Cowboy hats and kill-joys

If there's one thing that stood out to me about the 2010 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, it was the sheer number of cowboy hats that crawled out of local basements, attics, and closets and perched themselves on local heads. Indeed, I saw so many cowboy hats - from tasteful 10-gallon models to tawdry sequin-studded numbers - that I found myself wondering if I'd accidentally stumbled into a town populated entirely by creative Dick Cheney impersonators.

I hadn't, of course (and thank heavens for that, because nothing ruins Winter Carnival faster than a blast of birdshot to the face); I'd merely stumbled into a town in the throes of what we in the fever business call "Western fever."

Most Saranac Lakers would agree that this "Western fever," a result of the Carnival's "Adirondack Cowboy" theme, created a fun sense of unity. By donning their cowboy hats, chaps, and spurs, Carnival-goers got to feel like they had at least one thing in common with all the neighbors they spend the rest of the year arguing with about the cultural and economic value of Wal-Mart and which local politicians have secret socialist agendas.

Nonetheless, I bet a lot of those same Saranac Lakers - despite their talk of "community togetherness" - would label anyone refusing to dress up like Wyatt Earp or Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen as a curmudgeonly kill-joy. Indeed, those same Saranac Lakers would probably run anyone who failed to conform to the "Adirondack Cowboy" theme out of town like a common outlaw. And I should know, because I was one of those curmudgeonly kill-joys/common outlaws who got run out of town.

I'm kidding, of course. I didn't get run out of town like a common outlaw. I didn't even get labeled a curmudgeonly kill-joy (at least not in so many words). I did, however, refuse to dress up like a cowboy, and thus spent the second weekend of Carnival in a state of high paranoia, certain that my fellow revelers not only disapproved of me, but were discussing their disapproval of me at great length behind my back.

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