The lead article in last Sunday's Houston Chronicle, stripped across the top of the page and accompanied by a four-column color picture, had nothing to do with President Reagan's budget cuts or events in El Salvador. It was about a steer.
Before making assumptions about the priorities of people in this part of the world, stop a minute to read about this 1,279-pound Chiniana-Angus crossbred named Ty.
Ty, who is only a couple of years old, was this year's grand champion at the Houston livestock Show and Rodeo and, because of that, someone offered to buy Ty for $112,000, the equivalent of $87.57 a pound. If that isn't Page one news, I don't know what is.
Ty was raised by a 17-year-old farm boy named Randy Vogel of Hereford, Tex., which is far out in the Panhandle. Randy paid $7,900 for Ty a little more than a year ago, a price that proves this calf started life with a silver spoon in his mouth.
Bill Williams, a retired restuarant owener, and his wife, Doris, brough Ty. Over the years, they have bought 11 other champion steers, and they say it would take a calculator to figure out how much they have spent on this beef.
If this all still seems a little wacky, you should also know that this is rodeo time in Texas, and folks all over the state get a little wacky.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the biggest but not the only show in the state. The rodeo moves from town to towm every few weeks, and this weekend the action moves to Austin.
The events have a serious purpose, since agriculture is still a major industry here. Cowboys, after all, weren't invented in Hollywood. But in this increasingly urban state, the rodeos give everyone an opportunity, as the ads say, to go Texan.
Naturally, there is a finely developed art to going to the event -- it begins with getting dressed. Eastern exiles in khakis and topsiders look positively alien. The prescribed look is boots, jeans, cowboy hat, plaid or western shirt and hand-tooled belt -- the boots and belt newly shined by a shoeshine man. Whole families come dressed this way.
Because there a lot of outlanders in Texas these days, some of the outfits end up as the sartorial equivalent of a mixed metaphor. One women last weekend wore spanking new Jordache jeans, a plaid shirt and suede fashion boots and carried a Louis Vuitton handbag. However, two women in their mink vests were wearing genuine Texas fashion.
In Houston, the event is staged at the Astrodomain, as they call it, which includes the famous Astrodome and the less famous Astrohall and Astroarena. You park in what can only be called the Astrolot, whose surface is remarkably similar to that of the moon.
Part of the ritual involves going to the Astrodomain hours before the rodeo begins, just to stroll among the livestock pens. Animals parade continuously through the corridors as your farmers march them from makeshift pens -- two-by-fours laid on the ground and filled in with sand -- to auction rooms or juding arenas.
These youngsters spend hours grooming the animals, and the hall is filled with the sound of vacuum cleaners used to groom the animals' coats. The animals are then smoothed and fluffed with huge combs, and their tails turned into something resembling cotton candy. Actually, the animals are beautiful.
The rodeo is held in the Astrodome and, unlike the football and baseball players, rodeo cowboys fall on real dirt. Many of the participants, however, are only would-be rodeo hands, and would be better off riding mechanical bulls.
Plenty of steers were missed in the steer-wrestling contest, and a lot of runaway calves weren't caught in the calf-roping. But, because the current urban cowboy craze couldn't have started without the mystique of the rodeo, the 40,980 people jammed into the Astrodome on a Saturday afternoon cheered even the worst of the contestants.
At the equivalent of halftime, the country singers take over. A pickup truck hauls a big stage to the middle of the arena, hooks it to a contraption that lets it rotate 270 degrees, and then another saw-off pickup brings the singer to "center stage."
Last Saturday, in place of the ailing Dolly Parton, the Astrodome presented Conway Twitty, "the best friend a song ever had," Donna Fargo and Charley Pride, who one-upped his fellow entertainers with a wireless microphone that let him start singing while riding in the pickup truck. Ah, technology.
As for Ty, he has been donated to charity by the Williamses. The charity group will no doubt auction him for something closer to market price, and eventually he will end up as barbecue.
That sounds like an extravagance until you hear the one about the three Texans who paid $33,000 for five prize chickens weighing a total of 22 pounds. So it goes.