The Mangum Rattlesnake Derby is like a street carnival, complete with tattooed lowlifes and overpriced greasy food. It just has more rattlesnakes. We walked past the Snakebite Café, then skirted a large box full of rattlesnakes. A young boy was paid to periodically beat the cage with a stick, prompting them to keep up their commotion and appease us tourists.
We intended to purchase some fried rattlesnake at the Snakebite Café, but we noticed a sign next to it. For a mere one dollar we could go behind the café and see the butcher shop first hand!
Well, of course we elected to do this instead. The butcher, a hulking black man covered in snake guts and wearing a rattle for an earring, greeted us. A skinned and gutted rattlesnake slowly writhed around on the polished metal in front of him. Snakes have so many nerves in their spine that their backbone is almost a second brain. Hence, even without internal organs or a head, the snake continued twisting around.
I mentioned how neat I thought this was, and our new butcher friend pointed to a bloody, throbbing organ on the counter. “Yeah? That heart’s been beating for ten minutes.”
I don’t recall quite what happened next. Somehow our conversation turned to eating rattlesnakes and Evan was staring at a cup full of gallbladders the butcher wanted him to try. The butcher turned to me. “Hey man, you gonna eat anything?”
I thought about this. “I guess I’d eat a beating rattlesnake heart.”
He snatched the throbbing cardiac off of the counter and blasted it under the sink for a few seconds.
“Here ya go.” Evan and I looked at each other, silently weighed the possibilities of contracting salmonella against the innate manliness of eating raw rattlesnake parts, and gulped our respective organs. I grimly observed the twitching red muscle between my fingers, then dropped the slimy thing down my gullet.
I’m confident some sort of aboriginal magic is now integrated into my being. Did you know snake sperm can survive within an impregnated female up to three years after they mate? I bet I can do that now, which means I should be doubly careful.
Full of raw rattlesnake goodness, we bid farewell and chased after a tour bus bound for the hunting grounds. We managed to signal them and climbed aboard, where we listened to an old man colorfully describe rattlesnake biology, hunting and mating habits, and whatever else you might want to know. (For instance, do you know how far a rattlesnake can strike? Hold your fingers about six inches apart. According to him, it’s about that much more than you thought.)
We drove out of town to a desolate spot where the two old men leading the group released a couple of rattlesnakes on the ground and talked to us about them. Periodically one would try and escape, or work its way towards the crowd, prompting the tour guide to snatch it with his special snake-picking stick. Mostly it just slithered around his feet. I now feel fully equipped to avoid and defend myself from rattlesnakes, based on the sound advice I got from this grizzled farmer. I also found out that the snake bite kit I bought after Christmas is the official snake bite kit of the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby! So I’m set.
We came back, ate overpriced carnival food, and watched part of the award ceremony for who caught the biggest snake. When we left the record was at seventy-eight inches long.
On our way out of Mangum we stopped to play a round of bocce ball in whatever vineyard is on the north side of the town. Quite picturesque. Rows of grape vines, with the Quartz Mountains dominating the otherwise flat skyline. Evan won, and I agreed to give him “my power” from the rattlesnake heart as a trophy. We left the prize intentionally vague, so I can still claim aboriginal virility from the digested heart.