Some colleges have keg hunts. Others have an involved Homecoming. Auburn has Rodeo.
I honestly wasn’t prepared for what I would find when my girlfriend Heather first asked me to spend my final high school spring break with her at Auburn University in Alabama.
She was a freshman there at the time, and I was moving down South to join her at Auburn from our hometown on the Central Coast of California as soon as I graduated.
But I realized later, after I had experienced firsthand the biggest, drunkest party in Alabama, possibly in the whole South, that nothing really could have prepared me for Rodeo.
Auburn Rodeo is one part drinking festival, one part actual rodeo, and 100 percent redneck crazy. It’s put on by the Alpha Psi veterinarian fraternity as a charity to benefit local organizations.
The fraternity has run the event for 51 years, and it’s only getting bigger. Rodeo’s recent performances included country singers like Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton.
These stars played for an audience wearing nothing but ripped up jorts and sleeveless shirts, college students who had just finished an entire Saturday drinking beer and moonshine on top of 18-wheeler trailers.
My first Rodeo was literally my first rodeo. Wearing a pair of thrift-store jeans that I’d cut up the night before and a plaid button-up shirt with the sleeves ripped off, I piled into a truck with Heather and a group of her friends for the 15-minute ride to the farm where Rodeo is held.
We staked out a spot close to the beer, but I soon came to learn that there isn’t enough beer in the world or a long-enough Blake Shelton concert that could’ve convinced me in those long hours of my first rodeo that I hadn’t made a huge mistake committing myself to a Southern school.
The air was cloudy with dirt kicked up by lifted Ford F-150s. The crowd in its entirety smelled like a mix of spilled Budweiser and sweat.
It was, to put it lightly, a lot for an 18-year-old high school student from California to take in. The culture shock was too real.