rural Texas.
It was my first time on a horse.
We rode for eight hours, till five in the morning. Needless to say, it wasn't pretty. A digital camera stuffed into my shirt pocket, a spiral notebook tucked into the ass of my jeans, I spent the first couple hours trying to snap pix and scribble notes while juggling reins and a flashlight, getting smacked in the face with thorny tree branches and trying like hell not to fall off or rupture myself.
After a while, I gave up my reporting duties and just tried to enjoy the ride.
And I did.
See, I grew up in Pittsburgh. Been traveling this country since I flew the coop at 17, and every place I've lived was just as I imagined it as a kid filled with wanderlust.
New York City: blinking lights, stinking rivers, impossibly beautiful women. Vermont: brilliant foliage, bucolic pastures, sheep and cows. Chicago: seedy dive bars, stunning architecture, a large, moody lake.
Even trips to Austin, Beaumont, Galveston and San Antonio have fallen short of my expectations. That is, until I sat atop that horse, under a night sky that stretched on forever, trailing behind men armed with long knives fixin' to kill themselves a wild hog.
A few weeks earlier I had attended my first hog-dog rodeo in East Texas. I figured the organizers wouldn't take too kindly to a reporter, so I went in undercover. Turned out, my hunch was right.
A lady caught me scribbling notes in my car. As I walked back to the pen I found myself surrounded by eight scowling men, arms crossed and resting on their giant guts. You'd think they would have spied me earlier. After all, I was the only person there not driving a pickup truck. My little Chrysler four-door has Pennsylvania plates.
They returned my $5 entrance fee and pointed me back to the country road that led to the highway.
Not to sound like an after-school special, but researching this story has been a big learning experience. Beyond riding horses, I also discovered that because of loopholes in the state's animal cruelty laws, it is perfectly legal to set a stray cat on fire or to tie a stray dog to the back of a truck and drag it for miles.
That's fucked up, right?
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Of course, some folks would say wrestling a feral hog to the ground and stabbing it in the heart is no good, either.
Hell, my gal, who grew up outside Dallas, uses a magazine and an ice cream bowl to trap insects in our house and set them free. I help when she asks. Left to my own devices, I flatten 'em with the bottom of a flip-flop and scrape 'em into a trash can.
Sure, I walked a little funny for a couple days after the hog hunt. But the longer I sit in this downtown office, buses and cars whirring by, the more I long for rural Texas, where men ride horses till dawn and gut hogs along the way.
That's the Texas I love. The one I imagined as a boy. -- Todd Spivak