I get paid to judge rides but a lot of rides also give the judges gifts. On this ride we got a gift basket of snacks in our cabin when we got there. It was made in a painted metal bucket. That was fine for the other judge who drove but I flew. I packed all the food I hadn’t eaten in my suitcase and resigned myself to carrying an empty blue bucket with a red bandana tied on it on the plane.

The guy at the counter at Little Rock remarked that I had a bucket. I said yes I did. The Little Rock airport is very slow on Sunday evenings. Turns out they shut down screening for security at 8:00 PM and I was on a 7:50 PM flight. People had plenty of time to contemplate my bucket.

I went to the screening area where they were happy to see me because they were bored. The guy loading stuff onto the conveyor belt commented that I had a bucket. I nodded. I took off my shoes. He said that they would fit in the bucket nicely but then put them on the belt. I passed through the metal detectors and retrieved my bag and shoes from the belt. No bucket. Now I had last seen it 5 feet ago so it couldn’t have gone far. While I was pondering this the lady watching the luggage x-ray says in a mildly surprised tone, “I see a bucket.” I sheepishly raised my hand and said “That’s mine.” Turns out it got stuck in the machine. A third person had to reach in a free it. He held it out for the lady to see. She said, “Yep, that’s a blue bucket.” We all agreed about that and I left security.

It is vaguely humiliating to be taken for some kind of hick who carries around a blue bucket. It is more humiliating to be considered a hick in Arkansas.

I also was given a great painting of a vet stitching up a wound on a horse by lantern light. It is all framed and matted and everything. It was made by the ride manager.

The other thing they gave to everyone who finished the ride was a red, white, and blue cross. This is the first blatant example of the “If you are a nice person and American you are a Christian” attitude I’ve really encountered since I decided that I wasn’t a Christian. There were also a lot of comments made during the weekend about a store that had donated a lot of prizes. The comments were along the lines of “they carry products all made in America.” It eventually evolved into “they carry products made in Arkansas by real Americans.” That “real Americans” part bugged me.