OAKDALE — Rodeo Week kicked off with women dressed in boots, jeans and Western bling.
They weren't "doing lunch." Lunch was done for them.
If you were there Wednesday, you would have understood the mood.
"Take if off!" screamed Jean Pedersen of Woodland while cowboy Clayton Edsall of Clements modeled some custom chaps. The chaps were auctioned off for $900 and, later, so was a date with Edsall.
"The things you have to do when you wear a hat and boots," he mused.
No, the 12th annual Cowgirl Luncheon where the women are served by the cowboys has not descended into a Chippendales Revue. For the record, Edsall was attired properly beneath the chaps.
It breaks down to this: Girls just want to have fun. And the Cowgirl Luncheon, the hottest ticket of the week, rings in the 62nd Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo which starts today with some delightful role reversal.
And did we say everyone, from 20 to 80, enjoyed themselves?
Put it this way: Christie Camarillo, executive director of the Oakdale Cowboy Museum the event's major benefactor announced several weeks ago that tickets for the luncheon were on sale.
They were sold out in 30 minutes.
"We had a lot of mad women who couldn't get in," Camarillo said.
The 464 lucky ticketholders jammed into the Gene Bianchi Community Center for a midday treat, down-home style. At their beck and call were more than 50 cowboys, who carried the entrees to the tables on large trays.
Liquid refreshment, you ask? Oh, yes. Much of it was brought to the tables in metal milk buckets. Less than an hour into the lunch, large plastic trash containers were filled with empties.
"About 90 percent of the servers actually work on the ranch, and who doesn't love a cowboy?" said Camarillo, the sister of rodeo world champions Leo and Jerold Camarillo. "The cowboys told me they look forward to it every year. Some took the day off."
The event works because of the perfect marriage of timing and cause. So good is the idea, rodeos in Clovis and Hayward have copied it. Area high school rodeos receive monetary support from the luncheon. Scholarships also are granted.
Oakdale's Ryle Smith, a regular on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit, became the first scholarship recipient to win all-around honors at the Oakdale Rodeo a year ago.
He drove from Texas, without sleep, just to do his part Wednesday.
"I figured I had to repay them," Smith said.
And there he was, standing atop a table, as the women screamed approval. Oakdale auctioneer Travis Johnson put to bid a dinner with Smith. There were more than a few bidders.
Finally, real estate agent Karen Serpa a former member of the museum board laughed with friends and gave Smith a hug after she won. The price tag? $700.
"I told him we were going to the (National Finals Rodeo). He said, 'That would be good,' " Serpa said. "We're just letting our hair down here. It's all in fun."
For $1,500 per table, you could select your own cowboy waiter. For $750, you could win an autographed guitar from the country vocal group Little Big Town. For $1,750, you could jump onto a Kat Country party bus along with 11 of your best friends for an upcoming Gretchen Wilson concert.
All the above were sold almost faster than Johnson could talk. As the volume level rose, the cowboys retreated to the corners for their own lunch.
"Overwhelming," Smith admitted. "I had no idea what I was getting myself into."
The inaugural luncheon drew 80 women at $15 a ticket. More than a decade later, tickets cost $40 each and Oakdale stretches to find a hall large enough. The H-B Saloon, one of the rodeo's unofficial headquarters, picked up about 80 of the overflow for its own lunch.
A large part of the event's appeal is connected to the city's title as "Cowboy Capital of the World." Oakdale is determined to keep it that way.
The lunch, though distaff-oriented, brings together everyone. The museum's mission statement, to preserve the area's Western heritage, dictates a steady heartbeat through all affairs this week.
Julio Moreno, one of the cowboy servers, has assisted at the rodeo for decades. These days, he's become a top-tier breeder of bulls. Bushwacker, his best, was named the Professional Bull Riders' bull of the year in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
But Bushwacker never has stepped into Wednesday's gender-specific minefield. All in attendance know who's in charge. More than a few cowboys, including Moreno, have felt their backsides pinched over the years as they've worked the tables.
Not that they mind, of course.
"Maybe I'm getting young here," Moreno said. "All the women are getting away from their husband or boyfriend or whatever and just having a good time."
After the last winning raffle number was announced, many adjourned to the H-B some in limousines for the after-party. That women were liberated long ago seemed like such an inconvenient truth.
Because all bets are off at the Cowgirl Luncheon.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter, @ModBeeSports.