APR intern Poppy Jacobs of the UK takes on Rattlesnake Rodeo, cowboy hats and sweet tea
Alabama Public Radio houses student interns from The University of Alabama each semester. Students learn to write for radio, conduct interviews, go out into the field, and learn the ins and outs of reporting. Poppy Jacobs from the UK has been with APR this Spring 2023. She has experienced a lot of firsts coming to Alabama: like having sweet tea and ranch dressing for the first time ever. Poppy also got a taste of a South Alabama tradition in Opp. Here's her take on the Rattlesnake Rodeo:
"When I first decided to study abroad, the annual Rattlesnake Rodeo in Opp, Alabama, wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned for myself, I’ll be honest.
Trucks and cowboy boots? Sure! An old oil drum of rattlesnakes on a Saturday afternoon? Not so much. But as per usual, a bunch of native Alabamians charmed me into it - before I knew it, I was sipping sweet tea and watching a rattlesnake race.
Since moving from England, I’ve done my very best to immerse myself in Southern culture. I got swindled out of too much money over a cowboy hat, I dragged my friends to an actual rodeo - with real life cowboys!! - and even learnt the rules to American football (although, I’ll be honest, I’m not always sure what all the flags are about?).
The Rattlesnake Rodeo is the latest in my series of escapades across the South. Whilst there, I spoke to several snake handlers and heard all about the dangers of rattlesnakes “out in the boonies.” I was mildly disturbed to learn they can continue striking even when decapitated. However, Trippy McGuire, a snake handler at the rodeo for over ten years, was quick to assure me that no handlers nor visitors had been bitten before: “If you plan on getting bitten, I would advise you not to handle ‘em.” Wise words from a wise man.
Personally, watching the rattlesnake race was a highlight. Effectively, a bunch of snakes are put inside a set of two circles (a small ring inside a significantly bigger circle) and the winning snake is the first to leave the outer ring. It sounds pretty simple, but the stakes are high when the loser covers gas money all the way from Tuscaloosa!
Whilst wandering around the rodeo, we obviously indulged in a variety of fried foods – rattlesnake included – and enjoyed the sweltering 90F heat (that’s about 32C, for any Europeans reading!). There were plenty of concession stands and events to keep everyone entertained, as well as a variety of musical acts in the evening. I even saw a camel! I know many visitors were also particularly excited to watch country artist Scotty McCreery, who was performing on the main stage Saturday night.
I come away with only one complaint: the lack of a Greasy Pole Competition, which I was promised ahead of time by my friends. The principle is pretty much as it sounds: there exists a greasy pole, in which competitors must climb to the top of to win. Honestly, I have just as many questions as you do about that, so I guess I’ll just have to come back next year for the answers.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend. I got to meet the Mayor of Opp, Ms. Becky Bracke, who told me all about the meticulous planning that goes into the rodeo – they start the planning next month for 2024, if anyone is wondering – and no doubt caught a few locals by surprise with the English accent, but that’s all part of the fun, right?
This was perhaps the most unpredictable place I’ve found myself yet, but I would definitely recommend visiting the Rattlesnake Rodeo next year to anyone who asked, even if it’s just to say that you’ve been. Do my friends in England think I’ve gone crazy? Probably! Will I post a photo with a rattlesnake on Instagram wearing my cowboy hat and boots? Absolutely! And who knows, I might end up in an even more random locale next weekend."
Roll Yide, y’all.